President Donald Trump must not use dehumanizing language and teachers can help.
In 2014, on the night of April 14th, 276 girls in Borno State, Nigeria, were kidnapped by Boko Haram, one of the world’s most violent terrorist organizations. These terrorists kidnapped these girls as part of their campaign of intimidation of the Nigerian population. By definition terrorists use violence and intimidation, particularly against civilians, to achieve political aims. Terrorists know no boundaries, no laws, national or international, they don’t recognize human rights and their actions reflect a belief that some people or some causes have superior rights to others. In their ends and in their tactics, the scourge of terrorism is one of the most serious risks to peace on this earth.
In authorizing the kidnapping of babies and children, their forced separation from their parents, as a way to deter entry into the United States by asylum seekers, President Trump authorized tactics that no democratically elected President should ever use. In doing so, he betrayed principles which are foundational to American democracy. His rethoric, during the campaign and during his presidency, entered the very dangerous territory of dehumanizing a group of people as a tactic to achieve his political ends. This abuse of Presidential power, which violates essential principles and norms of a democratic society, was so egregious, that it was met with unprecedented outrage by ordinary people, civic and religious leaders, by political and business leaders, artists and academics, scientists and journalists, and all living former first ladies. It is reassuring that so many Americans recognized the horror of this practice and that they rose up to convey that it should be stopped in the same way in which the world rose up to demand that Boko Haram returned the 276 girls it had kidnapped in that horrific night of 2014.
As a result of the outrage this misguided policy caused, President Trump signed an executive order stopping the separation of children from their parents who had entered the United States without authorization. For listening to the outrage his misguided policy caused President Trump should be commended. In listening to the American people he made clear that he understands he is a democratically elected leader in one of the longest standing democracies in the world, and not a terrorist or a dictator. In contrast, the leaders of Boko Haram did not listen to the global outrage caused by their despicable kidnaping of 276 girls.
The harm caused by this egregious decision, however, is far from undone. There are over 2,000 babies and children still separated from their parents. President Trump must ensure that they are promptly reunited with their families, all of them accounted for, with full transparency and knowledge of the public. Journalists, who are doing the essential work the press is meant to do in a government of the People and for the People, in holding our government accountable to act in accordance to our laws, Constitution and values, have reported that there are children in centers in which they are been abused and given psychotropic drugs as a way to sedate them. President Trump must ensure that any abuses of this sort end at once, and that those responsible for those atrocities are held accountable.
Just as important, the language used by President Donald Trump, and by other members of his administration, that refers to these children and their parents in dehumanizing terms must end immediately. Asylum seekers, migrants, or refugees, are people, humans, they are men, women and children and as such they have inherent dignity simply because of that. This dignity is not contingent on having legal status in any country. They should not be described by terms that place them in a category as less than human: animals, insects, excrement, invaders, or infestation, terms President Trump and members of his administration have used to refer to immigrants.
It is a disgrace that terrorist groups such as Boko Haram resort to tactics that rob people of their humanity, so they can use them as pawns in their violent pursuit of political aims. It is absolutely unacceptable for the President of the United States to use the same tactics and he must stop doing so at once and for as long as he holds an office which is much bigger and more important than himself.
Teachers can help sustain this democracy by engaging students in debate and deliberation about these actions of our government and by helping them understand the grave consequences of dehumanization of ANY group of people for our democracy. Civic Education Organizations such as Facing History and Ourselves, have developed and made available curriculum resources to this end, available here http://facingtoday.facinghistory.org/dehumanization-at-the-border?utm_source=hs_email&utm_medium=email&utm_content=63971149&_hsenc=p2ANqtz--M-BcScO3BkR21p7toXZ_ZOGoDAN6pHkyZ9shzqir8Gd49Q53WS42JJ3vkCms3ERNDlQaRASiAupEvvw2ulvR0CRIZENQgY3RyTsRdQJDkFUI6974&_hsmi=63971149
For as long as ordinary people in this republic understand that it is our duty to ensure that the government acts in accordance with the enduring values on which this democracy was founded we will keep it.
Fernando M. Reimers is the Ford Foundation Professor of the Practice of International Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and a member of the Massachusetts Board of Higher Education