Monday, November 30, 2020

Being Fair to the Facts

I just read a newspaper article that really irritated me. It was about a social studies teacher who was familiarizing his students with how American elections worked. Nothing unusual there-- I studied that back when I was in high school, five decades ago. But when he told his students that Joe Biden had won the 2020 election (a well-documented fact), many of his students got upset with him. They began telling him about election fraud, about corrupt voting machines, that thousands of dead people had voted, plus there were illegal ballots; and above all, Joe Biden couldn't possibly have won because he stole the election from President Trump. 

Needless to say, the teacher was not amused, but he wasn't entirely shocked. Living in a red state, he knew that students heard these sorts of things at home. Plus, given the world of social media, it was all too easy for students to encounter many inaccurate claims. As a teacher, he was known for being non-partisan; thus, he figured his job was to correct the kids-- and to show them fact-checking sites that refuted their assertions. Over all, he just wanted his students to know what happened, no matter which party won. So, he showed them how votes are tabulated, who counts them, the safeguards in the system, and why their assertions were inaccurate. And he told them that in the 2020 election, Mr. Biden had received more votes-- both electoral votes and popular votes. 

But that did not satisfy his students. They kept defending the president, and repeating what he had said. They kept insisting that there was "massive fraud," that Pres. Trump had been robbed, and that he had actually won.  And then, some irate parents began complaining about the teacher; one parent even demanded that their kid be taken out of the teacher's class immediately. In other words, the parents wanted the teacher to stop telling students anything that contradicted what the president was saying-- even if those claims were false.

If you were teaching those students, what would you do? I've heard versions of this story from a number of teachers, all of whom were advised not to be "controversial" and not to teach anything that students (or their parents) would perceive as partisan. But that seems like an impossible task, since no matter what a teacher might say, there is someone who is bound to be offended. And in this case, things are complicated by the constant presence of Mr. Trump, continuing to assert that he was robbed, continuing to stir up his supporters, and continuing to cast doubt on the election (and on the electoral process).      

I have been very disappointed that this president persists in spreading baseless accusations. He has every right to be upset that he lost, but the fact remains: he lost. And spreading misinformation on partisan TV channels and websites is horrible for our democracy.  I hope he will concede, as others have done before him. And I hope he will admit there was no fraud and no cheating-- there was simply the fact that someone else won the election. Meanwhile, all over the country, teachers and professors are left to pick up the pieces, as Mr. Trump tries to make his own ego feel good, while doing real damage to the public's faith in our democracy. Conservative media are also being very unhelpful by giving Mr. Trump's false claims a place to be heard: yes, their audience loves it, but again, the harm to our democracy could be lasting.  

I don't know when it became controversial to teach that the person who got more votes was the winner of the election. There have been many times over the years when I couldn't believe that candidate X didn't win and candidate Y did... but I was never tempted to deny reality or avoid telling my students what the facts were (whether I liked those facts or not).  2020 has been a brutal year in numerous ways, and I am one of many who won't be sorry to see it go. But I hope we can also put an end to the ongoing effort by this president and his enablers to insist that facts are not facts, and to insist that only Mr. Trump's version of the truth is what matters. It doesn't. He lost. I understand he wishes that he won. But he didn't. And it's time for him to accept that fact, so the rest of us can move on. 



  1. I just read that William Barr made a statement to the press that the Justice Department found no evidence of voter fraud that would have changed the election outcome. I wonder if they will all turn on Barr now.

  2. Something similar happened to me when I taught Sociology in 2018/19. I live in a blue state but was teaching in a red area. This man's story resonates with me a LOT.

  3. If these kids are heavily Evangelical, they might have bought into Trump being "anointed by God," etc.

    "There are TV preachers who said that God told them that Trump would be re-elected for a second term. And God does not lie. So the election must have been rigged against Trump."