San Francisco Schools Respond to Trump Presidential Victory
With the 2016 election finally over, San Francisco teachers and students grapple with how to respond to Trump's unexpected presidential win.
Among the demonstrators were hundreds of students from at least 10 high schools across the city, who walked out of class and marched down Market Street to protest Trump’s victory.
Another impact of Trump’s win on the Bay Area educational system can be seen through the challenges that San Francisco schools are facing in terms of how to discuss the election with their students.
As San Francisco Chronicle staff writer Jill Tucker explores in the article below, SF teachers lesson plans on Trump have already stirred up some controversy.
Note: The article below was originally published by the San Francisco Chronicle on November 17, 2016.
Tension flares over how to talk about Trump in school
By Jill Tucker
Teachers aren’t supposed to take sides in politics.
But after a polarizing and emotionally charged presidential election — a teachable moment if there ever was one — educators in the Bay Area and beyond have often struggled to encourage discourse and open-minded inquiry without imposing their political views.
Little more than a week after Donald Trump’s victory, teachers have been criticized — and even disciplined — for going too far as they wade into the hyper-partisan muck, raising questions about their role in discussing an unprecedented president-elect known for extreme views.
In San Francisco, where 84 percent of voters supported Hillary Clinton for president, district officials widely distributed a strongly opinionated, optional lesson plan to help students process the Trump win.
“Let us please not sidestep the fact that a racist and sexist man has become the president of our country by pandering to a huge racist and sexist base,” wrote Fakrah Shah, a Mission High School teacher, in the introduction to her lesson plan.
“DO NOT: Tell (students) that we have LOST and that we have to accept this.”
Image caption: Eleventh grade student Jessica Fong talks about how she checks news information in history teacher Valerie Ziegler’s class as she teaches sourcing at Lincoln High School on Thursday, November 17, 2016, in San Francisco, Calif. (Credit: Liz Hafalia, The Chronicle)
The partisan commentary was echoed at Tuesday’s school board meeting, where Vice President Shamann Walton deviated from the agenda to publicly address the election results.
“We cannot sit idly by and pretend this is not hurtful,” he said.
For many in blue-state schools, a Trump presidency is considered an objective disaster, one reflecting a hate-fueled campaign targeting immigrants, women, Muslims, journalists, the disabled and others.
Yet the Republican candidate won with broad support in many parts of the country — and the temptation to politically proselytize is equally strong for Trump-supporting teachers.
An Alabama teacher came under fire following the election after posting an image of Trump over the words, “Obama You’re Fired!” a reference to the president-elect’s motto on his “Apprentice” television show.
Closer to home, in Oakland, a teacher at Bishop O’Dowd High School faced criticism for a pro-Trump message he posted on Facebook that contained offensive language. The post was captured and shared among students on social media.
“Trump’s victory is a vote for the common man, it’s a vote against Obamacare, ILLEGAL immigration, sanctuary cities … the DC ruling class, pussification and lacrosse,” the teacher wrote.
“To all the dip s— who said they would leave this country upon not getting their way, pack your bags and haul ass you loser!”
He formally apologized for his language, and the school’s principal expressed regret in a letter to parents over the teacher’s poor judgment.
While teachers have a right to express their views in school, there are limits.
In California, teachers can wear political buttons on campus, for example, but not in the classroom, said Julie Harumi Mass, senior staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California.
“Because of the influence teachers have, it’s important they not impose a particular political view,” Mass said.
“The schools really have a lot of leeway to teach civic engagement and democracy, to determine what the curriculum is — as long as they are respecting students’ rights and not shutting down opinions.”
Image caption: Lincoln High 11th-graders Lily Guan (clockwise from left), Sandy Shieh, Yeremia Junaedy and Christy Ly listen to history teacher Valerie Ziegler teach them sourcing. (Credit: Liz Hafalia, The Chronicle)
But in San Francisco, Trump’s pledge to deport more immigrants has led many students to express fear to their teachers, who want to know how to respond, said Lita Blanc, president of the United Educators of San Francisco.
These teachers want to know what their rights are in voicing an opinion about the president-elect, Blanc said.
“Our position is that we cannot close our eyes to the rhetoric that Trump put out during the campaign that was racist, sexist and xenophobic,” Blanc said. “If we’re to do our job as educators, it’s important to spell things out for what they are.”
Federal and state laws restrict teachers from saying whatever they want when teaching. Legally, they are speaking for the district when in the classroom, and the ACLU advises teachers to be cautious so as not to appear to advocate for a particular political or religious view.
Teacher comments made outside class, on Facebook for example, can also be restricted if they are thought to impact student learning or violate school policies.
Legal ramifications aside, parents worry that teachers are advocating their personal views rather than teaching children to think for themselves, said Paula McAvoy, program director for the Center for Ethics and Education at the University of Wisconsin in Madison.
There’s a difference between proselytizing and teaching political discourse, she said.
“I think all teachers need to pause for a moment and consider, do students at the end of my class think the world is a simple place or a complex place?” said McAvoy, a former Mountain View teacher. “Making good guys and bad guys is not good education.”
For example, she said, a critical look at Trump’s proposed crackdown on Muslims would be appropriate, but, “You don’t then have to add, ‘He’s a terrible person.’”
Schools can play an important role in helping bridge the political divide. And they can make it worse, especially in what McAvoy calls like-minded schools — where there is wide agreement on political issues.
“For the most part, it’s easier to have conservations in the like-minded schools because you all agree with each other,” she said.
The problem: “If your classroom talks are, ‘Let’s talk about how we all agree,’ you end up exacerbating the polarization,” she said. “We need to bridge those gaps for young people.”
After a backlash against the lesson plan distributed in San Francisco, union officials on Thursday emphasized the need to ensure all students feel safe and supported, regardless of their political choices.
“San Francisco students who support the president-elect should be protected from intimidation and fear and their voice should be included in all discussions about the presidential race and the future,” Blanc said in a note to members.
District officials also acknowledged a need to help teachers navigate the political landscape without violating laws or policies preventing the promotion of personal views.
“In general what we encourage teachers to do … is to have discussions that are inclusive and present multiple viewpoints on controversial issues,” said district spokeswoman Gentle Blythe.
At Lincoln High School, history teacher Valerie Ziegler has embraced the election and the Trump victory as a teachable moment.
On Thursday, she worked with the students on sourcing information, showing examples of false information on both sides of the political aisle that circulated on social media throughout the campaign.
Ziegler showed students a quote attributed to Trump from 1998, in which he said that if he ran for president, it would be as a Republican because they are “the dumbest group of voters.”
Some students said they had seen the quote. It’s not true, Ziegler said, pointing to respected source who had debunked it.
Over the course of the campaign, students repeatedly asked who Ziegler was voting for, but she never told them. She advised they look at the issues.
“My job isn’t to tell them what to think,” Ziegler said. “My job is to teach them how to think.”
Feature image caption: History teacher Valerie Ziegler (right) teaches eleventh grade students including Winky Fong (left) sourcing at Lincoln High School on Thursday, November 17, 2016, in San Francisco, Calif. (Credit: Liz Hafalia, The Chronicle)