Monday, April 11, 2016

An open letter to Donald Trump from a high school teacher

Since you announced your candidacy for President, teaching high school social studies has become more interesting. Other than comedians, students have gained more from your White House run than anyone.

As a high school American government teacher, I recognize that you are in a great position to win the nomination. The U.S. Constitution and the values it embodies serve as the foundation of our curriculum, so when my students ask questions about the election, the role of the president and you, their interest brings more meaning to our discourse.

Mr. Trump, taking questions about you has been a challenge. The cornerstone of your immigration policy includes building a "great wall" and having Mexico pay for it, so naturally students have questions. When you said, "Look at that face! Would anyone vote for that?" about opponent Carly Fiorina, students wondered about your character. As you talked about "bombing the (expletive)" out of enemies and killing their families or banning all Muslims from entering the country, we took notice in class.

Mr. Trump, you have put me in a precarious position as a professional educator. My ability to remain neutral, as you brazenly assault the American values I have spent my career promoting, became more difficult every time you found a microphone. Referring to African Americans as, "the blacks" and bragging publicly about having a young "beautiful piece of (expletive)" are just a couple of the red flags my students have raised in class.

Mr. Trump, behavior like yours in a classroom would stifle learning and make parents cringe.

You actually referenced your penis size in a national debate and publicly denigrated the appearance of a political rival's wife. Your preposterous comments and arrogance justify students' concerns about your temperament. For many of my students, who study history and defend the Bill of Rights, it is inconceivable for them to support you.

At one time, we laughed at your antics. We had never heard a political figure say the things you were saying and in a manner that defied even modest political calculations. As you sunk to new lows, students became victims of the circus atmosphere you were creating.

Mr. Trump, not taking you seriously was a mistake I deeply regret - as a teacher and as a citizen.

Your candidacy has ushered in a sobering realization that more Americans are impaired by prejudice and anger than my students thought was possible. Mr. Trump, you have reached millions of people with a disturbing political message and nasty tactics. Your behavior is repulsive, but professional integrity requires that I attempt to understand your appeal.

Mistakenly, I expected that decency would always have a role in any legitimate campaign for president. As a veteran teacher, I failed to recognize the consequences of the depraved manner in which you peddle fear to hungry crowds. We never saw your rise coming. Once the laughter died down you were leading the Republican field by huge margins, and the teacher became the student.

Your lively political rallies with threats of violence and lessons about greatness woke me up. The punchlines became storylines that paint a picture of a hopeless, deeply confused nation. You are enthusiastically leading an insurgency against goodwill that my students will spend a lifetime undoing.

Yet, I remain optimistic about the future of our nation in the face of your existence.

Mr. Trump, I am hopeful because my students are gaining a deeper appreciation of American values like promoting the common good and fighting for equality. Students are embracing diversity and individual rights as those values come to life on the campaign trail. Student attitudes are being shaped, in part, by opposition to your toxic rhetoric. As many students prepare to vote, they recognize the threat your presidency would pose to the world.

Mr. Trump, at worst your popularity is a cruel reminder that many of our neighbors and friends have xenophobic leanings and a worldview skewed by sexism and bigotry. At best, your entertainment value has clouded the judgment of too many voters.

Regardless, for my curious students, you are their first living lesson on the perils of populist racism. Hatred and bigotry, really bad ideas before you came along, are now alive for first-hand analysis in every classroom coast to coast. You are energizing a generation of young people to fight back.

Once you flame out, they won't let you happen again. This is the source of my optimism.

Instead of teasing modern angles out of the lessons from Jim Crow America, we have you: a national political figure exposing the ugliness that occurs when power and bigotry mix in the absence of humility. In social studies classrooms, divergent points of view and civil dialogue co-exist. Your absence on the national stage will encourage informed conversation that will advance progress. The lessons we learn from your disgraceful campaign will live much longer than the harm you inflict today.

Today, you are trending. Tomorrow, your story will be the one about the damage that is unleashed when fear controls the political narrative. The lesson about how slowly the electorate digested your hostile message about American greatness will stay with us a long time, Mr. Trump. Your candidacy will be a lesson about temptation and averting disaster.

Mr. Trump, you are a reminder that progress is not dependent on a specific political party or the ambitions of one man. Advancing American democracy demands a citizenry that is vigilant and informed.

You, Mr. Trump, are the pathetic reminder that we needed a pathetic reminder.  

Nick Gregory
High School Social Studies Teacher

ABOUT THE AUTHOR of CIVICS ENGAGED: Nick Gregory has been a social studies and journalism teacher at Fenton High School since 2000 and he has been a National Writing Project Teacher consultant and a junior varsity basketball coach since 2003. Gregory is a Michigan Education Voice Fellow and he has exhibited photography related to Detroit and social justice causes since 2011. Gregory, who has a Masters degree in Educational Leadership, believes that building positive relationships helps students find their passion for learning. You can follow him on Twitter @CivicsEngaged.


  1. True change is uncomfortable!

  2. Thank YOU Mr far kinder than I would

  3. As a senior, I have sat in Mr. Gregory's class for two years and have had options thrown in my face. Before ever having a government class, I never really cared or noticed political issues. This clearly has changed. It's like I didn't even have a choice to share my option if it wasn't liberal. I mean I could, but as a shy student I rather stay quite then get eye rolls from other students and disappointment from my teacher. I'm not sitting here saying Trump is my #1 candidate, but for a teacher (one who I look up to) to tell me how much he dislikes someone it does change my outlook. And yes, I think that's a problem. As a teacher, you are suppose to teacher me true facts. I have spent to much time in class looking at blogs or biased sources. I personally love learning, but not learning the same point of view over & over again. We are suppose to be open minded students and my educators are failing to be opened minded themselves.

    1. Please see my comment below. I take your criticism seriously and hope we can talk about it.

  4. Nick, you may not remember me, but I'm a good friend of your mom's. I am inspired by your words, not just because you echo my sentiments exactly, but because you're not afraid to put the interests of your students in the forefront--where they belong. These young people are going to inherit the nation that will evolve if (and I sincerely hope I'm wrong) Donald Trump wins the nomination and then the election. I'm not in favor of Hilary Clinton, either, but that's another story for another time. Heaven help us, because He's the only One Who can. Thanks, Nick, for your eloquent article.

    1. Thank you for taking the time to comment. I value feedback. If we cannot get to a point where we can disagree in harmony then we will get more of the same. Thanks again for reading and sharing.

  5. Response to critical comment: I told my students I would post their comments if they were critical of me and I am sorry that you feel this way. I hope you will come speak with me and make sure I understand your perspective so I can do better. Admittedly, it can be difficult for any student who is shy when so much of our discussion in class is related to current events. My open criticism of Mr. Trump in this letter is not related to ideology. My criticism is mostly for his behavior. In fact, Mr. Trump has been on different sides of so many political issues that political criticism of him comes from the left and right. Many high-profile conservatives have been extremely critical of his candidacy and tactics.

    Since I do encourage students to ask questions and voice criticism of candidates and elected officials our learning can get messy. In fact, before spring break a student felt that I was acting “against” Bernie Sanders and did not like it since I allowed other students to openly question his initiatives and criticize his ideas. (“Free college tuition, really?”)

    The last thing I want is for any student to feel their voice is not welcome. I can assure you that I am unaware of students rolling eyes or expressing displeasure at different opinions or questions in class.

    In our class, we have looked at sources from The Heritage Foundation, Fox News, CNN and the ACLU (and several others) and I invite you to bring new sources to our attention to share with the class. As I have stated in class, we will share and discuss topics related to YOUR sources (including video clips and satire) that YOU feel is valuable. Some of your classmates have done this. (Remember the spoof Larry David did about Bernie Sanders or the SNL skit that made fun of Hillary Clinton pandering for votes?) If you are not comfortable speaking up in class you can still have an influence on our learning and our discussions. The class belongs to the students.

    This is a tricky one as a teacher: I want students engaged in learning and thinking about the stakes of elections and the value of civic participation. Our textbook from 2009 is a source, but the issues we face today provide an education that is so rich and valuable. Gleaning lessons from what is happening today involves complexity, and the tradeoff is that we have to find constructive ways to disagree and open our minds to different perspectives. I often joke that if the US House of Representatives operated more like my students, a lot would get done. I want each student to be educated about the issues and to be able to support their claims. My letter to Mr. Trump is not to say I am correct. I am simply sharing my perspective and I feel I can contribute to an important conversation.

    In conclusion, we all need to give ourselves permission to change our minds about our positions as new information comes in and as our perspective changes, and that includes me too. My objective is to encourage your voice and if you think I have failed in that regard then I owe you a sincere apology. I am sorry.

  6. As a student of both your government and your Economics classes I feel that this letter is very important for people to read. It truly did not change my view on anything but it may for others. Before I had these classes I was already interested in government holding a very negative view of our politicians. I believed that everything was influenced by big corporations leading to corrupted officials. Despite everything I have learned in your class, I still believe this to be true. That being said, I have a more positive outlook towards the political system partually due to Donnald Trump. I have hope for our democracy not because of what Mr. Trump says but because of how people have come together to speak out and protest against the straight forward marketing of racism in his campaign.

    I truly believe that you are right in being so critical of Donnald Trump a.k.a Donnald Drumpf. However I do feel that you left out some key issues that should be brought up about his campaign that still leaves some to not understand the entirety of why people find him so unfavorable as found in a recent poll as being 70% unfavorable among the American public. I feel that you seemed to skim over some of the key issues with his policies. For example the fact that the estimated price of his beloved wall was $10 billion when first asked but realistically would end up costing more then double that amount when you factor in the cost of building roads in order to get the costruction vehicles to the right place as well as many other ignored costs. It also seemed that you glossed over the shear lack of details Mr. Trump has been able to offer in regards to his policies. I feel that if some of these issues had been brought up as well then the average person would be able to make a more informed decision. I'm not suggesting that you add a political bias but rather hold him to the same standards of being able to explain how they would organize and execute their policies as Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton are in their seemingly endless battle of establishment versus the anti establishment movement.

    1. Thanks for the feedback. I agree with you that Donald Trump should be able to explain his policy ideas with details and plans that make sense. All of the candidates should be able to offer ideas that are realistic so that voters can make informed decisions. Thanks for reading the letter.

  7. This election has brought forth a latent festering of bigotry which lay slightly beneath the surface in this country. It is a most difficult time as we though progress was being made and then along comes Trump. The fascinating thing is we now know what needs to be done to affect change. The target has been identified. Can we look in the mirror and address the issue? That will be the challenge for all Americans.

  8. We do need to look in the mirror, acknowledge the challenge and tackle it TOGETHER. Bigotry is not just a "rogue idea" that belongs to a few. Thank you for reading my letter to Mr. Trump. I appreciate the feedback.