Working to Understand Donald Trump and Each Other on Chicago’s South Side

By Abby Tieck, DePaul University and Facing History and Ourselves Collaboration Senior Fellow

 

What a unique and exciting (although, sometimes terrifying!) year to teach a Political Science course to Seniors at a Charter School on Chicago’s South Side! As I embarked upon this school year, I knew I had my work cut out for me with two of the most polarizing candidates in recent memory, fiery rhetoric from both sides of the campaign trail, and a 24-hour news cycle that barely stops to breathe (or check sources). These past months, though, proved as enriching for me and my students as they were challenging. We learned a lot about ourselves, our own biases and misconceptions, and we learned to look deeper at the motivations, desires, priorities, and hardships of our fellow citizens – both near and far.

 

I knew I had to be committed, from the very first day of class, that we were not going to let ourselves give in to candidate-bashing or biased, subjective rhetoric about any one political philosophy or another. But what I was not necessarily expecting was the willingness of my students to thoughtfully consider and respectfully discuss ideas, candidates, and viewpoints that they hadn’t necessarily considered previously. They took my commitment to fairness and dialogue and made it their own – often challenging other students if they made claims about candidates or events that were unsubstantiated or generalized sides of the electorate in ways that were unfair or overly reductive. To say, as a teacher, that I was (am) proud of them is a pretty big understatement.

 

Now that the election is over, and President-elect Trump is preparing his team and administration to transition into the White House, my class and I have a new set of problems and worries to tackle. Initially, many of my students – across all grade levels – were angry, worried, and frightened about what a Trump Presidency might mean for them, their families, and their future. While we tried to remain unbiased in our coverage of the debates, stump speeches, and election polls up until that point, some of Mr. Trump’s more controversial statements on race, immigration, womens’ rights, and LGBTQ rights were hard to justify as was his, somewhat unexpected, electoral college victory in light of these comments.

 

The lessons I learned from the DePaul University and Facing History and Ourselves Collaboration once again came to the rescue. We took a step back and remembered as a class that one of the strongest weapons against fear and hate is knowledge, compassion, and understanding. While it would have been easy enough to dismiss a Trump win as a decision motivated by racism, I knew – as a person who came from a rural community (where Mr. Trump won with fairly spectacular voter turn out) – that the reason couldn’t be and wasn’t nearly so simple.

 

Since the election, I have been working with my students to widen their perspective beyond our urban mindset. Using FHAO methods I learned through the Collaboration, we have been examining and trying to understand and empathize with the experiences, hardships, and priorities of people in rural America as well as the working class all over our nation. In doing so, our eyes have been opened to many different undercurrents of frustration in America that we hadn’t recognized before. My students are no longer looking at people and seeing two diametrically opposed teams … they now see fellow citizens who struggle and want a better life just like they do. It has changed all of our perspectives and allowed us all to be calmer, kinder, and more focused on making things better  – not just for ourselves but for everyone.

 

As we prepare for President-Elect Trump to take office in January, my class and I are busy at work analyzing and preparing formal letters to our incoming Commander-in-Chief, advising him on policy and what he should be focusing on during his first 100 days in office. It is heartening to see my students really considering not only their own priorities but the priorities of our newfound compatriots in the more rural as well as the urban parts of our nation. They have truly embraced our nation and committed themselves to looking beyond their own interest. I am proud of them and the future they represent.

Image courtesy: Getty Images