Political Activism in Chicago Schools: Contrasting Trump’s and Biden’s Inaugurations

January 22, 2021
Alisa Rosenbaum

Non-partisanship is DOA (dead on arrival) at Chicago schools.

An esteemed reader recently shared with our staffers two different notes from administrators of their children’s Chicago school regarding the subject of presidential inauguration(s). One was sent four years ago this week (prior to the Trump inauguration). The other, just a few days ago, before the swearing in of President Biden. 

A parent in the school community notes that neither she nor her partner voted for Trump in either of the presidential elections. Yet regardless of who anybody cast a ballot for (or against) a President, she notes that even moderate political leanings are scorned within this Chicago school community, a safe space for radicalization which has eviscerated any attempt to encourage diversity of thought among parents, students and faculty. In fact, after the election of President Trump, the school provided grief counselors for faculty, students and parents. 

According to this parent, the bias at the institution extends beyond inaugurations and offering free counseling sessions. She suggests any notion of debate has been eliminated, and parents with anything to say in opposition — or even constructively — to the approach the school is taking to politics or related topics (e.g., diversity and inclusion) are cancelled, chastised or ignored, including those who have a long history of volunteering at and supporting the school. 

Finally, the parent notes that the school did not hold similar in-school programming for the inauguration of President Trump. 

January 2017

Dear (redacted) Families:
This morning, our country experienced the peaceful transfer of power from our 44th president to our 45th. At these times of transition, we ponder essential questions. What do we want for our children? How do we want them to deal with challenges? What kind of world do we want to empower them to create? Through education, we can give agency to the outcomes posed by these questions. The people, the mindset, and the values we surround our children with will dictate their future and the future they then create for their own children and grandchildren. What we do now will matter for generations.
As parents, educators, and role models, we have a profound responsibility to remain focused and to continue espousing the values we know to be right for our students, our community, and our world. Fate (and values and good instinct) has brought us all into a school community that empowers, emboldens, and ensures a bright future. More than ever before, we must be relentless in providing an education that develops engaged, confident learners and compassionate leaders for a stronger, more vibrant community and world.
Let’s redouble our efforts to instill (redacted) and humanist values in our children: respect, empathy, kindness, and more. Let’s redouble our efforts to provide them with the absolute best education possible that will open up doors leading to opportunities and possibilities we can’t even imagine. And let’s redouble our efforts to work together to grow engaged global citizens who work hard on their own behalf and on behalf of those who need our help.
We have important work to do that isn’t going to do itself, and the most precious beings on Earth—our children—are counting on us to do it. We at (redacted)  are rolling up our sleeves and are all in, and we know you are too. Let’s keep doing it together, and let’s become who we want to be.
Sincerely, (Redacted) 


January 2021

Dear (redacted) Families:
This Wednesday, January 20, our (redacted) students will have the opportunity to watch the 59th presidential inauguration with their (redacted) community. Together, students will witness one of our nation’s most important traditions, made all the more meaningful when set within the context of this unique moment in history. 
Despite the pandemic and recent violence, the peaceful transfer of power will endure, and with it, the bedrock values of our country. Further amplifying the significance of this day will be the swearing-in of Kamala Harris as the United States’ first female vice-president, the highest-ranking female elected official in U.S. history, as well as the first African American and Asian American vice president. 
Teachers will be prepared to facilitate discussion with students regarding the various parts of the swearing-in ceremony and day’s traditions. Students will have note-taking and discussion guides available as well as an opportunity to reflect on the inaugural activities. Regular classes will take place before and after the inauguration.  
As a result of recent violence at the U.S. Capitol, teachers will be prepared to monitor viewing with discretion. Our incredible educators will help our students make sense of the news through the broad lens of history and will be ready to calm any anxieties. The experience at (redacted) strives to grow our students’ into active community members and informed citizens. 
While we seek to have them understand the transfer of power from one president and vice president to another, we recognize the pathway to deep understanding must first go through rigorous discussions anchored in our country’s inaugural traditions. We welcome these discussions and their power to help us achieve a greater understanding and sense of empathy. 
Sincerely, (Redacted) 

In reading both letters and considering the context of their communication, a number of items stand out. 

First, the overall tone is different in the first vs. the second. One is conciliatory, measured and melancholy. The other, happy, upbeat.

Second, the use of vocabulary is spuriously inconsistent and imprecise in school communication. For example, violence is suggested to be “bad” in the case of the capitol, but downplayed or even acceptable as part of the institutional racism healing process in Chicago in which the downtown was ransacked multiple times, a topic which parents suggest has been hammered into their child and community members as part of the new social justice curriculum. 

And third, the Biden inauguration and celebration of Kamala Harris’ identifiers is cause for a school-wide kumbaya, disrupting classes and learning, whereas the Trump inauguration was quietly aired in corner televisions without a similar interference with regular activities. Except, of course, for those that needed to cry on the shoulder of a school-funded grief counselor when Trump took office.

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