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The Elementary Education of Donald Trump

May 7, 2017

In a Sirius Radio interview on Monday, May 01, 2017, Donald Trump offered journalist Salena Zito some (at best) puzzling commentary regarding his opinion about Andrew Jackson and the Civil War:

I mean had Andrew Jackson been a little later you wouldn’t have had the Civil War. He was a very tough person but he had a big heart. He was really angry that he saw what was happening with regard to the Civil War, he said “There’s no reason for this.” People don’t realize, you know, the Civil War, if you think about it, why? People don’t ask that question, but why was there the Civil War? Why could that one not have been worked out?

Trump’s bizarre philosophical waxing produced ample media response, including this NPR piece in which journalist Miles Parks asks NPR Morning Edition Host Steve Inskeep, who wrote a book on Jackson, to offer his own commentary on Trump’s words.

In short, Inskeep reveals a Jacksonian-era knowledge level that escapes Donald Trump.

In a more searing response, Pulitzer-Prize-winning Washington Post journalist George Will bulls-eyes the situation with his observation that Trump “does not know what it is to know something”:

What is most alarming (and mortifying to the University of Pennsylvania, from which he graduated) is not that Trump has entered his eighth decade unscathed by even elementary knowledge about the nation’s history. As this column has said before, the problem isn’t that he does not know this or that, or that he does not know that he does not know this or that. Rather, the dangerous thing is that he does not know what it is to know something.

Will alludes to the two years that Trump spent Ivy-Leaguing it at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business, from which he graduated in 1968. However, as New Yorker humorist Andy Borowitz so cleverly captures in his satire entitled, “Fourth-Grade Class Touring White House Answers Trump’s Questions About the Civil War,” learning about the Civil War (and about the order of the presidents and when they lived) are a commonly-acknowledged part of American education gained in elementary school.

Let me also offer the following observation:

Had a current public school student offered Trump’s same words regarding Andrew Jackson’s purportedly saying that there was “no reason” for the Civil War and also stating that “no one asks” about the causes of the Civil War, then it would certainly have been market-driven-ed-reform fodder to damn public schools as not teaching children “what they need to know to be college and career ready.”

Instead, we have this astounding history-twist coming from none other than the President of the United States, who happens to be a billionaire, and a product of a private elementary school.

So, are Donald Trump’s elementary teachers to blame for his Andrew Jackson-Civil War gaffe?

Absolutely not. But it does raise the question as to how it might be possible that Donald Trump missed being grounded in the basics of American history. And it did pique my curiosity concerning his elementary education, including his reputation as an elementary school student.

  Donald Trump, early 1950s

To that end, I searched for a book that could offer a glimpse into Trump’s elementary education. The book that I purchased is entitled, Trump Revealed: The Definitive Biography of the 45th President, by Michael Kranish and Marc Fisher (Scribner, 2016).

And on pages 33-35, I read the following:

When Donald Trump was ready for kindergarten, the Trumps sent him to the private Kew-Forest School. …

At Kew-Forest, Donald encountered a dress code– ties and jackets for boys, skirts for girls– and a strict set of rules, including the requirement that students rise at their desks when a teacher entered the classroom. From the start, Donald and his friends resisted their teachers’ commands, disrupting class with wisecracks and unruly behavior. … Donald spent enough time in detention that his friends nicknamed the punishment DTs– short for “Donny Trumps.” …

No matter the consequences, Donald’s behavior did not change. “He was headstrong and determined,” said Ann Trees, a Kew-Forest teacher…. “He would sit with his arms folded, with this look on his face– I use the word “surly”– almost daring you to say one thing or another that wouldn’t settle with him.” …

By his own account, Trump’s primary focus… was “creating mischief because, for some reason, I liked to stir things up and I liked to test people….” …As a second grader, as Trump has described it, he punched his music teacher, giving him a “black eye” because “I didn’t think he knew anything about music…. I’m not proud of that, but it’s clear evidence that even early on I had a tendency to stand up and make my opinions known in a very forceful way.” [Schneider’s note: Trump later backpedaled on the severity of this incident, about which the book authors could find no classmates to verify that it occurred.] …

The teacher, Charles Walker, who died in 2015, never told anyone in his family about a student striking him. Yet Walker’s contempt for Donald was clear. “He was a pain,” Walker once said. “There are certain kids that need attention all the time. He was one of those.” Just before his death, as he lay in bed in a hospice, Walker heard reports that Trump was considering a run for the presidency. “When that kid was ten, even then he was a little s***.”

Trump’s grades suffered and his behavior got him in hot water….

So, the short of it appears to be that Donald Trump’s misbehavior impeded his learning American history.

That’s just the short of it.

For more insight into Trump, including a glimpse of several generations of his family history, readers might want to invest in a copy of Kranish and Fisher’s Trump biography, which I am finding to be quite the intriguing read.


Want to read about the history of charter schools and vouchers?

School Choice: The End of Public Education? 

school choice cover  (Click image to enlarge)

Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of two other books: A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education and Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?.

both books

Don’t care to buy from Amazon? Purchase my books from Powell’s City of Books instead.

  1. annat permalink

    Wow! Fascinating. Thanks again for a great piece.

  2. Abigail Shure permalink

    Too bad Trump was not in a charter school. He would have been repeatedly suspended and counseled out. When I heard the statement about Jackson, I was thinking, “Huh? Wasn’t Lincoln president at the time?” In my humble public school education, a fair amount of time was devoted to discussing causes of the Civil War. I was taught that the issue was not only slavery. There were other social and economic forces at play. Could it have been avoided? Sure! The European colonists could have left the continent in the able hands of the Native Americans. Somehow I doubt that was what Trump had in mind.

  3. Is ignorance worse than mendacity?

    • Christine Langhoff permalink

      The combination may yet prove fatal.

  4. confused permalink

    After reading this I recalled, when I had been teaching about 3 years, a very experienced teacher telling me that “you never know where your students will end up! Why one might even become President of the United States!” With Mr. Donald Trump being elected president this gave me chills. I think of how hard I try to work with students with similar personalities to help them change from negative to positive behavior……how PBIS has no way to handle kids who are belligerent, rude and disruptive for years……how school scores are connected to the number of referrals and discipline issues…how BESE wants to blame schools for kids who need remediation to get into college…..almost destroys my desire to teach!

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