'We can't ignore the Donald Trump effect when talking about discrimination'

5th June 2016 at 10:00
In her latest FE column for TES, Sarah Simons explains the difficulties in explaining the presidential nominee's popularity to her learners

We spend so much time embedding more and more into our sessions: vocational mastery, English, maths, British values, employability, soft skills, equality and diversity. But instead of creating holistic learning opportunities, sometimes chucking everything in the mix just produces a diluted message.

This year, one of my sessions is a group tutorial with young people who have a range of learning difficulties and disabilities. This means that I am able to focus on peripheral but highly valuable topics as my remit rather than an add-on. It feels like a luxury.

I like to create routines in these sessions. One of them is to check the BBC news website and have a brief discussion about current affairs. Many learners never leave the area where they were born and raised, but that shouldn’t stop them having exposure to – and opinions about – the wider world.

In one particular session, we were focusing on the Equality Act 2010 and its nine protected characteristics. We discussed how discrimination based on any of these was unacceptable: that there wasn’t just a moral right to protection but a legally enforceable one. For students with learning difficulties and disabilities, self-advocacy is an important skill to hone, and having a firm grasp of the legal implications is extremely useful.

By the end of the session, I felt confident that we had given our students even more tools to empower themselves and others. I hoped that they would know exactly what to do should they ever feel discriminated against because of a protected characteristic. I wanted this knowledge to act as a permanent shield against ignorant bullies.

With five minutes left, I brought the BBC news website up on the interactive whiteboard. One headline revealed that Donald Trump had effectively secured the Republican presidential nomination. I clicked away on to UK news to avoid a conversation I wasn’t ready to have.

I had just spent 85 minutes teaching vulnerable young people that discrimination was unacceptable. So how could I explain that this man, who seemingly had little respect for so many of the things that we had just discussed, was now in the top two for the most powerful job on the planet?

Some say that his misguided but authentic rhetoric is igniting conversation and putting colour into beige politics. I say that a charismatic billionaire carelessly using hate speak on a global platform legitimises regressive views. More terrifying still is the fact that so many US voters agree with his repellant stance on race, religion, age, sexual equality and marriage. That’s five of the nine characteristics trampled on.

I can’t keep on brushing Trump under the carpet. As the US election powers on, it leaves me baffled as to how I should communicate his popularity to my learners without frightening them – and without showing that I am frightened, too.

Sarah Simons works in FE colleges in the East Midlands and tweets at @MrsSarahSimons

This is an article from the 3 June edition of TESThis week's TES magazine is available in all good newsagents. To subscribe, click here. To download the digital edition, Android users can click here and iOS users can click here

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