Kindness, innovation, and Tuesday’s election


I typically try to stay out of politics on this blog, given that I’m trying to work with a wide variety of teachers, administrators, policymakers, and community members to transform learning environments for students. But I also know that many educators woke up Wednesday morning in disbelief about the previous night’s election results. Somehow we elected a racist, xenophobic, conspiracist, serial groper of women to be the next leader of the world’s most powerful nation. Apparently it didn’t matter to enough voters that he has – among other things – mocked people with disabilities, celebrated the use of torture, used coded anti-Semitic language, insulted the parents of deceased soldiers, denied basic science when it comes to climate change, ruminated about the casual use of nuclear weapons, and praised one of the most reviled dictators in the world.

As someone who cares deeply about social justice issues, I was dismayed yesterday to hear a man behind me on the airplane say that he was ‘incredibly pumped about the GOP clean sweep – President, Senate, House, and Supreme Court – game, set, and match’ and that he was looking forward to rolling back ‘all of the BS that’s happened over the past 8 years.’ ‘Game, set, and match’: those are not words of unity and togetherness. Those are words of anger and power and revenge, words that I’m sure are frightening to women, persons of color, immigrants, and people of other faiths (just to name a few). Let’s be clear: this may be the reality in our country but the vitriolic hate and utter dismissal of basic human dignities that have been major political themes during this election represent the worst of human nature and American society. It shouldn’t be surprising that anyone who is not a conservative white male might be a little worried right now. When someone preaches so much hate for so many months, it’s an uphill road to now be a unifier.

Many educators are trying to figure out how to respond and what to say to students who are concerned and afraid. Or what to do when the hate comes into the school. Two thoughts come to me during these first days after the election…

First, we must continue to model the kindness, empathy, civility, acceptance, and inclusiveness that are the hallmarks of most schooling environments. Educators know how important it is to honor each and every child, regardless of skin color, religious faith, or family background. The hateful statements and physical violence that have sprouted during the past year are antithetical in every school and classroom that I know. We must continue to explicitly and visibly model for our communities (and the nation at large) how to treat each other with grace, respect, and dignity, particularly when we disagree with each other.

Second, one of the key themes of the election was the insurgence of non-college-educated white voters who feel that they are being left behind by our economy. ‘It’s about jobs’ has been a key mantra. But job growth since the recession has been quite steady:

2016-11-04 job growth chart

The challenge is that many (most?) of those new jobs are either very low-paying or in sectors for which a college degree is a foundational requirement. The job prospects for employees who aren’t able to engage in higher-level, non-routine mental work have been declining for decades now:


We also have to pay attention to college attendance and persistence. The majority of American workers do not have a college degree, and even younger graduates are not making it through college. For instance, here are the numbers from Colorado, despite our desire that high school graduates “demonstrate the knowledge and skills (competencies) needed to succeed in postsecondary settings”:

   74.6% Colorado high school graduation rate, Class of 2009
   52.6% acquired some kind of postsecondary credential by 2015 (page 22)
   64% their credential was a 4-year diploma
   (approximately; it’s probably a little lower than the 2011 rate; page 22)
   25% of the Colorado High School Class of 2009 has a 4-year degree by 2015

Schools are complicit with other societal institutions when it comes to individuals’ economic malaise and the inadequate preparation of our workforce. Research studies consistently show that most students spend about 80% to 85% of their school day doing routine mental work, despite the fact that the only substantive, long-term job growth in America is in professions that require non-routine mental work. Our dogged perpetuation of low-level learning environments helps foster economic insecurity and political revolts. While we continue to emphasize in our classrooms the kind of stuff that can be done in 3 seconds with voice-activated apps, search engines, or software like PhotoMath, our graduates are suffering. Schools are not just about preparing worker bees but they are necessary and vitally important components of our country’s workforce preparation pipeline. We have to own this as educators. And we must do better or we will continue to doom millions of graduates to prolonged economic hardship because they don’t have the preparation and the skills to do something different.

9 Responses to “Kindness, innovation, and Tuesday’s election”

  1. That was one of the best responses to the election that I have seen yet.

    Given that this is also a blog on technology, I would like to add that, in addition to the need for schools to teach critical thinking in general, it’s important that media literacy include the recognition that the ‘news’ that’s showing up in your Facebook/Twitter/etc stream is not necessary real, let alone representative. If I were judging by my social media feeds, then it would seem everyone was voting Democratic party, and everyone was disappointed with the actual election results. Other people’s feeds would correspondingly be reflecting the opposite consensus. The algorithms which choose what we see in our individualized feeds are a powerful factor in creating the illusion that what we believe is both accurate and widely shared.

    The result of a technology that encourages people to unfriend anyone whose beliefs and opinions differ from our own inevitably leads to the sort of polarization we have recently witnessed in American society, and the unwillingness to accept not just alternative views, but the fundamental principle of accepting election results. I understand and likely support protesting particular ill conceived initiatives of the new government going forward, but rejecting the democratic process as a whole is a very dangerous and wrong-headed idea. Ballots instead of bullets –anything else should be unthinkable.

  2. Thank you, Scott, for this thoughtful and relevant post. We cannot ignore the social justice issues that this election raises but we, as educators, can do our part to mitigate it. Some of that means speaking uncomfortable truths. Thank you for speaking up on our behalf.

  3. Dear Scott,

    A nice post in challenging circumstances.

    You say “… we must continue to model the kindness, empathy,
    civility, acceptance, and inclusiveness that are the hallmarks
    of most schooling environments. Educators know how important
    it is to honor each and every child, regardless of skin color,
    religious faith, or family background.”

    Yes, yes! But we must, I think, do more than this. The Trump
    campaign, like the Brexit Leave campaign in the UK, was built
    upon deliberately brutal, at times vicious, discriminatory,
    truth discarding words and actions. Their success has
    effectively legitimised this kind of behaviour, and we have
    seen, and can expect to see more, others adopt elements of
    this behaviour, often the more extreme elements, in their on
    going celebrations of their victories and, in the UK,
    reactions to anything they perceive as an attach or reversal
    of their cherished gains.

    Moving through and beyond this sate of affairs, to an
    acceptance by all that, for democracy to work, all and any
    political campaign, social debate and discussion, must be
    conducted only in a way that displays clear and genuine
    recognition, acceptance, respect, and consideration of every
    person involved, directly and indirectly, simply because they
    are people, is the challenge we now face, and must address,
    starting in our schools.

    And more, in the UK, the Leave supporters, and Brexit winners,
    have stolen the word “democracy” to use as a weapon against
    all those you won’t simply shut up and accept that they lost.
    Any opposition or resistance to Brexit is now branded as an
    act against the people and against democracy. This is the
    tyranny by language that Orwell warned and wrote of.

    The Brexit referendum in the UK was not an act of real
    democracy. It followed decades of mis-representation and
    deliberate mis-information, by parts of the press and some
    Conservative politicians, about the EU and how it works and
    what the UK gains from its membership, culminating in an ugly
    campaign involving, on both sides, gross and extreme
    exaggeration and dishonesty. It was also a negligently
    specified vote. For a question equivalent to, if not actual,
    constitutional change, it should have required a 75%
    participation (of eligible voters) and a two-thirds
    majority–so a positive outcome is constituted of at least
    half the eligible voters. Surely the minimum a democracy
    needs to justify and sustain such important changes. This is
    what is most often used for constitution changing votes.

    We need to not just tell our young that we live in a
    democracy. We need to explain to them how this works, what it
    needs to work, how it is kept working well, and against what
    kinds of attacks and erosions and challenges, internal, not
    just external, we need to actively defend and sustain it.

    Best regards,


    Donostia / San Sebastián
    The Basque Country

  4. Hi Scott! Your blog has been my “go to” for insights and views on educational technology and education in general. However, I am disappointed by the political opinions at the end of your introductory paragraph. I also don’t see it as a model of “kindness, empathy, civility, acceptance, and inclusiveness.” It also fails to recognize that you have followers who are hopeful by the election results.

    I empathize with your feelings of disbelief as I’ve been there before. However, I wish that you stuck to your guidelines of keeping politics out of this blog.

    • Thanks, Debbie. I believe it’s important to stand against racism, sexism, hate, and the demonization of others when we see it. I’m willing to disappoint a few folks on my blog if that’s the end result. All my best.

    • Debbie, I would have to respectfully disagree. Using Trump’s own statements, it becomes clear that he is anything BUT civil, kind, empathetic, etc. Scott is simply describing the reality of the situation.

      I have just retired after almost 30 years in education with most of it in Higher Education; however, I am very concerned about what this President may do to Education at every level. I do not recall ONE speech where he talked in-depth about the role of Education in society, much less the role of technology or the cost of college tuition. We know that he uses Twitter but not much else about his own tech habits. His choice of cabinet member for Education may well signal whether we go forward or backward in funding levels and focus. We cannot assume we have a champion for Educational technology as we have had in President Obama.

      Certainly, teachers concerned with how their minority students, special needs students, and ESL students are treated have reason to be concerned. Trump has not demonstrated qualities to be emulated in his treatment of people. It is unfortunate that his election provides ample material for lesson plans on how NOT to use Twitter for cyberbullying; however, to ignore the political aspects of this past election cycle is not really possible. We must be prepared for how his administration is going to impact the day to day lives of teachers and students, and we must think about how to respond to those students who are now worried about their Muslim, gay, immigrant or “Mexican” friends and classmates.

      I commend Scott for addressing the issues. To ignore them seems both impractical and cowardly. This election has tremendous implications for everything we do in the classroom.

  5. Hi Scott,

    in Australia we have been living with the coded and more overt messages that are xenophobic, racist, misogynistic, anti-science and anti-intellectual messages for a while now… And worse, seeing in our government’s policies the natural outcome of these: exclusions, dehumanising language and actions, tactic acceptance of racist and gendered violence in facilities we maintain overseas. Oh, and a continued refusal to do anything meaningful about the environment, because… Economy! Jobs!

    As educators, we are in such a wonderful position – being able to teach the next generation to think and see the potential. Your post was such a wonderful reminder that we can do something. We don’t have to politicise our classrooms, but we do have to ask ourselves what type of learner we want leaving at the end of the school year. Independent thinkers, who do not fear the new, respect others, respect informed opinions, and see technology as a tool the enhances their learning, their communications reach, and even a means of changing the world for the better, not just to make us all richer.
    Thank you. This post was necessary – these are challenging times, but also an opportunity for positive responses, and future planning.
    (Note, hate and fear are destroyers, not builders, keep standing against them please. We can build a better future).

  6. Hi Scott, could you provide a link for this citation:

    “Research studies consistently show that most students spend about 80% to 85% of their school day doing routine mental work”



    • Thanks for the question, Dan. I’m at a conference all week but here are 4 quick ones:

      John Goodlad, A Place Called School
      Mike Schmoker, Results Now
      Robert C. Pianta, et al., Opportunities to Learn in America’s Elementary Classrooms
      Richard Elmore, Education Leadership as the Practice of Improvement

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