When the president is a liar 


I have to confess that I have long rolled my eyes at suggestions that schools should promote critical thinking for students.  

Duh. Of course, schools should promote critical thinking. Why else would you educate someone?  

Spelling out the need to provide this essential component of educating a child has always just seemed ridiculous to me — like having to say we should teach children to read, write, and learn mathematics. 

Well, I stopped rolling my eyes at this in November 2016. 

Now, day in and day out, I am confronted with a president who routinely and deliberately lies and doubles-down on a lie when challenged about it. He runs an administration that regularly engages in fabricated “truths.” Remember that it was White House counselor Kellyanne Conway who blithely introduced “alternative facts” into our lexicon after commentators challenged the president’s assertions about the size of the crowd at his inauguration.  

But the lie that really pushed me over the edge to write this column was not one of Trump’s vanity lies. Instead, it was the mid-October report that the White House was circulating so-called fact sheets (http://wapo.st/2AobDI3) tying free trade to increases in infertility, abortions, single-parent households, spousal abuse, opioid addiction, and more. Here was an effort to assemble spurious “facts” to buttress an argument about a policy of significant importance to this nation. What rational leader would engage in such behavior?  

Of course, that pack of lies was quickly pushed to the side when the president lied about what he said to the widow of a fallen soldier. Then he claimed that no prior president had called grieving Gold Star families. Another blatant lie to soothe the vain beast. 


Lie upon lie upon lie.  

I don’t see an end to this. As someone who prefers life in a fact-based universe, I am cringing at the horror of surviving 1,460 lie-filled days before the Trump term ends. I know I am not alone in imagining the damage that it will do to this nation. Like many of you, I am also wondering how you raise and educate children in an environment in which the leader of your country has literally no regard for the truth. (I won’t even go into my concerns about having a leader who belittles opponents with reckless and childish taunts and the  message such behavior telegraphs to all observers.) 

(For the New York Times’ recent comparison of Trump’s lies to those of President Barack Obama: http://nyti.ms/2jSAuh5.)

The president’s lies became even more painfully relevant as we edited this issue of Kappan, which explores teaching about controversial topics with civility. Before teachers can adequately prepare students to engage in such deep discussions, they must first teach students how to identify credible information for those discussions. Facts should actually matter when someone is trying to argue their side of any issue. 

Teaching students how to identify trustworthy sources of information and how to marshal a series of facts into a coherent argument — all of that is part of preparing the critical thinkers of tomorrow. But how do teachers convince students that facts matter when social media routinely exposes them to lies from their president? 

When information moves through the ether in a nanosecond, students must learn how to fact-check in real time so they can verify, analyze, and respond to every morsel of information coming at them, whether through social media or the official messages of leaders. This is no longer an Encyclopedia Britannica world in which someone can thumb through a reference book to check the veracity of someone’s assertion. Everyone must be equipped with the skills of an analyst. 

Most of us want to make decisions based on facts, especially when those decisions involve life, money, or property. I want to know that money managers are plugging facts into their analysis of my retirement accounts. Would any employer hire someone who can’t separate fact from fiction? Imagine the reactions of corporate leaders who learn that employees have shared a set of “alternative facts” when seeking approval for a new project or later reporting the results of that project.  

As we’re working to help students become critical thinkers, let’s also prepare them to stand up with backbone to defend their assertions. Let’s teach them how to identify their own values and use those to guide their decisions. Then, let’s arm them with strategies for deflecting onerous assaults on their integrity. 

To prepare students for citizenship has never been more important — and probably never more difficult. It’s ironic that teachers — who have been maligned for decades by folks who also had a loose hold on the truth — have become the last best hope for setting the course right again. The future is literally in your hands.


Citation: Richardson, K. (2017). When the president is a liar.  Phi Delta Kappan 99 (4), 4.


JOAN RICHARDSON is the director of the PDK Poll of the Public's Attitudes Toward the Public Schools and the former editor-in-chief of Phi Delta Kappan magazine.


  • Larry Thomas

    Thank you Joan for this months Editor’s Note. truth matters and you nailed it by sharing the importance of explicitly teaching critical thinking. Many people, including some educators, have not given critical thinking the time and energy it deserved for ALL students. A critically thinking society does matter! This is a truth.

    • Joan Richardson

      Thanks for taking the time and comment, Larry. Always good to hear your voice on these and other matters.

  • I opened up my copy of Kappan this afternoon and your title caught my attention. Bravo to you for a wonderful piece! As an educator, I,too, worry about the damage this current administration will have on our children. It is a much needed conversation so I made sure i went to kappanonline.org and shared it in my social media networks… I might even TWEET it! 😉

    • Joan Richardson

      Thanks, Nathalie. Share away!

  • Carole Schmidt

    Joan your piece is one of the most cogent accounts of the sad status of this country’s “leadership “. Thank you for your many years of honest and open writing. You always hit the point and often, the painful truth. Take good care.

  • Joan Richardson

    Carole Schmidt, you know something about telling the truth yourself. Thanks for your support on this one.

  • Ann Mausbach

    I can’t say it better than the others who have commented here but thank you. I have had trouble using my voice in these crazy times but no more, thanks to your example.

  • Catherine Koatz

    Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU! We need more columns like this, in order to bring some sanity and perspective back into our daily lives.

  • Joel Berg

    Joan: Over the years you have held PDK’s torch high, enlightening colleagues and the public alike. This piece is not political in the sense of favoring or opposing a candidate or party (which PDK must not do), but a clarion call to action in defense of real education, not its proxies such as test scores, GPAs, and even diplomas. Thank you so much for exercising true leadership among leaders!

  • Lynn Lewis

    Thanks, Joan, for this wonderful, insightful article. It’s people like you, sharing on forums like this one that will surely begin to turn the tide in this terrible situation. What a shame that teachers must add to “arm students with strategies for deflecting assaults on their integrity” to their list of important skills to teach.

  • Jerry L. Rutherford

    PDK member for many years with pride……..this column is full of lies itself. PDK will lose more members and divide our organization with such BS about our president. Where was your truth when Obama was putting our country into more debt in 8 years than all of our previous presidents!!!!!! That is a fact, not opinion.

    Stay with increasing the quality of education and administration than professing your opinions in our professional organization. After all, it is NOT your organization to utilize to publish your ridiculous nonsense .

  • Stephanie M Cann

    This needed to be addressed, This culture of deceit has spread among my student population as well, and it makes it more difficult for me, as an administrator, to discipline amidst it. Thank you for your wise words.

  • Chuck Thompson

    Well done. Hopefully our senators and representatives will get to read this article and reflect on the kind of leader we have in our President. Democracy is messy and we are really in a mess.

  • Well written! Now we can only hope that those that need to read it indeed DO read it!

  • David Mott

    I am offended that this article even appeared in kappanonline. It’s very title Indicates it’sabsolute bias!

  • David Stronck

    Long ago, I joined PDK because it was fair and balanced, publishing arguments on both sides of issues. This editorial is not a reasonable analysis. I regret your propaganda and exaggerations.

  • Paul Fox


    Repeated incidence of lying by our public servants is not about political bias or partisanship. It is about ethics. When your word means nothing, what are you worth? And, how can we trust what our president is thinking or doing?

  • Hi Joan,

    I admire your courage and the courage of the organization to publish this piece. PDK is a trusted resource for honest journalism and research.

  • K. Herlong

    As a female minority, I am not saying that I am a Trump fan or not. Perhaps Trump has lied, but who in this strand has cold hard evidence of it, other than what the media reports? Also, name one President who has not lied. Due to the advancements in technology, everyone, especially the media, can broadcast their opinions as “facts,” even though those “facts” are just opinions.
    The media’s “opinions stated as facts” together with social media have caused this huge divide in our country I am disappointed in PDK for adding to the divide and not using a purely professional take on teaching critical thinking skills or whatever teaching topic was supposed to be covered in this article. This may well be the end of PDK for me.

  • Dom Vita

    This article is an embarrassment to Phi Delta Kappa. Throughout its history PDK has risen above the unsavory dealings and distortions of politicians and politics. It appears that tradition has come to an end. Not only is it disappointing that this article is so obviously biased, It is astounding that an organization with the reputation of PDK would allow this type of article to be published in The Kappan and thereby be viewed as representing the membership. This article does nothing to enhance the education of students nor will it promote PDK as a professional organization. It will likely weaken PDK’s credibility and push the organization to an early demise. This article certainly does not represent the best of PDK nor does it represent the membership. It is a very sad day for PDK.

    • Kherlong

      Well said! Thanks for saying it both graciously and gracefully, the old PDK way.

  • Karen Gifford

    I am disappointed that the author, Joan Richardson, has used her power as The Kappan Editor to attack President Trump and to charge him with lying about things which she cannot substantiate.

    Please show us the “so-called fact sheets tying free trade to increases in infertility, abortions, single-parent households, spousal abuse, opioid addiction, and more”. Without copies of those fact sheets, it’s easy to take things out of context.
    Besides, every single one of these issues is of significant importance to this nation, not just free trade.

    The size of the crowd at the inauguration? There is evidence that the media lied and photo shopped the crowds.

  • Karen Gifford

    Ms. Richardson, I appreciate the link to the Washington Post article which discussed the ties between a weakened US manufacturing base and an array of social maladies. The person who created the so called fact sheets, was Peter Navarro, director of the White House Office of Trade and Manufacturing Policy. To be honest, you should have clarified that it was Mr. Navarro and not President Trump who produced them. In addition, it was about bad trade deals that weakened the US manufacturing base, throwing some communities into poverty, and the associated results of social maladies.
    There is tons of data on the ripple effect of poverty and the impact on the family, communities, and whole cities!

    Have you ever taught in low income and high crime areas? I have and I know first hand about the connection between poverty and crime, drug abuse, sexual abuse, and of course, the purposeful location of abortion facilities in these neighborhoods.

    In so far as the crowds at the inauguration, Sean Spicer, Trump Press Secretary, was correct, despite the shenanigans The crowd grew significantly just as the event began. This was mostly due to:
    – the crowd being intentionally delayed from attending.
    – tens of thousands of people could not get through the screenings.
    – the federal workers and DC Park and Security leadership made attendance more difficult than any previous inauguration.
    – every imaginable tool and technique was utilized to provide the maximum level of crisis and discomfort….

    Here’s an important fact that should be taught:
    – The original name for Planned Parenthood, was “The Negro Project” – started by northern white women to halt the fertility rate among the recently freed slaves (who had gone north). Check out the documentary “Maafa 21”

  • Cliff Clements

    Wow! I never thought I’d see the Kappan Magazine editorial page become a political platform to attack the President, the “right,” and to promote the “left” with such absolute bias. Yes, it’s an editorial page, but both Democrat and Republican politicians have a long and time-honored history of “stretching the truth,” presenting “lies through omission,” and outright lying to make their points. They have honed these skills to an art form. To simply pounce on Trump as though everything he says and does is a lie, is simply not accurate. A person may disagree with his policies, but give us the proof to support what you are saying instead of so-called “reports” that may or may not come from reliable sources. To write articles about critical thinking skills and how to present controversial topics in the classroom in an unbiased way is great and very useful, but leave the Trump bashing, bashing of conservatives, and bashing of the “right” to other publications that can be purchased in the grocery store checkout line. Not all educators are liberals. Many are conservatives. I want fact-based and unbiased articles about matters that are important to education and children, not the editor-in-chief’s personal and biased political views.

  • MIchael McQuary

    Thank you for your Editor’s Note, “When the President is a Lier.” As a Past President of a PDK Chapter and recipient of the PDK Outstanding Dissertation of the Year Award, I was thrilled to see your Editor’s Note in what is the nation’s most highly respected educational journal and read by an association of our country’s most influential professional leaders in education. You clearly make the case that when the nation has a president, who “routinely and deliberately lies and doubles-down on a lie when challenged about it” and when his administration “regularly engages in fabricated’ truths,” it is critical that students learn “how to fact-check in real time so they can verify, analyze, and respond to every morsel of information coming at them, whether through social media or the official messages of leaders.” You are absolutely correct that “To prepare students for citizenship has never been more important–and probably never more difficult.” Teachers and future educators are to be encouraged and commended for standing up to this challenge of teaching about “controversial topics with civility,” and your Editor’s Note gives them confidence that PDK will continue to be there to support them, when they do so.

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Editor's Note: No shame, no silence

Power, influence, and déjà vu 

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The more things change . . . 

Moving on