Milan Taylor from Rockaway Youth Task Force Advocates for Implicit Bias Teacher Training, Featured in WNYC

Posted on April 18, 2017

Trump Era Challenges Teachers With Strong Political Views

Originally Published in WNYC News on April 13, 2017
Written by Sarah Gonzalez

When students at a public high school in Park Slope, Brooklyn, recently came to school celebrating Donald Trump’s immigration policies, some students had to step out of class because they were uncomfortable, or offended.

Caryn Davidson, a visual-arts teacher who also helps lead the social justice club at the school, put up three signs in response to that moment.

“I hung up a sign that said ‘Refugees are Welcome Here,’ ‘Everyone is Welcome Here’ with a Muslim student and ‘Black Lives Matter,’ she said.

Her signs were almost immediately taken down.

“Turned out that a teacher had gone to the administration and said that they thought it was inappropriate for a teacher to post those signs,” Davidson said. “So it opened up a debate about what teachers can and should express within the school.”

Supporting refugee and undocumented students should not be interpreted as partisan, she said.

“It’s my responsibility to make sure that my students feel safe here and respected and honored and that hateful, intolerant ideas won’t be accepted and that’s just it,” Davidson said. “It’s not about anti-Trump.”

Another public-school teacher in Brooklyn said she was warned to stop expressing her political beliefs to her middle-school students. A Trump supporter, she said she was harassed by teachers who disagreed with her politics.

“I was called a Nazi,” said the teacher Ann who asked that we not publish her last name. “They never had that complaint until they knew what my political affiliation was.”

Ann said most of her students were Muslim and she stood by them.

“Whether they’re here illegally or not, they’re my kids and I love them,” she said. “Once they come into my classroom, I don’t really care.”

She teaches social studies, which means she covers government, civics and current events. Recently, her students asked how she felt about the new executive order halting travel from six Muslim-majority countries.

“I’ll always say to them, do you want the politically correct answer, or do you want my answer? And they always ask for my answer,” she said. “My answer is I am 100-percent in support of it. I think Iraq should be back on it.”

In her private life and on Twitter, Ann has said the U.S. should “ban Islam,” and deport all immigrants. She said she considers activists with the Black Lives Matter movement “terrorists.”

Youth advocates, like Milan Taylor with the Rockaway Youth Task Force, told WNYC all teachers, regardless of their political leanings, needed training to better understand their implicit bias, all the ways their upbringing and values affected their teaching.

He questioned whether teachers with strong political beliefs could teach current events from neutral perspective, or fairly grade and discipline marginalized students.

“I just think that this question is so obvious,” Taylor said. “How implicit biases can leech into the classroom and end up hurting students.”

A spokesperson for the New York City Department of Education said teachers were supposed to maintain neutrality when discussing political issues in school.

The department recently sent a letter providing schools guidance on engaging students around current events, and instructed staff “to refrain from advancing their personal beliefs.”

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