Thursday, October 1, 2020
No, The Next Debate Moderator Should Not Be A Teacher
Within ten minutes, the comments started, and they haven’t stopped since.
This is why kindergarten teachers should be paid a million dollars. Next time, pick a middle school teacher—they know how to handle this. It was like watching squabbling children. Referring to Trump as “President Manbaby.”
The comparisons are unfair to teachers and children both, and while I know we’ve all got a few things on our minds, it’s worth taking a moment to think about why the comparisons are unfair.
There are teacher skills that apply here. For instance, when chaos envelopes a classroom seemingly involving every student there, a good teacher knows who the instigator was. That’s where you direct your energy for rebuilding focus—at the source of the disorder.
But there's a picture of teaching implicit in all these jokes that is inaccurate and really kind of insulting--that a teacher's job is to stand in a room and sternly, even forcefully, crushing students into compliance. That's not the job, and hasn't been for quite a while. Yes, teachers have to learn how to exercise some sort of authority, but in this century, that involves earning trust and building relationships. In short, some of these japes imply an idea of teaching as the exercise of some sort of authoritarian, even dictatorial control over others. That's a bad picture of teaching and it's not particularly useful on the debate stage, either.
What I really object to is the comparison, both direct and implied, of these geriatric candidates as children.
Because children are, mostly, trying to do the right thing. They are trying to find a way to be themselves in a world they are still trying to make sense. They start out with little control over the storms that rage inside them. One of the basic SEL roles of teachers is to provide external moderation while slowly helping students learning how to provide their own internal moderation. Even my most challenging late teen students (I'm thinking here, for example, of the student who entered my class and threatened to beat the crap out of me) were looking for a way to do the right thing and be their best selves.
Sure, not all teacher get this (hell, a third of union members voted for Trump--another reason a teacher might be a bad choice for the next debate's moderator).
So to call Trump President Manbaby is an insult to babies, because he's a grown-ass man who knows what he's doing, and who is perfectly capable of doing better, but just doesn't want to. He's not a child, and he's not acting like a child--he's acting like a man who has made toxic choices his whole life because he has rejected other ways of being in the world.
Put another way, I have never taught a student who did not, on some level, want to get their shit together. Trump is certain that he has his shit together, that he he, in fact, is the only guy in the room who does. Donald Trump is 74 years old.
The "put a teacher in charge" meme is, I suspect, a way of saying "I want Trump to face the strongest authority figure I can think of," which, for most folks, is the teachers we knew when we were kids (our parents, too, except then we grew up and discovered they were human beings, and that mostly didn't happen with our teachers).
But Trump has long since figured out what Thomas Jefferson and a few other guys figured out, and what most classrooms full of students instinctively understand--other people only have as much authority over you as you give them, or they can take by force. He's not a child, and there's no rule or authority figure he can't ignore. But in the meantime, it demeans children and teachers to drag them figuratively into this dumpster debate.