An Open Letter to President Trump on Behalf of Social Studies Teachers Everywhere

Mr. President,

A few days ago, you stood on a stage in front of Mount Rushmore and made some comments that can only be described as a direct attack upon public schools. In that speech, you claimed that America’s public schools teach students to “hate America” and insinuated that the indoctrination modern students receive in schools is at the root of much of the current movement to bring drastic changes in American society, such as the removal of monuments that honor Confederate leaders or the banning of Confederate flags from certain places. Although you called out public school teachers in general, truthfully, your finger of blame was actually pointed directly at me and all the other social studies teachers since it is our curriculum which has the most direct impact on students when it comes to what they know about their nation and its history. Mr. Trump, you certainly are not the first to attack us for indoctrinating students with unpatriotic points of view–I’ve been doing battle with far-right “historians” on this topic for years–but I’m not going to let what you said slide without firing back with a rebuttal. 

Mr. Trump, first let me address the second part of your accusation; the claim that public schools’ impact upon modern students is at the root the movement to change our society. You are obviously implying that is a bad thing, but I don’t see it that way at all.I really hope that’s true. It is the job of public education to raise up a new generation that will move their nation forward and help to shape it into the kind of place they want it to be. You’re considerably older than me, Mr. President, but let’s face it, we both have a lot more yesterdays behind us than tomorrows in front of us. The future belongs to the young. That seems to frighten you. It excites me. 

But what about this nonsense you’re now spouting about how we are teaching our students to “hate America”? With all due respect, sir, that is a steaming pile of horse shit. Let’s talk for a minute about what indoctrination is and what it is not, shall we? This idea that public schools are now implanting anti-American ideology into our students has been a common refrain from conservatives for the last few decades. When the mantra was picked up by far-right talk show hosts and Fox News, people like you and your followers started to spread it. The real reason the far-right is nervous about the way history and civics is now taught is that it has broken their long-held death grip on the historical narrative. What you now call indoctrination is simply a necessary corrective to many, many decades of actual indoctrination that was ordained and sponsored by right wing special interests. The vast majority of Americans over the age of 40 were force fed a whitewashed version of history; a version of history that was carefully crafted to produce a form of patriotism based in ignorance. That scheme worked to perfection. Cloaked in that success was a more sinister result; it normalized the kinds of injustice that we are now seeing attacked and systematically dismantled by that new generation of young Americans whom you accuse of hating America, Mr. President. What you either fail to realize or intentionally deny is that they don’t hate their country, they are just trying to make it what it should have been in the first place. 

The way our history was once taught helped to normalize the almost unimaginable income inequality problem in this nation. Robber barons were practically canonized with almost no mention of their ruthless tactics and mistreatment of labor. The fact that the three wealthiest Americans today control more wealth than the bottom 50% of Americans could only seem normal today with the help of years of indoctrination. To this day, it remains the enormous elephant in the American room that nobody seems to want to acknowledge. I’ll bet you know something about that topic, don’t you Mr. President?

The way our history was once taught made young girls feel as though it was normal for them to be subservient to men–to settle for only certain types of jobs–to have very little in the way of political franchise–to receive lower pay than men for the same work–to be used and abused by powerful men–to accept the premise that they were somehow less than.

The way our history was once taught made it seem like it was God’s will that America rapidly expand across a vast continent, removing any people who already claimed that land at literally any cost. In the process, it normalized the near genocidal destruction of thousands of cultures of Native peoples through disease, warfare, and colonization as merely an unfortunate and unintended side effect of progress (never mind the thousands of treaties that were never honored by the American government). It normalized the forced takeover of Texas, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, and California from Mexico…just the spoils of war, nothing more, we were told.

The way our history was once taught helped to normalize racial bigotry. Bitter Southerners began spreading their “lost cause” ideology which somehow found its way into classrooms for decades. The myth of the benevolent master and the appreciative “savage-turned-Christian” slave is at the root of America’s racist core. It was used as justification then and somehow it never quite died away. Because of that kind of ideology, it became normal to see people of color as less than. That paved the way for a century of Jim Crow where the normal was shameful. And it’s still with us today as we have to continually point out that Black Lives Matter over the incessant ignorant clamor that “all lives matter.” The old school approach to teaching history aided in all of that happening, Mr. President, and it is very troublesome to me that you wish we would go back to it. 

To wrap up, Mr. President, I just want to add one more layer of perspective on this. Your claim that we don’t teach things the way we used to is valid. You seem to think that’s terrible and I say thank God for it. But hear this and hear it well; we don’t teach kids to hate their country. We teach kids what our country is supposed to be, we point out places along the way where we got off track, and then we teach them how those mistakes have had a direct impact upon our biggest problems today. We love our country, Mr. President, what we hate is how far some men with sinister agendas have hijacked our worthy ideals for their selfish power grabs. If we fail to point those things out, we are guilty of normalizing injustice. 

Today’s young people are taking a fresh look at the country they love, and they are taking a stand to reform it into what they know it should be. 

God bless America.


America’s Social Studies Teachers

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53 Replies to “An Open Letter to President Trump on Behalf of Social Studies Teachers Everywhere”

  1. I think you’re mom and dad taught at Frankton high school i believe your dad taught math

    1. If you can’t pare this down to one paragraph and one syllable words, Trump doesn’t have the ability to read it.

      1. Neither will a trumplican. Their brains can handle indebt writing.

  2. Thank you, Shane, for this truly inspiring essay.

  3. How about using President Mr President? As I recall, when we the people elect a member of society to be our President then they earn the title of President, not Mr. (last name). With all due respect from one teacher to another, please address the President of the United States of America appropriately.

      1. Thank you for your essay! One more typo: Please change opperate to operate in the donation request paragraph. Thank you again.

    1. When he starts acting like a president I will call him president. Don’t see that happening! If you want respect you must earn it!

      1. How about you realize that many Americans, including history teachers, voted for him and regardless whether you like him or not, he is still the president.

    2. I think he did refer to him as Mr. President… no?

    3. I have never called trump president ..presidents don’t act the way trump does..he is and will always be trump.. liars don’t deserve that title and he is a chronic liar.. He should open some History books and Civic books ohhh that is right he doesn’t like to read.. He is pulling America apart so fast I only hope and pray that we can put America together after he is gone…any one with any intelligence should be able to stand up to him especially the Senators..don’ t let him scare you…like his professor said in College he was the dumbest @## in his class..

    4. On the first reference the person’s full title would be used so it would be President of the United States Donald Trump. Second reference would be title and last name- President Trump. Third and subsequent mentions are last name only.

      1. Since I am older than you also…it’s very true that the History taught to our young now IS skewered to teach what a teacher thinks or what they personally believes to be true. I’ve worked in the school system and had several children that have gone through the public school system. When my child several years ago came home and told me so many untruths about the Vietnam war I was appalled what was being taught, and now 30 years later to find that blatant lies are taught…of course 45 yr old parents wouldnt know the difference since they were lied to themselves…Shame on you

      2. This is a helpful guideline regarding how to address a person holding an official title or office; thanks. However, it’s important for us prescriptivists (and I am often in that category) to realize that the way we learned details of procedure or protocol was centered on European and 20th-century standards. It’s not wrong or bad; it’s simply one type of standard. I wonder what new standards might be put in place by the young people who are products of the 21st century; I imagine those standards will be more inclusive and just….different. It’s cool to think about!

    5. I like to call him cheeto guy b/c he deserves nothing more. President or Mr. President leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Vote blue. No disrespect to you, he just doesn’t deserve the respect no matter what his title us.

    6. Dear John Doe(?). Step up and identify yourself. If you did your homework you would realize that the majority of the voters didn’t get their choice. So Mr. tRump didn’t earn the title.

    7. He is NOT my president, he was not elected by a majority and he is a cruel leader wanting to be a dictator. He doesn’t deserve to be called Mr. President.

  4. Well done, sir, thank you. One suggestion. Shorten it a bit, so it seems like less of a rant and takes less time(for his supporters) to read, and fix the several typos, including “unimaginal”, which you mean “unimaginable”. Thanks, again!

  5. This all ties into the what Ben Sasse has written in his wonderful book – The Vanishing American Adult – and he takes the education system to task. Why can’t we follow what so many other countries have done for centuries.

    1. I am amused by the editing of folks responding to this essay. Could it be teachers?

  6. An open letter that he will sadly never read. Because… you know, it involves reading.

  7. First, Thank You. I’ve come to realize (at 67) that most of what I learned about “America”, the real America, I learned after High School (the one exception was about our shameful treatment of Japanese Americans during WWII). I tried to make a donation but I refuse to use PayPal as the founder/largest recipient of its success is a very, very Right Winger who I will not support.

  8. And THIS is why so many people are turning to homeschooling. By your own admission, what you are doing is taking history and placing today’s standards of thought and behavior toward one another on people from hundreds of years ago. Instead of looking at the times and the misconceptions people held, you are damning those people as barbarians. They were a product of their time and teaching children to judge the people of the past with today’s standards does exactly what you are willfully trying to do, tear down the very fabric of what made this country the greatest nation in the history of the world. The United States has a unique history but it also has a common history with every other country on the face of the earth. Every country has “stolen” land from other tribes, every country has utilized slaver labor, and some still do, every country has raped and pillaged to make gains. What every other country has NOT done is create an opportunity so massive for it’s people that it attracts immigrants from every other country in the entire world! The promise of opportunity is so great in the United States of America that people are willing to leave their heritage, their families, and every other thing they hold dear to come here, HERE, to this country that you seem to think needs a radical change. Why would that be? Instead of teaching children about the amazing opportunity this country holds for them, you teach them to hate the history of it. Instead of teaching children that the country they live in gives them equal opportunity, you teach them to expect equal results even if they give unequal effort. Instead of teaching children that we’ve come a long way since our founding, you teach them that they should conduct themselves as victims, unable to do for themselves unless the system is “overhauled.” You teach false narratives that your like minded liberal teacher friends rally around and pat yourselves on the back for. As if you’ve done something revolutionary. You want to be a revolutionary? Teach children to expect more from themselves, to push themselves harder than anyone around them would ever consider pushing them. Teach children that they can accomplish anything because they have the privilege of being citizens of the greatest nation on earth. Teach young women that the women who came before them fought hard for their rights as women and because of those women YOU can do and be absolutely anything you want to be! Stop teaching them to use excuses, stop letting them slide by with little effort! Stop teaching them what we’ve done wrong and start teaching them what we’ve done RIGHT! Because we have gotten a lot of things right! Stop teaching children that we should be ashamed of our country’s founding. Teach them to see the error of our ancestors ways but to never be ashamed of the country that has given so much to many!! Finally, I’ll leave you with this from late great Abraham Lincoln, I think we can all agree that he was a great man, a great President…

    “We find ourselves in the peaceful possession of the fairest portion of the earth, as regards extent of territory, fertility of soil, and salubrity of climate. We find ourselves under the government of a system of political institutions, conducing more essentially to the ends of civil and religious liberty, than any of which the history of former times tells us. We, when mounting the stage of existence, found ourselves the legal inheritors of these fundamental blessings.

    We toiled not in the acquirement or establishment of them — they are a legacy bequeathed us, by a once hardy, brave, and patriotic, but now lamented and departed race of ancestors. Theirs was the task (and nobly they performed it) to possess themselves, and through themselves, us, of this goodly land; and to uprear upon its hills and its valleys, a political edifice of liberty and equal rights; ’tis ours only, to transmit these, the former, unprofaned by the foot of an invader; the latter, undecayed by the lapse of time and untorn by usurpation, to the latest generation that fate shall permit the world to know. This task of gratitude to our fathers, justice to ourselves, duty to posterity, and love for our species in general, all imperatively require us faithfully to perform.

    How then shall we perform it? — At what point shall we expect the approach of danger? By what means shall we fortify against it? — Shall we expect some transatlantic military giant, to step the Ocean, and crush us at a blow? Never! — All the armies of Europe, Asia and Africa combined, with all the treasure of the earth (our own excepted) in their military chest; with a Buonaparte for a commander, could not by force, take a drink from the Ohio, or make a track on the Blue Ridge, in a trial of a thousand years.

    At what point then is the approach of danger to be expected? I answer, if it ever reach us, it must spring up amongst us. It cannot come from abroad. If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen, we must live through all time, or die by suicide.”

    1. girlSTIR,
      “By my own admission”???

      You have absolutely NO IDEA what you’re talking about. I teach well over 50 standards throughout the Year, but only ONE is always prominently featured in MULTIPLE PLACES on the walls of my classroom. Which standard is that, you might ask?

      It’s this, “Examine historical events from multiple perspectives and AVOID JUDGING PEOPLE OF THE PAST BY SOLELY USING MODERN DAY NORMS.

      I bet I reference that standard 100 times a year.

      STEP OFF!

      1. Exactly what I thought! A rant is all it was. Can’t believe I read the whole thing. But, everyone is entitled to their own point of view.

    2. I teach with Shane and you could not be more wrong!!! He constantly stresses that we need to look at multiple perspectives and we cannot judge the last based solely on modern norms!! It is a central focus of his teaching!!!! I have no idea how you came to the conclusions that you did. You are very, very, wrong.

    3. No teacher is teaching kids to make excuses, no teacher is teaching kids to slide by. No teacher teaches HATE! Teaching is a calling and this is NOT what we are called to do. We teach our students the highs and lows of our past. We show them our successes but the errors we made along the way. I’m not sure where you are getting this information, but let me assure you it’s incorrect. The Errors of our past must be taught in order for our nation to move forward and attempt to heal. Ignoring these errors just continues to divide us as a nation. The successes and errors of the USA are all part of our history. We cannot cherry pick and just teach the good stuff, that’s not the whole story. Not teaching the whole story would be disrespectful to our students. Our students deserve all of the facts. Please stop attacking teachers, I promise we love our students and want to aid in their development into becoming successful people and good citizens.

  9. Liberal indoctrination to fit the modern day Far Left Democrat party! Can anyone say Teacher Unions!!

  10. Thank you for stating a great ideal that should be fought for. I want to go to bat for you in saying that what is important about this message is not the grammar, the titles used or the length. It is the message! Could we all stay focused?

    I applauded your leadership!

  11. You are free to speak for yourself, but you do not represent or speak for all social studies teachers per your title since I wasn’t consulted. I have taught over 30 years and see indocrination happening. We teach all students who may have parents who don’t share our values. Our job is to teach factually, truthfully and unbiasly. Our job is not to push our agendas or create activists.

    1. We do need to shape informed citizens. What they do with it is their responsibility and prerogative. Also, more and more research demonstrates that objectivity in the classroom is nearly impossible. Students know where we stand whether we like it or not. The more you try to hide it, the more you reveal yourself. We should demonstrate civil discourse toward workable solutions rather then trying to own a lib. History is a debate in many areas, not a fairy tale or propaganda. Facts, yes. Truth, yes. Unbiased, love to see it because It’s nearly impossible.

    2. “Our job is to teach factually, truthfully and unbiasedly.”

      Yes, but it’s also a teacher’s job to teach students to think critically, which I would argue is one of Mr. Phipps’s main points in his letter; he never implies that a teacher should push an agenda or intentionally attempt to create activists.

      What a fantastic tool for critical thinking history could be, if students were more often led in critical discussion about the complexities of historical events. Teaching that Abraham Lincoln was a great president who freed the slaves is important information, but being asked to think critically about the complex reasons he (despite being an abolitionist) struggled with whether or not freeing the slaves at that time was the best thing to do for his country, THAT’S when history comes alive.

      You can’t teach critical thinking with cold facts alone.

  12. sorry, i am willing to contribute, but not give you my phone # (which you require of contributors)

  13. Shane, Your writing is thoughtful, well balanced, and objective. You obviously have a great love for the truth, for kindness, and for your students. Unfortunately, many people have lost the ability to look at facts and be objective. I am an oldster and when I recently watched the Tulsa, Oklahoma massacre of 1921 segment on “60 minutes” recently, I was amazed that I had never been taught that in public high school. We are a great country that will only become greater by learning from our past. Many people are so married to an ideology, that anyone who even questions their beliefs, is to be ripped on and dismissed, even if it means dismissing the facts (I guess we are supposed to become sheep and follow the President’s lead in this way?) Thanks for the optimistic, educational, and uplifting message.

  14. There is a rumor that Black Lives Matter leaders are following a Marxist Ideology and want to abolish prisons, defund police, and have white people cede all their wealth to black people. I don’t know how to go about disproving or validating this. Can you find and publish the black lives matter manifesto or bylaws or demands, whatever it is called, if it exists. Also, is all the money that people donate to BLM go direct to the Democratic Party? If so, do you think that there may be some reluctance of the democratic leaders to denounce violence associated with the protests? Do you see a problem with not having a police force ? Is crime ok now, but, prisons are too oppressive? Don’t you see a problem here? I do not have the ability to fact check, so I ask you to find out the truth. I am not a fan of anarchy. Of course BLM. I don’t know why it is racist to believe that all lives matter. From a logical standpoint, all lives includes black lives. DIana

    1. That is the most outlandish nonsense I’ve ever heard. I don’t know from where or whom you got that rumor but run from them as if they were toxic…because they are.

  15. This is a great piece. As someone who’s a strong advocate for education, I find it incredibly disappointing that the president (on more than one occasion) has attempted to vilify public education in the way he has.

    Personally, I’m excited that teachers out there are presenting history as the complex subject that it is. And what is to be lost by studying our history as it actually was? I can only imagine this would be a huge benefit to students and to the nation in general.

  16. Very articulate description of the vast majority of public education teachers, and certainly most of its locally administered curriculum(s). Part of the issue ‘some’ may have with your lengthy rebuttal of a couple of the president’s Mt Rushmore remarks is that each state/region does strongly influence the local public curriculum and even the tone and unscripted remarks each teacher delivers in their classrooms. Not all students receive the same level of ‘historical facts’ as they are unearthed and validated-or-corrected. And, of course, there are many adults who don’t want their long held understandings changed – false or not, when it might undermine their financial or social standing. So, “truth”, as selected ‘speakers’ within different books of the Bible say, is written by the victors of the battles.
    Knowledge and skill is what helped biblical David beat biblical Goliath, not strength or weight or sheer power. Please keep on keeping on educating the public to the truth that ‘…might does not make right’. Power may obscure the truth for awhile (if truth-sayers choose to ‘give-up’), but it will win out over fiction with perseverance, knowledge and skill.

  17. I have never considered 45 a president. Only a dictator out of control and extremely ignorant of the real world. I still don’t understand his followers. He has no practical knowledge as he sits in his ivory & gold tower. He is a power monger and no more. I can only hope that true American call him on his shit at the polls in November. I believe that those who voted to keep him in office should be under impeachment proceedings for committing treason against their districts Its all a good old boys club This must stop.

  18. ML Hanson,

    Name one “lie” about the Vietnam War which was taught to your child.

    I’ll wait.

  19. Thank you dear sweet Jesus for sending Donald J Trump to lead this AWESOME country. Without him we’d totally be SCREWED.
    We need more Presidents like him who ate not career politicians.

    1. President Trump’s administration is failing by nearly every objective measure. Messaging is inconsistent and contradictory. Debts and deficits are through the roof (even before COVID). Justice department is breaking norms, becoming more corrupt to protect ‘allies.‘ He is firing IG without cause, unprecedented. Health and human services is collapsing. CDC is muzzled. Allies are looking to remove US bases in their countries (Japan). We are pitied by the world over and are becoming a pariah state (EU travel restrictions). He rejects traditional allies while schmoozing some of the worlds worst dictators, including North Korea which has one of the worst record of Christian persecutions. Many future historians will look back and judge his biggest failure as being a wedge that divided this country. He made no real effort to unify the nation, only stoked racial tensions and division for personal gain. He politicized a pandemic because he was short sighted and refused to lead the entire nation, rather then his beloved base. He will more then likely lose the popular vote and win the electoral college in November. I believe this country can survive another Trump term, but it’s a leap of faith considering.

    2. Go out, braced by your faith in Jesus and Trump, and lick a dozen public doorknobs, then let us know if Jesus kept you safe. Trump is already screwing you and you don’t even get it. Oh, by the way, ate is the past tense of eat, unless of course you meant that Trump doesn’t eat career politicians. GD.

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