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Guest Column: Teachers Teach Radical Ideas of Equality, Empathy, and Critical Thinking

Donald Trump hates teachers. So does his son, Donnie Jr., who last week made a speech calling teachers “losers” and accusing them of teaching “socialism from birth.”

I yield the floor to my friend Joseph Berns, who is a teacher and most certainly not a loser, to analyze Donnie Jr’s attack and explain what teachers really teach:

Donald Trump, Jr, addressing young conservatives: “Keep up that fight, bring it to your schools. You don’t have to be indoctrinated by these loser teachers that are trying to sell you socialism from birth.” (El Paso speech, 2/11/19)

Joe Berns, Aberdeen, SD, screen cap from DFP video, 2018.06.30.
Joe Berns, Aberdeen, SD, screen cap from DFP video, 2018.06.30.

I would be very curious to know what specifically Mr. Trump, jr. is referring to here. What does he mean when he says teachers are “trying to sell you on socialism?” What does he mean by socialism? And is it just some teachers? Phrases like “take it to your schools,” and “from birth,” make it sound like he’s accusing all schools and teachers at all levels, K-12 and beyond.

Schools do put a lot of emphasis on things like equality and empathy. They teach kids to dream big and make a difference. They teach kids to question and think critically. Are these radical concepts? Let’s break it down:

—Equality: recognizing each person’s worth and dignity as a human person, regardless of their skin color, religion, intellectual ability, or legal status. Honestly, this is just “How to not be a Dick” 101. We’re all human beings here. Picking on someone because they’re different is wrong. Period.

—Empathy: imagining yourself in someone else’s situation. I can’t tell you how many stories I’ve read, fiction or non-fiction, that expanded my human experience and made me feel what someone else felt. From grade school through college, I read stories from slaves, soldiers, Holocaust victims, refugees, and more. This experience changes kids. It helps them understand and care about the situations of others.

—Dreaming big: imagining what a better world looks like, not just for ourselves, but for all. Teachers show student’s what’s possible. They show students what they can achieve and who they can become. No teacher in their right mind would tell a kid, “Stay home. Don’t develop your talents. Don’t think you can ever contribute anything meaningful to this world.” Teachers deal in positives: “Be all you can be, kid!”

—Making a difference: hands-on service projects that improve the lives of others. While in school, we actively worked to improve the world around us. Litter around town? Organize a cleanup day. Flooding in Fargo? Bus west and help sandbag. Starving communities in Africa? Bag dry meals at the community center. These activities taught me, in very tangible terms, how important and worthwhile it is to sacrifice time and energy for the sake of others.

—Critical thinking: questioning the ideas and systems we take for granted – even those we hold sacred. Allowing, even daring students to ask “Why?” Asking, “Can we do this better?” All I can say is thank you Mrs. Sedivy for that college-level literature analysis course. You got me hooked on critical thinking and equipped me with some very effective mental tools to do so.

Are these radical concepts? Well, yes. They kind of are. An administration that wants to erect a wall on our southern border will not easily accomplish that unless it can convince us that immigrants crossing the border are “Illegals” rather than human beings. It will certainly have a hard time putting up a wall if Americans empathize with families fleeing to the US from hardship. Americans thinking critically may question the cost, effectiveness, and ethical implications of putting up such a barrier. And citizens who dream big and want to make a difference may concoct solutions to help our southern neighbors which involve sacrificing American resources – a possible threat to the wealthy and powerful in this country.

To Mr. Trump, Jr: our teachers are not preaching the Communist Manifesto here. They are, however, helping children grow to be good and righteous human beings. If that scares you, then I seriously question your values and your motive in this speech.

[Joseph Berns, special to Dakota Free Press, 2019.02.19]

Naturally the elitist and ignorant Trumps dismiss equality, empathy, and critical thinking in the same casual and incorrect way that South Dakota Speaker of the House Steven Haugaard dismisses preschool as socialism. The Trumpists cannot defend their policies and “values” in any way that would pass muster in a regular teacher’s classroom; they must thus resort to cheap and uninformed insults to insulate themselves from thoughtful, honest critique.


  1. Jason 2019-02-20 12:21

    He didn’t call all teachers losers.

    Trump does not hate all teachers.

    I also dislike loser teachers.

    There are many examples of loser teachers on google.

  2. Jason 2019-02-20 12:45

    President Trump’s campaign to decriminalize homosexuality across the world is motivated by racism, a colonial sense of paternalism, and an urge to pick on ‘brown-skinned’ countries like Iran.
    Or so insists a comment piece by a gay activist at the LGBTQ+ journal

    “Trump’s Plan to Decriminalize Homosexuality Is an Old Racist Tactic,” says the headline.

    Below, Mathew Rodriguez claims:

    Rather than actually being about helping queer people around the world, the campaign looks more like another instance of the right using queer people as a pawn to amass power and enact its own agenda.

    Rodriguez is especially concerned about the plight of Iran. Sure it hangs gay men from cranes now and again. But that shouldn’t distract us from the fact when people like the Trump administration’s top-ranked gay official Richard Grennell – now the US ambassador to Germany – express concerns about Iran, it’s really just a form of repressed racism and colonialism.

    Many people have Trump derangement syndrome.

  3. mike from iowa 2019-02-20 15:30 Drumpf’s timeline of hate.

    Drumpf has an ulterior motive for his phony worldwide campaign for Gays and that is to isolate Iran even further. Drumpf has shown Gays mean nothing to him. They are political tools to frighten his base with and that is all they mean to him.

  4. mike from iowa 2019-02-20 15:31

    And only the Troll would be taken in by this phony ploy.

  5. TAG 2019-02-20 16:02

    Jason, your first link was a propaganda website. Scroll to the bottom and do a little research on the organization, since you’re so good at googling. Let me know what you find.

    I’m not going to bother checking out the Breitbart article. Are we still thinking they are a reputable source? You can do better.

  6. mike from iowa 2019-02-20 16:44

    Most of the Troll’s links are from propaganda sites. Most have an extreme right wing bent and agenda.

  7. Debbo 2019-02-20 17:00

    Very well written Mr. Berns. I commend you for your efforts as a teacher to make people better. It’s a very high calling teachers have.

    I am not shocked to know that not all teachers are wonderful. As a former teacher, I can attest that 10% or less are just mediocre and possibly 1% are not competent.

    The rest are did not borrow all that money and spend all that time in college to become teachers for the BIG PAYDAYS! 😂😂😂😂 They did it because they felt drawn to making a critical contribution to their community.

    They succeed.

  8. Roger Cornelius 2019-02-20 17:13

    Thank you to educator Joseph Berns for your well thought out passionate and heartfelt letter.
    It is always easy for people that are not in your field of expertise to give armchair and mostly wrong advice.
    It is particularly good to hear from Mr. Berns and what he offers his students beyond standard lesson plans and be able to incorporate empathy, critical thinking, etc. into those lesson plans.
    When I heard the news clips of Trump Junior calling teacher’s losers and accusing them of teaching socialism I was aghast. Who says these things? Oh yeah, that former educator that thinks it is okay to dropout of school at 16.
    Perhaps educator Berns can help keep that 16 year old potential dropout in school.

  9. Porter Lansing 2019-02-20 17:17

    Republicans are too greedy to be teachers and professors. That’s why education is performed by liberals who actually care about things other than themselves. If SDGOP wants to legislate conservatism into the universities, it’s easy. Make a professor’s starting pay $375,000.

  10. Jason 2019-02-20 19:33

    Tag, is not a reputable site? That is where the article was published that Breitbart was talking about.

    So can I infer that the liberals on this board are mad that Trump is trying to decriminalize homosexuality?

  11. Kal Lis 2019-02-20 19:41

    Young Mr. Berns does well to remind old codgers like me what public education should be.

    I would add that the qualities and virtues he enunciates give those of us who did not have thousandaire, let alone millionaire or billionaire parents a chance to compete for jobs and help our young’uns in ways that our parents could not.

    He also has done a good job at showing how education and educators have the power to unite.

    Trumpists can win only if the electorate is fragmented. Donald Jr. is trotting out the red scare card that McCarthy et al played in the 1950s. It would behoove all of us to remember that Roy Cohn who was Joseph McCarthy’s chief counsel also served as Donald Trump’s attorney and something of a mentor.

  12. Debbo 2019-02-20 20:11

    You have fun going off on your distraction Jason. We’re talking about education here. It’s a wonderful thing that liberals and progressives and Democrats encourage and support. The Wrong and the GOP don’t like it because critical thinkers are harder to fool.

    You make an excellent case for that Jason. Thank you for the live illustration.

  13. Robin Friday 2019-02-20 20:24

    It’s possible that Junior calls public school socialism just on the basis of education in America being public from the founding of the country. May it ever be so, but everything and everyone in the Trump administration is striving to make it private, for those such as Betsy DeVoss who can pay the big bucks for their kids to go to school, and their corporations control the schools and the curriculum.

  14. TAG 2019-02-20 20:27

    Jason: try to stay on topic. What in God’s green earth does Trump’s inconsistent LGBTQ policies have to do with “socialist” teachers? Answer: nothing. Every random left-bashing trolling post from you doesn’t deserve or require a response.

    How’s your research assignment coming? This will be a good lesson in critical thinKing and questiOning a sourCe before sHaring it. I’ll give you a clue to get you started…

  15. Debbo 2019-02-20 20:31

    Well done TAG. 😊

  16. Jason 2019-02-20 21:28


    The topic is Trump. This thread is about Trump.

    I addressed both Trump and socialist teachers in my responses.

    I really don’t care if you respond to my posts or not Tag.

    My posts are for people with critical thinking skills and logic skills.

  17. Debbo 2019-02-20 23:35

    Use em if ya got em Jason, and stick to the topic. It’s not LBTG people.

  18. Roger Cornelius 2019-02-21 00:15

    Scary stuff, Debbo, Jason talking about critical thinking and logic skills.

  19. Jake 2019-02-21 02:53

    Roger, Jason and critical thinking just don’t go together at all.

  20. TAG 2019-02-21 06:14

    Things that shouldn’t be partisan debate topics:

    1. education is a good thing
    2. Science and research are good sources of truth and knowledge.
    3. Corruption is bad.
    4. Equality is good.
    5. Pollution of our drinking water is bad.
    6. Foreign influence in our election is bad.

    I mean, this isn’t rocket science. We should be having partisan debates over the finer points of things like economic strategy, not things that are so obvious it takes propaganda brainwashing to make people be against them.

  21. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2019-02-21 12:17

    Right, TAG. Why should the First Family use its public platform to issue such a blanket attack on teachers? Why come out and make a statement that every child in America hears and can take as a cue to call teachers losers and dismiss what they’re teaching as indoctrination in some bad -ism?

  22. TAG 2019-02-21 12:51

    One person hears:”keep up the fight, take it to the schools…loser teaches… indoctrinate socialism…”

    and a less mentally stable person in the audience hears: “get your guns and go fight these loser teachers bringing communism to the schools…”

    Inciting violence, I guess, is the reason? Fantastic.

  23. Debbo 2019-02-21 13:31

    Right TAG and Cory. We must not allow Idiotic Imbecile’s behavior to become normal. It’s not. He is the President of the United States of America and his behavior is reprehensible, bringing shame upon a great nation.

  24. Roger Cornelius 2019-02-21 14:36

    During a recent press conference, this week, Trump was asked about the global war to decriminalize homosexuality and didn’t have a clue what the journalist was talking about.
    Trump’s answer was something like, “we have a lot of position papers on this” or similar.

  25. TAG 2019-02-21 15:19

    I think it is actually kind-of a relief that Trump is so clueless, at least in terms of his ability to consolidate and abuse the immense power of the executive branch.

    He has certainly set off some alarms among people who care about ethics and government checks and balances. He is testing the boundaries of what is allowed. Imagine the dangers of having someone intelligent, careful and calculating doing the same thing? Like Cheney, for example.

    We need to use this moment as an opportunity to put some reasonable limits on executive power, and a more formal independence of the DOJ and intelligence community. Although the abuses of Hoover might be something to consider as well.

  26. Debbo 2019-02-21 15:59

    The Congresswoman from New York lays bare just exactly what her colleagues and the president can get away. This format is a Congressional committee hearing and Alexandria Ocassio-Cortez is the questioner. BTW, watch the face of fellow Congresswoman Rashid Tlaib for some fun.

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