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Teaching and Learning in the Age of Trump: Increasing Stress and Hostility in America’s High Schools


Authors: John Rogers with the Teaching and Learning in the Age of Trump research team: Megan Franke, Jung-Eun Ellie Yun, Michael Ishimoto, Claudia Diera, Rebecca Cooper Geller, Anthony Berryman, and Tizoc Brenes

October 2017

High School


This report examines whether the substance and tone of national political discourse during the first four months of the Trump administration affected U.S. public high school students.  Throughout his campaign and in his presidency to date, Donald Trump has addressed a number of “hot-button” topics that call into question the status or rights of many different groups in American society.  The charged political rhetoric surrounding these and other issues often has been polarizing and contentious.  Many would agree that, since Donald Trump has moved into the White House, national political discourse has become a more potent force in shaping the consciousness and everyday experiences of Americans.  It is important to ask if this new political environment has impacted high school students.

We consider the following questions: 1) Have national political debates on topics such as immigration enforcement increased students’ stress and heightened students’ concerns about their well-being or the well-being of their families?  2) Have combative political dynamics at the national level contributed to incivility between students in schools and classrooms?   3) In what ways is student learning affected by heightened stress or incivility?  4) Do the impacts of the national political environment on student experiences differ depending on the demographics of the high schools they attend? 

To answer these questions, UCLA’s Institute for Democracy, Education, and Access conducted a survey in May 2017 on changes in school climate, and therefore on teaching and learning, during the first months of the Trump administration.  The 1535 teachers who responded to the survey teach in schools that are representative of public high schools in the United States in terms of student demographics and geographic location.  In addition to responding to multiple choice questions, 848 teachers provided additional written responses.  In July and August 2017, we conducted 35 follow-up interviews with social studies and English teachers from geographically and demographically diverse schools. 

Key findings from the study include:

  •  Stress and concerns with welfare have increased, particularly in schools enrolling few White students.
  • Polarization, incivility, and reliance on unsubstantiated sources have risen, particularly in predominantly White schools.  
  • A growing number of schools, particularly predominantly White schools, became hostile environments for racial and religious minorities and other vulnerable groups.  
  • While some school leaders avoided issues related to the political environment, others moved proactively to create a tolerant and respectful school culture.  When leaders did not act, student behavior grew dramatically worse.    
  • As the national political environment has become more threatening, bellicose, and uncivil, more young people are subject to adverse socio-emotional and academic consequences.  These changes also undercut the democratic purposes of public education.  
  • Educators can mitigate some of these challenges, but they need more support.  Ultimately, political leaders need to address the underlying causes of campus incivility and stress.


Teaching and Learning in the Age of Trump: Increasing Stress and Hostility in America's High Schools by John Rogers and the Teaching and Learning in the Age of Trump Research Team is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.


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Rogers, J., Franke, M. Yun, J.E., Ishimoto, M., Diera, C., Geller, R., Berryman, A., Brenes, T. (2017). Teaching and Learning in the Age of Trump: Increasing Stress and Hostility in America’s High Schools. Los Angeles, CA: UCLA’s Institute for Democracy, Education, and Access.