Imagine the following scene in a high school classroom near you.
“Good morning class! My name is Mr. T and welcome to US History. I can see some of you looking around the room for your old teacher, Mr. O. He’s been fired, and I’ll be taking his place. Let me tell you, this class really stinks, but I’m going to make it great again. This is going to be HUGE!
“First off, forget all of the crap that Mr. O told you about US History. Lies! All of it Lies! And those textbooks you’ve been given…get rid of them. The authors and publishers of those things are the biggest liars of all. I’m the only one who knows the truth about US History. This is going to be great! You all are going to be sooo successful.
“First off, the American Revolution? Never happened. The British were so scared of our military might that they gave us our independence without even putting up a fight. Those liars who wrote about the “war” were British sympathizers who wanted to make the British look good. Losers.
“I bet you thought George Washington was the first president of the United States. Wrong! That guy who got elected in 2016 was the first REAL president we ever had. Those other 44 presidents were just a bunch of phonies.”
(Mr. T continues on in this manner for the next few minutes before abruptly leaving the room before class is over because he does not like the students challenging him on his version of the facts. In his place, a student teacher enters the room to reiterate the same points that Mr. T just made and refuses to take any questions from the class. The bell soon rings to end the class period, much to the relief of the students.)
If this scene actually took place in your child’s classroom or anywhere in your community, there would be a march of people to the principal’s office (and possibly the school district office) to force the resignation of this teacher. I’d like to think that this could never happen in a real classroom since most teachers of all subjects take pride in the fact that they are teaching their students the accepted curriculum for their respective subjects. Teachers would also be wise to listen to the feedback that they receive from students and parents if there are any complaints about what is going on in the classroom. That is just a measure of respect and humility.
The sad reality is that this situation describes exactly how the new president of the United States is acting, and it’s embarrassing, to say the least. Facts didn’t matter during the campaign, and apparently they don’t matter now that he is president either. Presidents and politicians lie a lot, but often there is some element of truth within the lie. Also, when politicians get caught in a lie, they will often try to explain it away or apologize for their “misstatement.” Not this president. When he gets caught in a lie, he just doubles down on the lie and then lies some more.
The president’s spokespersons have tried to explain that these are just “alternative facts.” I’m sorry, but “alternative facts” are called lies where I come from. Facts are facts. I teach facts everyday. There are competing interpretations of why certain events happened or what a person’s motivation may have been for taking certain actions, but the facts are indisputable. If the “facts” aren’t indisputable then they are either lies or opinions, not facts.
Thinking about the unit in US History that I’m going to start later this week, I let myself imagine what it would look like if I replaced reality with “alternative facts.” Here is one of the examples that I came up with.
- Topic: The Philippines were taken over by the United States during the Spanish American War in 1898.
- Alternative fact: The Filipinos welcomed the United States occupation with open arms since they were sick of being under Spanish colonial control. They knew living under US control would be much better.
- Reality: The Filipinos hated that the United States took over their country. They had been fighting for independence from Spain for many years and resented the Americans taking the place of the Spanish. For this reason, they fought a three year long guerrilla war to try to end American occupation. They were not successful.
Facts matter, and it is important that we challenge our elected officials when their “alternative facts” get in the way of the truth, just like the fictional teacher at the beginning of this post would be challenged by his students…and parents…and administrators. We are less than a week into this presidency, and this is the direction it is already going. This really shouldn’t be too surprising since it’s how his entire campaign was run as well. We cannot allow “alternative facts” to become normalized in politics or our daily lives. We have our work cut out for us.
There is one “alternative fact” that I am going to challenge directly. We don’t need to make America great again.