Talking to high school kids about politics is really, really hard. Every discussion you have makes them pause, think, and then want to ask deep questions based on logic. I mean, they take everything so literally.
For example, you can hardly get into a lecture about Citizens United without one of them raising their darn hands to say, “Wait a minute, did you just say corporations are people?”
“Yes, I did.”
“But corporations are not people. I mean…that’s stupid.”
“But it’s the law.”
“Oh yeah, what moron made that up?”
“The Supreme Court of the United States of America.”
Pretty soon you get into Super PACs and campaign contributions and you begin to realize why Americans don’t vote. Noam Chomsky says it all the time: we see that the game is rigged, and we are completely right.
“So when that politician is elected and a corporation needs something, isn’t that called a conflict of interest?”
“And everyone knows this?”
Teenagers are so idealistic. They want there to be things like common sense and justice in the world, and then something happens like Donald Trump. If it was hard explaining to them how government and elections work before, it is now officially out of the realm of what is possible.
“Wait, he said most of the Mexicans who come to this country are rapists and murderers? He actually said that out loud?”
“Yes, I just read you a direct quote.”
“And what happened to him after that?”
“That’s when he really started gaining in the polls.”
Donald Trump is on every news channel and has been there for the entire summer. The grown ups who run the media and decide on daily rigorous news topics choose the inanity of his non-policies and bullying behavior instead of candidates who actually have ideas about how to run the country and speak like adults. From Rand Paul to Bernie Sanders and everyone in between, the other candidates are doing just as much talking but no one in our adult world cares, and that is hard to explain to those in the teenage world. By all accounts Donald Trump is not a serious candidate. Almost no one in either party thinks he is anything more than a clownish charlatan with no chance of winning. Every news outlet says the same thing over and over again every day. He is looked upon as a ridiculous caricature of an ass-hat, and yet they give him billions of dollars in air-time and publicity every day. It makes one suspect Kim Kardashian would get ten-times the vote of Hillary Clinton. You wonder if it is because of our dangerous culture of celebrity worship or the record-breaking disapproval of politicians. Clearly it is both and then some. We’ve come to a point where we can no longer tell the difference between reality tv and reality, or we don’t even care enough to try.
Last week Lindsey Graham said, “This is a silly season in politics,” and that Donald Trump is a “complete idiot” and if he wins it is “the end of the Republican Party.” Rand Paul has repeatedly said that Trump will not be the nominee and they are all just waiting for the “loss of sanity” to pass. And that is coming from the party in which Trump is running. Writing about Donald Trump is almost apolitical because he has nothing to do with politics, politicians, government, or policy. He just happens to be running for president.
What we have not heard anything about is his stance toward education, not that he has much of a stance toward anything. The discourse around Trump is never about concrete ideas because he has almost none of those; the conversation is simply about how ridiculous the whole spectacle is. Expecting him to have fresh ideas about education would be an assumption based on absolutely nothing, but looking at the way things are going, I think I can make some educated guesses as to how our profession will be affected. So let me tell you what high school might look like in a world where Donald Trump is elected president:
Our health classes will undoubtedly be replaced with “something terrific.”
Ethnic Studies will now be referred to in a hurry as SRM, or The Study of Rapists and Murderers.
Women’s Studies will be known as Examinations of Those Who Bleed From Wherever. And it will be banned.
Economics won’t even be taught anymore, because evidently we can get Mexico to pay for and build anything we want, so why worry about money?
Religious Studies will be a “personal” examination of the Bible in which students will prove mastery by not being able to quote a single line from the text.
As for me? Well, teaching writing and critical thinking does not seem like it will be needed much in the far off fantasy world of 2016. I mean, every single pundit, politician, expert, intellectual, writer, radio and tv host thinks the Trump campaign might bring about the end of America. They are all just saying it is one big joke. And yet they can’t stop talking about him, which in turn keeps him high in the polls and ever closer to ending America. Their own conviction that the worst person on earth cannot possibly be elected as president of the most powerful country on earth is giving the worst person on earth the chance to be elected president. It’s like they are all caught in some Orwellian meth spiral. It is both impossible to understand or explain, so teaching students how to read, write, and think in this environment seems unreasonable. To tell you the truth it seems downright absurd.
So in a world in which our President will be that guy, I imagine I will be teaching Advanced Placement Balloon-Tying, because I assume that will be a college major in the year 2016, and my students will get college credit if they can pass the AP test by creating turtles using tight twists and knots. I envision days spent trying to keep up with the pacing guide that requires me to go from dog to bunny to giraffe without any days in between for my own pedagogical creativity. My fingers will become hard and callused from tying off so many colored ends, and my evaluations will include an examination of my aperture during the blowing process. We will parade around the room with inflated rubber coronets on our heads like we live in a Salvador Dali painting where elephants with infinitely long legs walk above us bearing their ivory towers. It could be glorious.
The way things are going, I might have to go to Michael’s any day now and buy some balloons for my next unit. I mean, if the adults in this country can’t get it together enough to discuss something other than what they all agree is a joke, we might as well stop expecting it from teenagers.