UCLA Center X: The Struggle for Educational Justice in the Age of Trump

This week’s Senate confirmation of Betsy DeVos ushers in the Trump era of education policy. And this era demands new ways of thinking about and acting for educational justice.

Some of what is needed has long been the hallmark of educational justice work: Protect those most vulnerable from oppressive policies and systemic neglect; Connect progressive labor, community, and youth organizations in sustainable networks and coalitions for learning and action; and Construct robust models of school and community-based learning that expand youth opportunity and voice.

Yet more is required now because these are extraordinary times. The Trump administration has unleashed overtly racist and xenophobic rhetoric, magnified threats to marginalized communities, and impetuously overridden institutional checks and reasoned objections. These actions have prompted widespread concern and produced massive public protest. We see healthy resistance emerging in many places. But the disruptive force of chaos (planned and unplanned) as well as longstanding fractures amongst progressives, leave sites of resistance overwhelmed or isolated, or both.

New strategies are necessary to advance educational justice in the era of Trump. The five streams of action I suggest here build upon the practices of protect, connect, and construct described above. But they bring into sharper relief the need to address the existential threat the Trump administration poses to civil liberties, public education, and democratic governance.

  • Lift up stories of resistance

    Since November 8, many educators, community allies, and youth have stepped forward to address new challenges in the political and institutional landscape—for example, advocating for sanctuary campuses, cities, and states. This work holds powerful lessons for action—lessons that can sustain hope, inform practice, and deepen analysis. We need to identify and share such potent stories of resistance within and beyond the educational justice community.

  • Create alliances to protect vulnerable youth and families.

    The Trump administration’s bellicose rhetoric has generated deep anxiety and palpable fear amongst this country’s 11 million undocumented residents, their family members, and allies. To help immigrant youth and families in these precarious times, educators need both legal information and support from neighborhood and social service organizations. Strategic alliances can address these needs, linking educators, civil rights attorneys, and community-based organizations. In addition to deploying resources and services, such alliances will build the capacity of educators to partner more effectively with immigrant communities.

  • Forge networks to provide educators and allies with timely information.

    Policymaking during the first weeks of the Trump administration has been characterized by disruption and unpredictability. Information about the implications of these policies frequently has lagged behind hurried implementation. This rush to action has made it difficult for those most impacted by policies to participate effectively in public life. There thus is a need for just-in-time information and sound analysis—and this is something that progressive scholars could provide. Networks of scholars could share their understanding in real time with educators and other youth workers. This information could in turn be used to inform classroom instruction as well as the engagement of youth and adults in public debates.

  • Deepen democratic education and youth engagement.

    Even as we act in due haste to stem the destructive impulses of the Trump administration, we must simultaneously take up the difficult and long-term task of addressing the underlying conditions that allowed Trumpism to emerge in the first place. Part of this work entails foregrounding the importance of democratic education—fostering a commitment to attend to evidence, a willingness to consider alternative explanations, an appreciation for the value of diversity, a capacity to engage in dialogue across lines of difference, an understanding of power and inequality, and much more. And part of this work calls for establishing opportunities for young people to share their educational concerns, ideas, and vision with the broader public.

  • Reclaim the public in public education.

    By placing a billionaire champion of vouchers who has shown only disdain and antagonism for public education at the helm of the United States Department of Education, the Trump administration has called into question the public stewardship of our nation’s schools. The message is that our democratic institutions are subject to rule by the highest bidder and that their exclusive purpose is to serve the interests of the market. Educational justice demands that we counter this message by reclaiming the capacity of everyday people to govern our schools in a manner that builds a better and more inclusive future. And this counter narrative will be carried forward most powerfully as educators, students, parents, and community allies join together to make their voices heard.

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John Rogers

John Rogers is a professor in UCLA’s Graduate School of Education and Information Studies and the Director of UCLA’s Institute for Democracy, Education, and Access (IDEA). He also serves as the faculty co-director of UCLA’s Principal Leadership Institute. Rogers studies public engagement and community organizing as strategies for equity-focused school...