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Should students take time out of class to watch Trump inauguration Friday?

The online debate around whether schools should show students the inauguration of Donald Trump surprises me.

Where the national event is applicable to the class or where there's a long tradition of having students watch a new president ascend, schools ought to show it. Allow an opt-out mechanism for parents who don't want their children to watch. That seems to be the standard in metro Atlanta, according to an AJC story. (It is also what happened when President Obama took office.)

In classes where the inauguration is related content, Fulton Schools sent home a straightforward letter that stated:

On January 20, 2017, at 12:00 PM, President-Elect Donald Trump will be sworn in by Supreme Court’s Chief Justice John Roberts followed by Mr. Trump’s inaugural address.  The inauguration is a live historical event that serves as a starting point to discuss our election process and the role of government. The swearing-in ceremony and the Inaugural Address will be shown in your child’s [CLASS NAME] followed by a facilitated discussion about [STANDARDS ALIGNED TOPIC].

A parent may choose for his/her child to opt out of viewing and discussing the 58th Presidential Inauguration by signing and returning this form by [DATE].

As a rule, I am not a fan of students staring at TV screens in class as they often treat it as a signal learning has stopped and fun time has begun. When my teachers would darken the room for us to watch something historic or relevant, I had to fight to stay awake.

A Michigan teacher set off a talk radio brush fire when he declined to show the inauguration in his fourth-grade class, telling parents in an email:

Because I am concerned about my students and your children being exposed to language and behavior that is not in concert with the most conservative social and family values, I have decided to show the inauguration of Donald Trump this Friday, but we will not view Mr. Trump's inauguration speech. I showed the speeches of Presidents Obama and Bush in 2009 and 2005, respectively, but I am anxious about showing Mr. Trump's inaugural address, given his past inflammatory and degrading comments about minorities, women, and the disabled.

The Williamston, Mich., teacher asked the Trump team for a copy of the speech to ensure the language was child-friendly, but he never heard back, so he told parents, "I am also uneasy about Mr. Trump's casual use of profanity, so I sought an assurance that as their teacher, I would not be exposing children to language that would not appear in G-or PG-rated movies."

I asked local teachers and parents whether students should watch Friday and found entirely sensible responses, including:

  • Yes, because it is a history and civics lesson that students should witness.
  • If class time has previously been used to air the inaugurations, then yes. And as with any school activity (pep rallies, movies in class, etc.), students or parents should have the choice to opt out.
  • Especially for a U.S. history class
  • My eighth grader remembers watching it in kindergarten eight years ago. Whether you like the new president or not, a presidential inauguration is an important event in history.
  • I discuss with my own kids the option to protest in some non disruptive way (head down, turned around) if their teachers plan to show it and will be sending an email to their teachers letting them know I will support my kids' choices to watch or not. Kids deserve to protest, too.
  • No matter who won - it's a transition of power - a time of showing one president leaving and new one taking over. As long as the educator remains neutral, there is no reason not to watch.











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About the Author

Maureen Downey has written editorials and opinion pieces about local, state and federal education policy since the 1990s.