Awful Silence

School choice advocates have been largely silent on Trump’s awfulness—and that speaks volumes, says early childhood educator Jamila Carter


By Jamila Carter
I recently read an opinion piece that was written by a school choice advocate who attempted to justify why so many white people voted for an openly racist, misogynist, xenophobe. The author pointed to class and the disenfranchisement of poor whites as the main drivers of the outcome, minimizing the role that racism played in the election results. But what was missing from this analysis was the fact that, of Trump’s voters, 45% were white, college educated women and 54% were white college educated.

Downplaying the fact that the foundation of Trump’s campaign was rooted firmly in fear and hatred of the *other* displays willful ignorance. And explaining the voting pattern of White America by class rather than race ignores history. Trump’s divide and conquer methods are nothing new. While those of us who are people of color, immigrants, Muslims or LGBTQ are still stunned, grieving and fearful of what a Trump Administration will mean for us, this writer and far too many others are insisting that we consider why so many white people opted to throw us under the bus.

Since America’s inception, we’ve seen elites and politicians pit working class whites against people of color in order to protect their own interests and acquire political gain. This is the very strategy that laid the foundation for a race based system of oppression. This is precisely the strategy that was used to win the election. People who voted for Trump transcend gender and class, and in some cases, race. But however deeply disillusioned Trump voters are with our economy and political system, it does not erase the fact that people voted for him despite his awful rhetoric, knowing that his proposed policies will not affect their lives.

It is hard for me to comprehend how those who paint themselves as champions for poor Black and Brown families, claiming to work tirelessly to ensure that these children have access to quality educational options, can somehow ignore the fact that Trump’s campaign othered and dehumanized, and in some cases, jeopardized the safety of these very families.

It is hard for me to comprehend how those who paint themselves as champions for poor Black and Brown families, claiming to work tirelessly to ensure that these children have access to quality educational options, can somehow ignore the fact that Trump’s campaign othered and dehumanized, and in some cases, jeopardized the safety of these very families. It’s incredibly hypocritical that education reformers see fit to appropriate the language of the civil rights movement and its most notable leaders to further their agenda, but somehow excuse Donald Trump supporters for their violent and racist attacks against anyone who doesn’t look like, pray like or love like them. There is no excuse. I’m not sure if these school choice advocates slept through the campaign, but the rest of America heard all too loudly Trump’s dog whistle uniting his supporters by invoking two emotions: hate and fear. It was at the very heart of his campaign.

Image result for trump protestsPerhaps some folks in the corporate education reform movement empathize with Trump supporters because the movement and the Trump campaign aren’t so different.  Both use disingenuous language that we have heard time and time again, never veering from the *message,* no matter how redundant or condescending. The difference is that the rhetoric spewed by the former, appeals to people who have been affected by systemic racism and disinvestment in the schools in their communities, while Trump’s rhetoric played on the fears of white people who felt that the America that they were entitled to had somehow slipped away. Hence the rallying cry: *Make America Great Again.* Unfortunately, this great America* doesn’t seem to include the children that these self-proclaimed advocates claim to want to *save.*

Trump insults us by pledging to clean up the *inner cities* through stop-and-frisk and a return to *law and order,* recycling the racist rhetoric of politicians of the past. The favored phrases of education reformers, meanwhile—grit, no excuses and accountability—may appear harmless at first, but pull back the veil and we realize that they lead to higher expulsion and suspension rates for  black and brown children, education that centers on standardized testing, and the implication that  poor children of color lack character and the ability to persevere when faced with hardship. Trump and education reformers also share an intolerance for criticism. Raise your voice against any aspect of the corporate education reform movement and you are *aiding in keeping poor black and brown children trapped in failing schools.*

I wonder how the *movement* that cloaks itself in the language of racial justice and civil rights will reconcile the fact that the President elect has thrown his full support behind school choice? Will they abandon their talking points to further the agenda? Will they in turn throw their full support behind a man who has stoked the fires of hate and fear? Or will they stand up for the families that have been systematically denied the same opportunities as their white counterparts?

No matter what the intent, the impact of this election will be devastating for our children. It’s time that privileged reform advocates acknowledge our children’s humanity and replace talking points, catchphrases and empty rhetoric with the real work of educational equity and social justice in our schools.

Jamila Carter is a mother of three and an early childhood educator in Philadelphia, PA. Follow her on Twitter at @jubimom.


  1. “But what was missing from this analysis was the fact that 45% of white, college educated women and 54% of white college educated men voted for Trump.”

    Shouldn’t that read that include “of those who voted for Trump, 45% were white, college-educated women and 54% were white, college-educated men”?

    And I can’t help noticing Ms. Carter, in the ongoing determination to make the results of this disastrous election all about racism, also neglects to mention that (a) many of the counties that voted for Trump supported Mr. Obama in both ’08 and ’12 and (b) more people of color voted for Trump than voted for Romney in ’12. If there is verifiable evidence to dispute that date, I would very much appreciate being directed to it.

    If the above sparks a desire to accuse me of “Trumpsplaining” or otherwise defending the appalling mess that is having the GOP in control of the US government, please don’t. First, it’s been done, so I get the message. Second, as a lifelong progressive who lived in those much-disparaged areas most of my life, I am well aware of the mindsets that dwell there and so am, perhaps, fairly well qualified to dispute AND support the current Sunday-morning quarterbacking.

    1. So you think that having voted for Obama in the past exempts folks from white privilege and helping to keep white supremacy in tact? It is the very definition, which is my larger point. These people, many of whom claim to be allies, voted for Trump despite his racist and bigoted rhetoric. I’m sorry, but I’ll never see the logic. And those voters of color who voted for Trump are complicit in upholding the institution of racism as well. You can’t claim to believe in equal rights for all and vote for a hate monger. It’s just that simple.

      1. You had me at racist, xenophobe and mysogenist. Turned off the rest of what you had to say. This constant namecalling is racist in nature. By namecalling you diminish whites (and by using the words white privilege) you demonstrate racism yourself. No proof just poor reasoning skills.

        1. Jamila, I stand with you. Defending the rights of children to equitable education should not be contested. After living in Tucson AZ for 40 years I fully understand that many coastal whites do not understand white privilege. As a former New England women, I did not recognize my privilege, but now I am dedicated to equity and social justice. It hurts to learn that my race is viewed as clueless. The time for allyship and defending equity is now more critical than ever.

      2. “It is hard for me to comprehend how those who paint themselves as champions for poor Black and Brown families, claiming to work tirelessly to ensure that these children have access to quality educational options, can somehow ignore the fact that Trump’s campaign othered and dehumanized, and in some cases, jeopardized the safety of these very families. ”

        Give me specifics-you must have heard different speeches than I did or you just repeating headlines.

        No one has done more harm to the education of minority children than President Obama with Common Core. Not only did her hurt suburban children, but threw minorities further behind.

  2. Shavar Jeffries, of the oft-maligned DFER, takes a stronger stance against Trump (as do many of us who lean toward reform and count ourselves as Democrats.

    “It is, generally speaking, an honor for any person of any political persuasion to be asked by the President of the United States to consider a Cabinet-level appointment, but in the case of President-elect Trump, DFER encourages no Democrat to accept an appointment to serve as Secretary of Education in this new administration. In so doing, that individual would become an agent for an agenda that both contradicts progressive values and threatens grave harm to our nation’s most vulnerable kids.

    “Foundational education reform principles – from raising standards and strengthening accountability, to expanding public-school choice, to furthering innovations in teacher preparation and support, and advancing resource equity – all find their roots in a progressive commitment to ensuring that all children, particularly our most vulnerable, have access to schools that enable them to fulfill their potential.

    “This progressive commitment to equitable education policy also goes hand-in-hand with intersectional issues that affect our kids. While effective school policies are vitally important, so too are the environmental conditions affecting children and families. A child who is homeless; a child without access to food or healthcare; a child whose parent cannot find steady work; a child whose dad is locked up for years on low-level drug offenses—each of these situations dramatically compromise the life chances of our children.

    “The policies and rhetoric of President-elect Trump run contrary to the most fundamental values of what it means to be a progressive committed to educating our kids and strengthening our families and communities. He proposes to eliminate accountability standards, cut Title I funding, and to gut support for vital social services that maximize our students’ ability to reach their potential. And, most pernicious, Trump gives both tacit and express endorsement to a dangerous set of racial, ethnic, religious, and gender stereotypes that assault the basic dignity of our children, causing incalculable harm not only to their sense of self, but also to their sense of belonging as accepted members of school communities and neighborhoods.

    “For these reasons, no Democrat should accept appointment as Secretary of Education, unless and until President-elect Trump disavows his prior statements and commits to educating the whole child and supporting the communities and families they depend on.”

    1. I thought Jeffries’ statement was great. But there don’t seem to be many prominent reformers joining him. Instead their initial discomfort about Trump is “easing” thanks to his enthusiasm for charter schools. (See Moskowitz, Eva). We’ve been trending away from the “civil rights issue of our time” for a while now, and Trump will hammer the last nail into that particular coffin. One thing I’m very curious about that I haven’t seen anyone mention is how the Trump stamp of approval will affect hiring at charter networks that depend on a huge pool of eager young labor. Will the same college students who are protesting him now still flock to teach at Success Academy? The political map is about to be redrawn in all sorts of interesting and complicated ways and I’m looking forward to offering my cartographical services!

    2. And now for the DFER walkback. This is Jeffries’, um, clarification.

      The attached FAQs flesh out our reasoning, emphasizing that we intend to work with Democrats to support Trump on policies, including increases in high-quality charter school funding, that expand opportunities for kids: working with an Administration on good policy and working for an Administration as an employee of that Administration are fundamentally different. We need to hear a different set of policies from Trump until we’d recommend that a Democrat take that step.
      … We’re not saying that Democrats should not, when possible, work with President-elect Trump on education issues, but rather that no Democrat should work for him as Secretary of Education.
      We believe it is critical to the long-term sustainability of the work we care about to make a clear distinction between the progressive education reforms that we support, and the agenda put forward by President-elect Trump.
      … Much more likely is that the appointment to Secretary of a Democrat who is identified with our issue would do irreparable damage to our movement’s credibility with the progressive leaders and voters we hope to engage, and could be seen as giving implicit support to an agenda that attacks the very communities we aim to serve.
      … There are many competent Republicans who would be a good fit for a Trump administration. Our goal, as Democrats who support education reform, is to work within our Party to build support for reform policies. For the reasons stated above, we do not believe a Democrat should accept the appointment.
      We hope the president-elect appoints someone willing to stand-up for children, and who is empowered to challenge the Administration’s stance on education policy specifically as well as interrelated policy issues that affect the kids and families we fight for.
      … As noted earlier, we draw a distinction between working with and working for Trump. Where appropriate, we will work with the Administration to pursue policies that expand opportunity for kids, and we will vocally oppose rhetoric or policies that undermine those opportunities.
      But our mission is to build more support among Democrats for reform—a critical agenda in light of the outsized power of the teachers’ union within the Party—and to cultivate bi-partisan support for reform by growing the number of Democrats who support pro-child policies.

    3. More from the DFER FAQ

      “Q: But don’t Democratic education reformers support many of Trump’s policy positions?

      “While there are certain policies Trump has outlined where we have common ground—primarily increased federal support for charter schools, which of course we support enthusiastically—there are many more on which we are staunchly at odds. Taken as a whole, the President-elect’s rhetoric, domestic agenda, and recent appointments, stand in direct conflict with our mission:
      “Trump has talked about either eliminating the Department of Education or “cutting it way, way down” and foregoing any meaningful federal role on accountability.
      His repeal of Obamacare could reduce access to affordable healthcare for millions of children, youth, and families.
      “His immigration policies will result in the deportation of millions of Dreamers and their parents.
      “His approach to criminal justice would perpetuate high rates of incarceration for non-violent offenders that destroy families and communities.
      “His budgetary policies could bankrupt the federal government, forcing massive cuts to health care, education, and social programs.
      “He also has consistently espoused offensive, bigoted views about various ethnic and religious minority communities, many of which are the very communities within which we seek to build more durable support for education reform.”

      Shavar Jeffries’ column in the Washington Post this week is worth a read where he states: “But as much as we enthusiastically support resources to grow and expand any high-performing public school, including public charters, that by itself in no way counterbalances the grave, generational challenge Trump’s retrograde policies and rhetoric present to America’s schoolchildren, particularly our most vulnerable low-income urban and rural children.”

      DFER co-founder Whitney Tilson was more vehemently and voluminously opposed to Trump during the course of the campaign that anyone else I can think of who is publicly engaged in education policy advocacy. Though Diane Ravitch merits an honorable mention.

      1. This is a charter teacher here. I live in MA, where charter accountability is a high priority and I would not want it any other way. I don’t want to be Philly or Michigan. I think Devos is crazy. I was opposed to the recent ballot initiative. Teachers at my school sit around the lunch table talking about how we wish there was a more reasonable bill with slow charter growth with high accountability built in. And we believe that some issues with transportation funding, backfilling and common lottery (with spaces left open in every school for newcomers and parents who don’t fill out the lottery). I have been looking at MA law with some anti-charter folks to see if we are protected against crazy Devos’s schemes. Now if she were to propose something reasonable, would I go along with it? Maybe. It is just that I don’t think she is likely to propose anything that I would agree with since I have yet to hear her say anything that I agree with. There are many of us in MA who don’t want widespread charter expansion. We want only the best charters to expand. And we appreciate how the DESE oversight has pushed us to improve. I wish more states had ed departments as effective as ours. I worry that Devos is going to make other states hold schools even less accountable. The fact that There and Moskowit wouldn’t work with Trump means that his ideas have got to me WAY out there.

  3. “I wonder how the *movement* that cloaks itself in the language of racial justice and civil rights will reconcile the fact that the President elect has thrown his full support behind school choice? Will they abandon their talking points to further the agenda?”
    “Will they in turn throw their full support behind a man who has stoked the fires of hate and fear?”
    “Or will they stand up for the families that have been systematically denied the same opportunities as their white counterparts?”
    Yes. In a meaningless way for the sake of appearances.

    Born and raised in Detroit. I was there during the riots. I watched the transformation of my city and the suburbs from a front row seat and it was heartbreaking. Watching my city struggle for decades has been heartbreaking. But the Betsy Devos school choice was the biggest blow. The Devos scheme wasn’t about money. It wasn’t about getting children into private Christian schools. It had little to do with quality education for children, that’s for sure.

    Betsy Devos school choice was the solution to Brown V. Board of Education. Legal segregation.

    The support for Trump/DeVos modern day segregation school choice program will receive an enormous amount of support. It’s going to come from the racist Trump supporters, but it will also come from the inherently selfish non-Trump supporters. We got big problems.

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