How Trump’s Rise Reflects Our Education System

Donald Trump                                                                          Gage Skidmore/Flickr

Along with many of you, I have watched, aghast, as Trump collects followers from every part of the U.S. and from every level of society. There are many theories out there about how this man has gained such popularity: a populace that is disgruntled with governments that don’t represent them, angry over a weak economy and a dying middle class, and fearful of just about everything (but especially terrorism and the loss of the American way of life).

But as an educator, I have to say I believe there’s a little more to Trump’s following than this. How does a man who has virtually no political experience and who spouts words like “I’ll make America great again” — without ever explaining how he plans to do so — gain supporters?

I think we have to put some of the blame on the education system. When we instill a system that focuses primarily on multiple-choice testing and memorization over critical thinking skills, we can’t be too surprised when people blindly believe ridiculous rhetoric that is unsupported by any sort of strategy. We need to seriously think about the tests we are giving our students and the way we are forcing teachers (who know better) to educate. We cannot expect to have a thinking general public when we don’t teach them to reflect on what they read and hear, and when we don’t respect divergent thinking.

We also have to look at the way we teach (or don’t teach) empathy. We have a rising epidemic of bullying in schools and very little has been done to change it. It’s not surprising that much isn’t done, either — harried teachers who frantically teach to the test don’t have time to deal with things like respect and understanding how others feel. Our society seems to think that bullying is somehow funny (I’ve written about the worrisome pervasiveness and popularity of bullying on TV shows before). Is it surprising, then, that our society would be enthralled by a bully like Donald Trump?

I do believe that fear of the future and a disenchantment with the government have a lot to do with Donald Trump’s popularity. But I think it goes even further than this. When you have a population that isn’t taught to think critically and you combine that with a society that believes bullying is somehow funny and entertaining, you have the perfect environment for the Trump phenomenon to grow and flourish.

Hopefully Trump won’t be elected. And hopefully this will serve as a wake-up call and we’ll begin to make changes. We need an education system that does not emphasize standardization, but instead encourages thinking outside the box and logical reasoning. We need an education system that focuses on helping students become respectful, empathetic citizens who don’t support bullies. Because do any of us want to get back on this media bandwagon the next time a bully decides to run for the presidency?


  1. Perhaps the arrogance and self-conceitedness that neatly divide our lonely planet into “civilization” and “barbarism” are indeed the results of a failed educational system. That is an excellent starting point for a discussion.
    Shall we consider a modest data set?: ISIS claimed responsibility for the Brussels terror bombings of March 22nd. On that same day and, somehow, in the same issue of The New York Times that carried the front-page story, the new commander of NATO and US forces in Afghanistan apologized to the people of Kunduz, Afghanistan, about a the bombing of a children’s hospital that claimed 42 lives in 2015. Who holds the monopoly over righteousness, and who is the “gentleman”, it may be asked? Were the 42 innocent victims ISIS or Al-Qaeda operatives? Or it really, simply doesn’t matter so long as they live among and are scions of the “barbaric”. Perhaps, condolences remain genuine whether they come from a head of state, a level-three state department official, a field marshal, or an army grunt, one year after “a collateral damage”.
    We hear the rhetoric about the US needing to assert its role as “the leader of the free world”… Is that role somehow enshrined in the declaration of independence, the constitution, a constitutional amendment or is it simply a hangover from the Cold War era? Which one the presidential hopefuls has delved into that notion and pondered what that expression truly means? Or is it just a case of hubris — the dysfunction that prevents foreign-policy makers and citizens of goodwill from moving past the headlines?
    About two weeks ago a Milwaukee man gunned down three neighbors in his apartment building because they spoke little or no English. It was not national news. Why should it be, when it happened in the land of the civilized?
    And until an American or NATO life is lost, armed and merciless christian militias continue to subject Muslims to a genocide in The Central African Republic.
    Trump is becoming a refined master at playing games with hate. Yet he is neither its inventor nor its sole historical purveyor. Remember the rhetoric of these Dixiecrats.. Orval Faubus of Arkansas, George Wallace of Alabama, and Ross Barnett of Mississippi?
    The pity of it all is that neither Trump nor his disciples have wondered beyond their rudeness, the promise of return to greatness, and the invective (and definitely implied)return to the dark past of humanity not just of the US.
    I am probably in the minority on this one: I trust that there are many more US citizens who will understand and perceive that the deluded emperor-in-waiting is unclad… But then I may only be dreaming!
    Occasionally, I wonder if the Trump phenomenon is an inevitable reaction from those who felt that “political correctness” has been forced upon them for about a generation now.
    Trump will and must be dumped!
    Carla, thanks for opening up this discussion!

    • Thank you for such a thoughtful response, Lincoln. I definitely agree with you. It seems the DR isn’t the only country where politicians prefer to have uneducated citizens who are far easier to manipulate!

  2. Hi Carla, you make some interesting points and I must admit to not being convinced that Trump is the most equipped to run this country. However, living here I am able to feel the pulse of true public opinion and venture to suggest that the populace is not as ignorant as you suggest. Indeed, since the inside job of 9-11 to the current scandals surrounding HRC (including corruption, pedophilia and much more) it has become obvious that the electorate are fuming and willing to try something radical. Having taught for 18 years in the failed public school system I can attest to the fact that teenagers here are very aware of what’s going on, and I have a lot of hope with the future in their hands. They know the lies being perpetrated by the msm and simply derive their information from the alternative media where much more accuracy and research can be honestly found. BO didn’t deliver the change he promised (although you’ll hear otherwise on all mainstream channels), and folks now are going to make the change for better or worse. For sure, Trump has some major characteristic shortcomings but people believe that he is fundamentally honest. For what it’s worth I am not a citizen which makes me ineligible to vote. I have never voted and never will, no matter who the candidates are. Some suggest that this means I cannot have an opinion but I do have one and have expressed myself as against the system from a very early age. While we’re on the subject (me), I am not a very nice person and can be quite abrasive. That said, I am fortunate to have many former students stay in touch and consider their experience under my tutelage as quite positive. As such, many of those who have known and worked with Trump over the years (pilot, engineer) attest to his perfectionism, an attribute I suspect he will bring to the White House. By the way, the corruption in government is global and these cronies all have each other’s backs, mostly by blackmail and murder. In any event, this political battle is interesting to watch as it is bursting at the seams. Feel free to email me with your response. Who knows, you might just convince me that I’m wrong.

    • David, all I can say is that even if you’re not a citizen I think you have the right to an opinion. I’m not an American citizen either, but the US is one of the most powerful countries in the world and whatever happens there will certainly have an impact on most of us in the rest of the world, therefore we have the right to an opinion. I agree that global politics are rife with corruption and the world isn’t in a pretty place. But I’m still very worried that such a large percentage of the population (not just in the U.S. but in other countries as well) will believe the rants of someone like Trump. He doesn’t simply have “shortcomings”, he pushes violence, he’s racist, he’s a misogynist, he changes his tune constantly, and he’s disrespectful. Not to mention, he’s filed for bankruptcy several times. That he’s a perfectionist doesn’t sell him to me at all. Many narcissists and sociopaths are perfectionists. Perfectionism isn’t necessarily a good trait. Flexibility, a willingness to listen and learn, respect for others…these are some of the traits that I feel are important in a strong leader. To follow a man like Trump may be due to a willingness to “try something radical” but it certainly doesn’t seem like a well thought out plan.

  3. Carla, for what it’s worth, I agree regarding your Trump observations but wonder how this means Her Royal Clinton is any better. Without doing the laundry list she fares no better than Trump. I agree that he appears to be a narcissist but see no evidence to support him being a sociopath, unlike his opponent. That these two have risen to the top of the ticket speaks volumes but non of the other candidates really deserved further consideration either. That people are furious and want to change the course of things is what will drive what I fear may become something akin to a civil war. In such an instance there will be no victors. Humanity is trying to break free from the horrible state of perpetual war that we have witnessed for so long, but to do so one must understand who it is that is really pulling the strings, and it is neither Clinton nor Trump. In the end, they will just do as they’re told and it is those who control them that should be targeted. Here I refer to those who own the Federal Reserve and the whole military industrial complex. Truth, as they say, will out. When that happens people will realize that there is no savior and will discard the influences that have long subverted their minds. Only then will the corruption be eased out by an emerging awareness that recognizes dignity and humility as qualities to vote for.

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