School and Society in the Age of Trump

John Rogers and the research team of Michael Ishimoto, Alexander Kwako, Anthony Berryman, and Claudia Diera have produced a landmark study entitled “School and Society in the Age of Trump,” based on their survey of 505 high school principals and follow-up interviews of 40 principals.

The principals offered evidence about five challenges that confront schools at this moment: 1. “Political division and hostility,” 2. “Disputes over truth, facts, and the reliability of sources,” 3. “The crises posed by opioid addiction,” 4. “Vulnerabilities associated with threats of immigration enforcement” and 5. “The perils and frequency of gun violence.”

The report explores the frequency of these issues in various types of school: those with predominantly students of color, racially-mixed schools, and schools with mostly white students; schools in Trump, anti-Trump, and politically mixed communities; and schools in different regions of the country. Principals were also also asked how their schools respond. For instance, do they communicate the importance of respecting new immigrants? Do they discipline students for uncivil or demeaning behavior?

All the results make sense, but they are not always immediately intuitive. For instance, derogatory remarks about other racial/ethnic groups are more common than derogatory remarks about immigrants, and both are most common in predominantly white schools, but far from absent in the other schools. (See below.)

Principals are also most likely to report disciplining students for insensitive remarks in mostly-white schools, but they are much less likely to talk with their students about the importance of respecting immigrants in the mostly-white schools.

Many principals report proactive responses, such as meeting with student groups to ask for their help in promoting civility and respect or meeting with parents for similar purposes. But those responses vary greatly. Sixty-two percent of principals serving mostly youth of color met with parents for this reason, versus 37% of principals in mostly white schools.

It’s common today for parents to challenge the information or news sources that teachers assign or for students to reject assigned sources. The frequency of those events doesn’t differ dramatically depending on the schools’ demographics (although I imagine that the sources that are distrusted differ).

According to the report, “A little more than a quarter of principals report they have restricted topics or information sources in order to diminish the flow of unreliable or contentious information.”

A different kind of stress comes from the opioid crisis. It is worst in predominantly white schools but definitely present in racially-mixed schools and those that serve mostly youth of color.

Rogers and colleague write that “Sixty-eight percent of the principals we surveyed report that federal immigration enforcement policies and the political rhetoric around the issue have harmed student well-being and learning, and undermined the work of their schools in general.”

Students across the board are fearful of gun violence, but more so to the degree that their students are people of color.

These challenges vary by demographics and region, but I’ll show a final graph about politics. The opioid crisis is most widely reported in Trump country. Political division is also more often reported there than elsewhere, but by small margins. In Trump country, far fewer principals report immigration enforcement as a challenge for their students. (That is either because of where most immigrants live or because of problems of under-reporting in Trump districts, as Rogers notes.) Untrustworthy information is seen as a challenge everywhere, to about the same degree, but I am sure that what counts as untrustworthy varies.

These are just some snapshots from a rich and compelling report.

About Peter

Associate Dean for Research and the Lincoln Filene Professor of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Tufts University's Tisch College of Civic Life. Concerned about civic education, civic engagement, and democratic reform in the United States and elsewhere.
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