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By Thomas Courtney
Donald Trump Jr. believes I’m poisoning my students’ minds with far-left radical ideals. In fact, he’s called my colleagues and I losers as if we purvey socialism like vodka, deodorant, and steaks. I even think a few of my more conservative relatives have their suspicions of me working as a deep state operative! Can you imagine such a thing infiltrating our public educational institutions?
That scary version of the socialism Trump Jr. is concerned about is no doubt mobilizing forces today with the passing of the most radical dissenter for equal rights in our supreme court’s history, and we now face the very real possibility of a far-right Trump appointee taking her place.
It’s enough to get me all triggered.
But despite these warning signs, and more to the point, when it comes to my own personal socialist agenda, I fear that when it comes to my classroom, I’ve been far more concerned about the intrusion of another rampant ideology: fascism.
Why would a firmly entrenched socialist like me worry about fascism in education at all?
Is it a feeling? Is it a conspiracy? Is it the news media out to get our favorite president? Again?
Nah, it’s just those pesky intellectuals, bringing up words and paragraphs and stuff. And I tend to read them sometimes because it’s what we elitists do.
One intellectual in particular--who himself passed away just days after Trump was sworn in--was a once patriot turned Italian academic named Umberto Eco. Eco’s powerful essay, Ur-Fascism, published in 1995, identified a list of fascist parts. He wrote about fourteen characteristics that define fascist states and argued that anyone of them could be used to coagulate fascism around it. Many radicals like me have recently noticed some interesting parallels to what we see in our nation and to what Eco wrote about.
But how could any of them appear in a classroom deeply entrenched in my shadowy socialist daily agenda? I mean the idea of fascism reigniting here in the good ‘ol US of A seems as nutty as detergent knocking out a coronavirus. But what if it were true? What if it wasn’t socialism we had to worry about in our schools? What if it was something else? My name is Q, let’s get into this.
I’d like to argue that of the 14 characteristics Eco identified, I’ve seen nearly all of them recently and that those I haven’t seen yet, like the election in November, seem to be peaking right over my smoky California horizon.
Contempt for the Weak, Machismo, Traditionalism, Selective Populism, Fear of Difference
The first characteristic that Eco wrote about is perfectly revealed in how Trump has called out players for taking a knee peacefully at a football game. I mean these people shouldn’t even be in the country, how’s that for selective populism, machismo, and contempt of the weak? But what happens when he directs his sights in my classroom? What will he, or his cultist cronies think of the many students there who no longer wish to say the pledge of allegiance because they feel targeted by his clearly racist, mysoginistic, and otherwise unpatriotic comments? If he’ll go after actresses and football players protesting peacefully, why wouldn’t he come after students and faculty in government-funded educational institutions exercising their rights as well? If he’ll threaten aid to states and cities that he writes off as unwinnable, what will he do in another four years to teachers that his supporters despise? Does anyone really believe the founder of Trump University understands the concepts we teach require open, free, and oftentimes opinionated conversations to flourish? What bullying and name-calling will we witness when educational leaders, especially female administrators of color push back on Trump and Devosian ideals? Will we be asked to “smack the crap” out of a kid who chooses not to put his right hand over his heart, who doesn’t exactly adhere to his patriotism curriculum? What message will it send to my daughter, to yours, when someone speaking for her equity in a Title 1 school is told to go back to where they are from?There is growing rhetoric about what my secular classroom should allow inside of it once more, as a call to traditional values. Click To Tweet
And when it comes to religion, the rusty wheels have sprung into full gear in the last few years haven’t they? This is just the wafty yet fantastical traditionalism Eco wrote about. There is growing rhetoric about what my secular classroom should allow inside of it once more, as a call to traditional values. It concerns me and it should concern you too because religion doesn’t know, hasn’t, nor ever will belong in our public schools. Vice President Pence seems to think that allowing prayer after hours isn’t enough. What will be enough? What subtext does Devos who believes she is on an all too real version of the Blues Brothers’ mission from god, have for dissecting our public school system? Do we really need to ask?
Moreover, while in the training of hundreds of educators recently, teachers in my district voiced concerns about teaching racial and social justice inclusively alongside their students. Why? They feared backlash from parents. Even though laws support equality in these areas of society at long last, teachers are wary, if not fearful of showing support for movements like Black Lives Matter, for LGBTQ rights, women’s studies, even for teaching history without a Eurocentric focus. How is it that disdain for powerful civil movements, the rise of what Eco called machismo is leading to educator punishment, and what is coming?
Obsession with a plot, Appeal to a frustrated middle class, Newspeak
Orwellian newspeak has been a staple of high stakes testing political rhetoric for years. From Michelle Rhee with her broom on the cover of Time to the Koch brothers subsidized Waiting for Superman, teachers, especially those in inner-city schools have become a near boogeyman in the last two decades. As our president likes to lament, we used to get great press. But those days are gone. Now, we’re a serious concern for all red-blooded Americans--especially those excited to attend rallies for the leader of the free world while he calls his detractors names, spouts conspiracy theories, and ignores basic science. You know the ones chanting along with him, the people who are worried most about keeping us great through these intellectual pursuits, those worried about who might move into their neighborhoods, and can you imagine, into their schools? Trump’s appeal to a frustrated middle class isn’t targeted at fixing the systemic causes of failure in our schools, it’s targeted at giving their children a chance to keep their kids separated from the failures that impact other children’s education.
Life is permanent warfare/enemies must be defeated, Rejection of science and intellectualism,
Devos would like to keep our mandated testing even while our students are at home in a pandemic, even when data is piling up that the pandemic is disproportionately affecting students of color and students in low socio-economic neighborhoods--students like the ones I teach. The permanent war against us slovenly teachers must go on after all. I’m sure she means well though, right? I mean, she wouldn’t use that to say...carve out more charter schools like she did in Detroit, would she?
But his ignorant educational appointee is only a mouthpiece for what Trump, who alone can fix us, really wants in schools. And it’s not like arts, humanities, sciences, and intellectual activities beyond the test are of interest to a president who can’t spell, can’t tell which figures from history are dead or alive, and who thinks viruses magically disappear and who declares science doesn’t know because “it will get colder. You wait.”
Overwhelming the five meal a day enemy, action for action’s sake
Despite several victories in recent years, labor unions have been weakened like never before. You know how easy us teachers have it! Eco notes that fascist regimes often regard these well-fed elites as the cause themselves. They are near to impossible to remove unless there is bold action taken. Sound familiar? Quietly, protections have been taken away from unions like mine despite popular support, and now with the loss of our deep state operative in the judicial branch, those patriotic heroes like Devos might just be able to get that bold action they’ve longed for. For the sake of the children, of course.
Meanwhile, rich advocates like the Devos’s of the world are paving the way for-profit charters who can’t seem to “innovate” enough to come near public school average scores despite our well-noted funding gaps, despite the fact that many remove students at rates that would lead to lawsuits in public schools. Oh, and despite the fact they pay teachers a whole lot less.
And when it comes to corruption, charters have really innovated haven’t they? Although public school cheating scandals have been front-page news in previous years, report after report is suggesting there is a tidal wave of charter school corruption underpinning the move to school choice and privatization. While test scores for charter schools continue to lag behind public schools on average, the number of those lining their pockets with monies once allocated for public schools continue to move in the opposite direction. Not that fascism and corruption have anything to do with one another.
Hero Mythos, Cult of tradition
And if all that isn’t enough to worry a socialist like me about fascism in my class, I am just sure that if Trump loses the election in November, he will peacefully hand over power right? Eco describes the manifesting of ideology present in fascism whereby the weak are seen as too weak to govern themselves. They need a strong leader to take these bold, decisive actions in order to keep things great, or make them so--a bold beard-clad warrior like Donald Trump Jr. to remind them that their deep state teachers--us weak, unpatriotic, diversity spouting, gun-hating, BLM poster hanging, peace-loving intellectuals are the losers that must be really be toppled. Not the racist leaders that created our very real inequities in the first place.
I mean it’s not like his dad tried to strongman our electorate by leveraging deaths from Covid-19 for his reelection, attempted to subterfuge mail-in balloting, or who continues to declare that he’d need intervention to remove him from office if he lost. And I’m sure he has no delusions of dictatorship should he be re-elected that would feel reminiscent of other dictators in the past and present that we have to find time to teach in schools now. You know, the lessons we sometimes get fired for over our socialist agenda.
Nah. I’m sure we’re safe from fascism.
Us elitist five meal a day intellectuals like to discuss and think, debate and research, and we know those things don’t make us patriots. But surely it’s what patriots of a free society do, isn’t it? Besides, if the new patriot is the type of person that uses his father’s nepotism to kill endangered animals, make his livelihood, and speak at a bully pulpit about me as though he had a clue what happens in my class, I’d much rather NOT be a patriot.
Oh, don’t worry. I’d never say that in class.
But my students might! And when they do, I’m going to let them discuss it, until someone tries to bully them into submission.
At which point I will ask everyone to be best.
And keep teaching history, truth, and critical thinking skills, none of which have anything to do with socialism, and all of which are the anti-thesis to fascism.
And I’m going to keep doing it even if someone threatens to “knock the crap” out of me, because that’s what the true patriots of my family fought for, none of whom were suckers, losers, or socialists.
Just Americans. Free Americans.
Thomas Courtney is a 5th-grade teacher, and author of dozens of op-eds, commentaries, and articles regarding educational policy.