Past presidents have made their first visit to a school the symbolic backdrop for education legislation they had in mind. George W Bush even dropped the phrase “no child left behind” when he visited a school in Tennessee, and Barack Obama used his first school visit, to a public school in the District of Columbia, to talk about the achievement gap. Donald Trump’s first visit to a school came at St. Andrew’s (Catholic) School in Orlando, Florida.
As you might imagine, student newspapers across the country have been weighing in on Mr Trump’s presidency, lumping in his plans for education with his stated plans in so many other areas primarily controlled by the White House and the executive branch of our government. I can find a few stories so far about vouchers and school privatization, but most of the stories students are writing about Mr Trump deal with issues of bigotry, racism, hatred, and contempt for the press, not specifically about education.
Writing in The Peninsula Outlook, the student newspaper at Peninsula High School in Gig Harbor, Washington, editor-in-chief Madeleine Johnson tells us about a few students who flew east to attend the inauguration, thanks to Close Up. “You were there seeing the next president of the United States being sworn in and it was just, it was really really amazing,” she quoted one student as saying. “It was packed with people, people on every side of you. I almost had a panic attack. Everyone was expecting something really terrible to happen.”
The two students expressed a cautious optimism, along with concern over the potential policies Mr Trump might push. “He might not know what he’s doing, but I think that will bring something new because in politics some people get elected to positions over and over and over again and nothing changes. I think he’s going to bring something new and change it up. He’s kind of refreshing—crass but refreshing.”
The demonstrations that went along near the inauguration didn’t escape these students’ view, either. “I know racism is everywhere, but, living here it’s not especially a huge thing,” one said. “It was mind-blowing to see that it’s accepted and OK and that that’s what they believe and now they can do that.”
Mr Trump has, for the record, denounced the kind of racism to which the student referred, but he also can’t deny using rhetoric during the campaign that promoted hatred of certain groups, especially Muslims. In fact, many students saw the travel ban he issued within the first weeks of his presidency as a ban against Muslims.
Writing in The Charger Online, the student news site for Oxford High School in Mississippi, staff writer Miranda Grayzel-Ward quotes a senior from Pakistan who says she hopes people realize Islam itself isn’t a bad religion.
“Hearing about (the ban) all over the news is making me worried about my family members who are in Pakistan and want to come to the US but can’t do it because of this ban,” she was quoted as saying. Her family experienced some issues with her father being linked, inaccurately, to terrorists, she says, which significantly delayed her receiving a Green Card. Now everything’s in order, but it took the government a while.
Another Muslim student expects the anti-Muslim sentiments Americans have expressed won’t go away anytime soon. “It’s just stereotypes; I have gotten used to it,” she said. “My religion is what I have been taught since I was born. It’s my beliefs.”
Plus, the other added, “You can’t judge actions of some people on a whole religion. One rotten apple doesn’t ruin the entire bunch.”
But Muslims haven’t been the only targets of bigotry and hate stored in the hearts of a few of Mr Trump’s most vocal supporters. In a speech before Congress, the president referenced bomb threats and vandalism at Jewish cemeteries, schools, and community centers, which hasn’t gone unnoticed among high school students.
Managing editor Ben Cohen for the Kirkwood Call at Kirkwood High School in Missouri, says he visited a Jewish cemetery in University City that had been vandalized. He reports that teens from the Missouri Valley chapter of NFTY–The Reform Jewish Youth Movement volunteered to help clean it up—after waiting in a long Secret Service line. Mr Cohen writes, “Even with my background and my experiences of anti-Semitism in St Louis, I was still shocked and horrified to see the vandalism that took place at a Jewish cemetery.”
A vigil at the cemetery, he reported, brought more than 2,000 people. “As a proud American Jew, I couldn’t believe the turnout and condemnation from politicians, but further action must be taken,” he wrote. “According to Andrew Rehfeld, Jewish Federation of St Louis president, there are three actions to take when encountering anti-Semitism or any hatred: Name it. Condemn it. Do something about it. My hope is for all of us to follow these steps to make the world a better place. I know I will.”
Other students have also expressed a sort of guarded optimism about other changes that have accompanied Mr Trump’s role as the leader of the free world. Writing in The Eclipse, the student news site at Kearsley High School in Flint, Michigan, reporter Connor Earegood says he hopes journalists will be able to adapt to the treatment the White House has shown toward journalists, a target not only of a few Trump supporters but of Mr Trump himself.
“He will blatantly ignore questions he does not see fit to answer, and when he does answer he gives answers that are practically quotes from his campaign, like a parrot with a short memory,” Mr Earegood writes. But, Mr “Trump’s very election is a sign that the people of the United States want change. When a man with as many corruptions and faults as Trump has can be elected, no matter the circumstances, it shows how desperate we have become for something different.”
Mr Earegood suggests that once the members of the press adapt to the change, it may be good for the “art of journalism.” I tend to agree. Only Nixon could go to China, after all.