Sran: Teaching in the Time of Trump

By Deep Sran

The President communicated the following as three separate tweets on March 4:

“Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my ‘wires tapped’ in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism!”

“I’d bet a good lawyer could make a great case out of the fact that President Obama was tapping my phones in October, just prior to Election!”

“How low has President Obama gone to tapp [sic] my phones during the very sacred election process. This is Nixon/Watergate. Bad (or sick) guy!”

The President offered no evidence to support these claims. The same was true of prior claims of election fraud and President Obama’s place of birth.

All of this confounds teachers like me, because we tell our students that the truth matters and that knowledge leads to better outcomes. The President says things without knowing or seeking to know, while teachers—in every school in America—require their students to read carefully, do research, find reliable sources, cite those sources, and support claims and arguments in every essay response, book report, research paper, and lab report students submit. We ask students to keep an open mind and to seek to learn, and every day our president does the opposite.

As a history teacher, I cringe when the President makes reference to McCarthyism or to Watergate in his tweets, praises Frederick Douglass as someone who has “done an amazing job,” or says he’s a “fan” of Andrew Jackson, because he doesn’t appear to know anything about American history. A President who attacks the free press or the independent federal judiciary, for example, clearly knows nothing about our Constitutional system. By his own acknowledgement, the President has never read a presidential biography, which is surprising given his current position. The least he could do is read a biography of Washington or Lincoln, or read “The Federalist Papers.”

Deep Sran

Multiple sources have reported that the President does not read any books. When asked on Fox News by Megyn Kelly about the last book he read, the President said, “I read passages, I read areas, chapters, I don’t have the time.” Tony Schwartz, the ghostwriter of Trump’s 1987 book “The Art of the Deal,” told the New Yorker that in the 18 months he worked with Trump, Schwartz “never saw a book on Trump’s desk, or elsewhere in his office, or in his apartment. I seriously doubt that Trump has ever read a book straight through in his adult life.” By comparison, in our school, ninth graders read a dozen or more books during the school year.

To make matters even worse, the President doesn’t appear to value learning. In a series of interviews with the Washington Post, the President said he reaches the right decisions “with very little knowledge other than the knowledge I [already] had, plus the words ‘common sense,’ because I have a lot of common sense and I have a lot of business ability.” The President thinks he can make good decisions about enormously complex questions he has never encountered before “with very little knowledge.” Of course, being an intellectual is not essential to being President. But, according to Allan Lichtman, a political historian quoted in the Washington Post, even among anti-intellectual Presidents, “Trump is really something of an outlier with this idea that knowing things is almost a distraction. He doesn’t have a historical anchor, so you see his gut changing on issues from moment to moment.” And then there are the tweets. Are 140 characters really sufficient to communicate about the complex issues the President and Congress decide? In most elementary schools, a book report is more thoughtfully researched and written.

In short, this President is a disaster for knowledge and truth. Without learning and being thoughtful, you can’t make good decisions. I do not want to overstate President Trump’s ability to recast the critical importance of knowledge and truth. But I also do not want to understate how much what the President says and does matters, particularly to children. Children have always viewed their President as the ultimate role model; President Trump has yet to prove himself worthy of this position.

For teachers like me—who believe that asking thoughtful questions, learning, doing research, collecting and evaluating reliable evidence, and analyzing that evidence impartially are all critical to reaching sound conclusions—teaching in the time of Trump is a real test. The best I can do for my students, I submit, is to equip and to encourage them to do the hard work of finding the truth for themselves:

  1. Try to get the whole story from a diversity of high-quality sources, not just one side or one source.
  2. Do not accept any claim until there is enough reliable evidence to support the claim.
  3. Follow decisions and their consequences as they unfold over time, to see whether more knowledge and analysis lead to better outcomes.

In other words, I will ask my students to see for themselves whether being open-minded, building knowledge, and reasoning carefully and systematically about complex questions increase or decrease social utility.

As an aside, while I’ve discussed teachers and students so far, it’s adult voters who pose the greater paradox. How do unsubstantiated statements, stories, and conspiracies spread and take hold, when it is so easy to instantly search the web from our phones to find reliable sources that bring us closer to the truth?

To close, I went to New York City last week with our Model UN team and I noticed the following engraved above the main entrance to 30 Rockefeller Center: “Wisdom and knowledge shall be the stability of thy times.” Let’s resolve to make sure this is so, inside and outside the classroom.

[Deep Sran, founder of Loudoun School for the Gifted in Ashburn, has been on a mission to improve formal education for two decades. Contact him at dsran@idealschools.org.]

13 thoughts on “Sran: Teaching in the Time of Trump

  • 2017-04-06 at 3:49 pm
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    This is a stinking pile of arrogant intellectual nonsense. Who is more dishonest Hillary and Obama or Trump? Who colluded with the Russians and made millions – correction, hundreds of millions – and sold them 20% of our uranium? Who traveled repeatedly to pedophile island and committed statutory rape? Who enabled their husband sexual assaults and rapes to gain power? Who told the Russians they would be more flexible after they got reelected? Who has perpetrated the fraud of global warming which has been used to diminish and ruin the life of working people in this country by taking away cheap energy and the risky but essential jobs of obtaining it? Who spied on Congress and Trump (before he was even the nominee) and the free press (see Fox’s James Rosen) ? Who got elected to the Senate by having sealed divorce papers released against his Democratic primary opponents and then his Republican opponents? Who politicized every agency of the Federal government, including the EPA, IRS, FCC, CIA, NSA, etc? Who constantly sought to shut down talk radio and constantly and publicly criticized Fox news and Fox news reporters by name? I could go on but what is the point of disagreeing with someone who professes to be a researcher and historian but doesn’t seem to know how to do either? For someone who professes to be Deep you show a profoundly shallow and arrogant dishonesty. As Bill Buckley commented I would rather be governed by the first 2000 names in the Boston phone directory than the 2000 members of the Harvard faculty.

  • 2017-04-06 at 5:23 pm
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    I wonder if Mr. Sran was so gallant about the “truth” when we endured such examples of honesty as: “If you like your doctor and your plan, you can keep them. Period.” Or, the terrorist attacks that left a U.S. Ambassador and three other Americans dead were “inspired by a you-tube video,” that nobody ever saw. Or my favorite: “”Shovel-ready was not as shovel-ready as we expected, hah, hah, hah.”

    Do you think those lies had any impact on children Mr. Sran?

    A real scholar holds every individual to the standard of truth, not just those of the opposing political party.

    Another rube self-identifies.

  • 2017-04-07 at 9:55 am
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    Wow. I’m really surprised Loudoun Now printed such a bad article. Why not title it, “I Hate Trump and You Should Too?”

    Beyond that, it demonstrates just how ignorant of leadership the ivory tower is. Academia presumes that to be a good political leader you have to be academic just like they are. Academics rarely make good leaders in business or politics or anywhere outside of academia.

    I have enjoyed some of Mr. Sran’s articles in the past, but I will be much more skeptical of his writings in the future. This article does serious damage to his reputation.

  • 2017-04-07 at 3:14 pm
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    I had the same thoughts go through my mind as Chris Manthos as I read this article: where was Mr Sran when President Obama repeatedly told the American public that if they liked their health care plan, they could keep their health care plan. Obama had to know that was a lie, and he offered absolutely no evidence to support such a claim (as well as family savings up to $2500/year and keeping your doctor claims). We know those claims were not only unsubstantiated, but proved to be totally bogus. On the other hand, at this point in time the jury is still out regarding the validity of Trump’s tweets.

    As for reading books, looking back at the previous two presidents it is unknown just how much Obama read (apparently very little). We do know that George W. Bush was one of the most prolific readers to ever hold the office of president. If you listened to political pundits and the media, Obama was a genius god while Bush was a dunce. Go figure.

  • 2017-04-14 at 11:57 pm
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    Mr. Sran,

    You probably won’t read this, as it cuts to the core of your hypocrisy. Not only in this article you wrote, but other recent things you’ve put out into the press.

    I am not a Trump supporter. Or fan. I did not vote for him. I am a supporter of the truth. I am a fan of those seeking to moderate the hyperbole.

    Specifically, I’m looking at the three things you say you try and teach your students, yet you are on the wrong side of them:
    * Try to get the whole story from a diversity of high-quality sources, not just one side or one source.
    * Do not accept any claim until there is enough reliable evidence to support the claim.
    * Follow decisions and their consequences as they unfold over time, to see whether more knowledge and analysis lead to better outcomes.

    Let’s start with the tweets, as you did. Basically, they make two assertions:
    * Pres. Trump’s phones were tapped by Pres. Obama
    * The climate reeks of McCarthyism.
    While you probably started your essay weeks ago, when there was only the onslaught of the press saying it wasn’t true, recent facts have come out saying yes, in fact, Trump Towers were “tapped,” Mr. Trump and others in his staff were incidentally collected and it was probably political that Ms. Rice unmasked Mr. Trump and his staff for – if not political gain – or perhaps retribution – but certainly because she did not have an “open mind.”

    If you listen to any nightly newscast, or read CNN or MSBNC, you surely can’t miss the McCarthyism run amuck. Any Republican that had Any Discussion with Any Russian over the past 10 years is evidence that they colluded with the vast right-wing conspiracy in defeating Sec. Clinton.

    In any case, the President offered no evidence in his 140 characters on this matter at that time. It was probably classified – he could have misread something – he definitely doesn’t know how the Intelligence Community works. However, he did offer proof of election fraud and Pres. Obama’s birth place. I accept his proof on election fraud, but reject his evidence on Pres. Obama. The remaining question on election fraud isn’t that it exists (it certainly does as every study has shown), but the extent of it. I’ve talked with several immigrants who’ve admitted they’ve been voting for years, and even my own son’s SSN was used by someone else to enable their fraudulent voting.

    So the truth is important. And reading is important. And going to school is important. But, leading is important. Making decisions is important. Doing your job is important. As a student, I spent more time in the former. As a grown up, I spend more time in the latter.

    I’m wondering how confounded you were when Pres. Clinton tried to re-define the word “is.” Or when he outright lied in front of the cameras about having sex with an intern. There are thousands of lies that every politician espouses. Sec. Clinton, during the debates last year (and speeches prior to that), offered the opinion that there are public truths and private truths. Did that not confound you and your peers?

    Knowledge does not always lead to better outcomes, since the search for knowledge is often at the expense of action. And sometimes, the near-term knowledge has long term devastating effects, like the inventions of CFCs. CFCs were great, and saved many lives, and at the time were provably inert and effective. Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to be omniscient. But, alas, we’re mortal. And saying there’s a red line, and then backing down pending more proof, empowered Assad to kill more civilians.

    Your assertion that everyone should be doing research shows that you’ve spent way too long in academia. Students should be learning, doing lab reports, and gathering sources. Teachers should be teaching. Dairy farmers should be milking cows. Welders should be welding. Presidents should be making decisions. I’ve seen companies where everyone has an open mind and tries to research every issue. They go out of business quickly.

    I also cringe when Pres. Trump makes a poor statement about any subject. Just as I cringe when Pres. Obama said that he’s going to change his calculus (not calculation). Or when Rep. Pelosi says that Republicans wear Swastikas. Or when Pres. Obama claimed there were 57 states, or claimed that the Supreme Court’s decision was wrong. Or when Rep. Hank Johnson said that Guam will capsize. Politicians – in fact many non-Jeopardy contestants – misremember lots of things. The fact that Pres. Obama was tired and said “as a Muslim…” doesn’t really matter.

    I wish lots of people had time to read the Federalist papers, or Presidential biographies. Facebook would be a lot more tolerable. But, they haven’t. And many of them are successful. I am reminded of your “open mind” statement – would I discount the opinion of a President of a company if they hadn’t read Jack Welch? Yes, I read a lot of books in ninth grade. In our school, we had a class in Speed Reading. I probably read 100 books that year. Does that make me 10 times smarter than your ninth graders? I doubt it. As for Presidential reading, Pres. Clinton read cheap mystery novels. Pres. Obama liked fiction. Pres. Bush Sr. read almost 200 history and biography books while in office. Does that change your order of “Best President” in recent history?

    Does Pres. Trump value learning or does he value common sense? Is he an outlier in the cohort of politicians? Can he lead without researching an issue himself? Does tweeting equate to bad Presidenting? I’m not a fan of tweeting, but I worked for a guy who made us read management books every month – he studied how to run a company – he quoted Jefferson and JFK. In the end, he directly caused the bankruptcy of our company. $200m in losses. I worked for another guy who used common sense. He built and sold one company after another, making $200m. So, for me, in regards to Trump, I’m keeping an open mind. I do not accept any claim until there is enough reliable evidence to support the claim. I will Follow decisions and their consequences as they unfold over time, to see whether more knowledge and analysis lead to better outcomes.

    In short, you’re putting the blame in the wrong place. The Press is a disaster for knowledge and truth. They continue to publish out right lies, such as “no immigrant from the travel ban list has ever been a terrorist.” On election night, Rachel Maddow claimed that the President appoints the speaker of the house, the stock market will plunge, and that early voting was the cause of Pres. Trump’s victory.

    We are doing a tremendous disservice to our children. The man had been President for one day when thousands of people marched, with the claim that the end of the world was near. He has not hit 100 days and you’re claiming he’s the worst president ever. President Trump should be looked at as a role model – a tremendous exemplar of how politicians used to be. There weren’t career politicians. There weren’t jobs as community organizers. You make your fortune, then put it all at risk to serve the country. Yes, ego has something to do with it, but you can’t tell me that Sec. Clinton’s ego is any smaller. President Trump has yet to prove himself worthy of this position, but Pres. Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize in not much more time.

    If I were a teacher, I’d put some historical perspective on this situation. I’d ask, how does the press make money? Do they make more money when they publish absurdities? What is confirmation bias? Why was Pres. Trump elected even thought the Press predicted a massive landslide against him? Where do you get your news? Who started the Spanish-American war? Was OJ guilty? There are so many questions that can be answered that don’t involve predicting an outcome after 90 days.

    * Try to get the whole story from a diversity of high-quality sources, not just one side or one source.
    For example, if you read about the vandals who wrote graffiti on a school house in Ashburn, don’t just read what Deep Sran said, because you’d come to the conclusion that five white kids wrote hateful racist things because of Pres. Trump. However, if you look at a picture of the damage, the largest writings were about love and sex. “I (heart) LC,” drawings of penises and dinosaurs, and “I’m with Stupid” dwarf the swastikas – symbols that the perps admitted they didn’t know what it meant. It wasn’t a result of “Trump Effect,” unless of course that the “Trump Effect” somehow was in effect when I was a kid and similar things were painted all over the neighborhood. Read his quote in Rolling Stone – no mention of “Brown Power” being much more prominent than “White Power” or that 3 of the kids caught were in fact minorities.

    * Do not accept any claim until there is enough reliable evidence to support the claim.
    For example, don’t judge a presidency after 100 days, or after 1000. Don’t claim there’s a Lyme “pandemic” in NOVA, since a pandemic means world-wide, or at least continent-wide.

    * Follow decisions and their consequences as they unfold over time, to see whether more knowledge and analysis lead to better outcomes.
    For example, when looking at statistics concerning equal pay, think about the decisions that women and men make, and why they make them. Pres. Obama’s dept of labor concluded the pay gap “may be almost entirely the result of individual choices being made by both male and female workers.” His study showed that job for job, experience for experience, hour for hour, women made within 2% of men for each specific occupation. Sometimes more, sometimes less. There is no economic way that a teacher will make the same as an oil rigger. But, men work riskier jobs, work more hours per week, and more years in their lifetime. And they die 5 years earlier then women in the US. Discussion on equal pay must include decisions on how far you’re willing to drive and how soon you’re willing to die to make more money.

    And you want to claim that adult voters are a greater paradox? Please. Nothing shows greater arrogance than claiming that everyone should think the way you think. By most statistics, the middle class is getting shredded to the benefit of both of the other ends of the spectrum. Obamacare, while it’s a godsend for 10 million people, it’s caused serious consequences for me, my peers, the hospitals, and the doctors I use. Unsubstantiated statements? Like “every family will save $2,500 a year” or “I didn’t send any classified e-mail.” That paradox has taken hold of both sides. I hear outlandish things from Dems and Repubs. For example, most Dems believe that they have the edge on Science, and then they claim that life begins somewhere in the 3rd trimester. They also claim that by increasing the demand for doctors will somehow lower the price of healthcare. They believe that a pipeline crosses Native American territory and that somehow smashing up their own neighborhood teaches all of us a lesson. They believe that Michael Brown had his hands up.

    It is interesting that you gain insight reading a bible verse while entering Mr. Rockefeller Jr’s building. Junior was a tremendous New York City developer, just like the current president.

  • 2017-04-17 at 11:14 am
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    Buckbanzaii — Submit this as a letter/op-ed — Right Now! It is one of the best rhetorical pieces I’ve seen in quite some time.

    Quality writing such as this demonstrates the gulf between Loudoun Now, and all that other local print.

    • 2017-04-18 at 8:29 am
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      You are quite welcome to submit this as a letter for me. I give any implied copyrights.

  • 2017-04-20 at 11:22 pm
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    To everyone who posted comments to Mr. Sran’s article. The election is over. Trump is our president. Instead of railing against Clinton or atacking others, please address the points Mr. Scram made regarding the president.

    To Chris Manthos, I stopped reading after your first point. President Trump said “Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my “wires tapped” in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism!” Trump Tower was never specifically “wire tapped.” Any incidental recording would have been requested by career professional intelligence staff and approved by independent judges serving lifetime appointments.

  • 2017-04-24 at 7:25 pm
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    I’m missing it Mr. Johnson; Are you saying President Obama didn’t lie, repeatedly, when he plowed on with that lie about keeping our plan and our doctors? Is that where you’re coming from?

  • 2017-04-24 at 7:29 pm
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    I couldn’t do that Buck. I doubt the editor would let me, and anyway, it’d feel a bit like stealing to me. I still wish you would though. It’s simply superb writing.

  • 2017-04-25 at 10:04 am
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    Thanks, Chris, for pointing me back to buckbanzaii’s post. It was well worth the read.

    I hope to see buckbanzaii post some more.

  • 2017-04-29 at 10:49 am
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    Mr. Johnson,

    You’re wrong. (Thought I’d put that up front in case you stop reading after my first point again)

    How ironic that your post complains that people don’t address Mr. Sran’s points, but you can’t be bothered to read one that goes point by point. Maybe that’s why people just post ‘cow poop.’

    I don’t understand your point – you agree that Trump Tower was generally wire tapped and that involved incidental collection of Mr. Trump and/or his staff. Is “wire tapping” the wrong word? Or perhaps because it wasn’t Pres. Obama sitting in a van with headphones and a tape recorder?

    I don’t understand how the left is saying that there’s definitely collusion between the Russians and the Trump camp, yet utterly deny any possibility of our career professional intelligence staff actually looking into it. And certainly if the Manchurian Candidate were just elected, there’s no way Pres. Obama would have done anything to prevent it.

    — Buck

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