Hey Borowitz—Don't You Dare Blame Schools for Donald Trump!

Andy Borowitz is a satirist who's received lots of attention this year for his sarcastic and occasionally witty articles. Months ago, Borowitz made a Facebook post that stated the following:


Stopping Trump is a short-term solution. The long-term solution—and it will be more difficult—is fixing the education system that has created so many people ignorant enough to vote for Trump.
Although Borowitz made this post way back in March, I only happened upon the quote recently, so it's clear that it's taken up a life of its own getting shared around the internet. Because it may continue getting attention, even after the election is over, I feel an obligation to speak out against this claim.

Blaming our education system for Donald Trump's support this year and the votes he'll receive on Election Day is misdirected, wrongheaded, and insulting. (It's especially insulting to Trump supporters, of course, but insulting to educators as well.) Borowitz not only misunderstands and oversimplifies the sources of Trump's support, but he also implies that schools perform a role that I and other teachers cannot accept.

First, Borowitz must not actually read much political analysis if he thinks votes for Trump are a simple function of ignorant and uneducated voters. The causes for Trump's rise to prominence are myriad, and they have far more to do with our nation's economy, demography, and political and cultural history than anything that's happened in schools. I will make no attempt to explain the Trump phenomenon, but you can take your pick from countless writers who have: Their articles examine numerous factors, from the marginalization of poor white Americans to political figures of the past thirty years to the nation's socio-economic divide over free trade. Hell, you can even read statements from Trump's supporters themselves, many of whom you have to admit offer complex and nuanced arguments for their choice—even if you disagree profoundly with their reasoning.

Nowhere in all my reading have I ever seen anyone attribute the rise of Trump to something broken in our education system. Nowhere have I seen anyone propose that educators and schools have failed to do something—anything at all—that would have prevented people from supporting Trump. When there are so many more relevant and compelling explanations, it's a nonsensical, meritless claim.

Second, Borowitz must not actually know who Trump's supporters are if he thinks Trump's successes have anything to do with our present education system. Poll after poll shows that it is middle-aged and older Americans who lend Trump the strongest support, while Millennials (aged 19 to 35) support him the least. Here's a great snippet from this article:
Trump's weakness among younger voters is unprecedented, lower even than the 32% of the vote that the Gallup Organization calculates Richard Nixon received among 18-to-29-year-old voters in 1972, an era of youthful protests against the Vietnam War.
Even if we accepted Borowitz's ridiculous argument that schools are to blame for producing Trump voters, it must have been the schools of forty or fifty years ago that were broken, producing so many ignorant citizens. According to the polls, our education system has never performed better than over the last two decades. By his own logic, Borowitz defeats any accusation that our schools need "fixing."

Lastly, Borowitz must not have considered how child development or educators' jobs actually work before he decided to blame the school system for Trump. I teach high school social studies, so I'm on the front line of seeing young people develop political ideas. When I listen to my students' opinions, I know those opinions haven't been formed by previous teachers; their opinions are influenced first and foremost by their parents and families, then their friends and popular culture, and then adult mentors, possibly including teachers.

It is absolutely not my job as a teacher to change my students' opinions. That remains true if my students' opinions are factually incorrect or even if they are offensive. Instead, my job is to expose my students to new information, ideas, and perspectives; encourage them to keep an open mind; and teach them to think critically and distinguish fact from fiction. If I do all of that and they still retain (or even strengthen) opinions that I disagree with, it doesn't mean I've failed. I've fulfilled all my responsibilities as an educator, and I should fully accept that I don't create my students' views. Everyone has different opinions and perspectives.

Andy Borowitz blames the rise of Donald Trump on ignorant people and blames schools for creating that ignorance. When it comes down to it, however, it's Borowitz who's ignorant here—ignorant of the complex sources of Trump's support, ignorant of how young adults overwhelmingly reject Trump, ignorant of how young people form political views, and ignorant of what educators' true role is in overseeing students' development. There are many, many factors and issues to blame for the rise and success of Donald Trump as a demagogue; schools, however, should not be one of them.

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