On the cold morning of Nov. 27, dozens of students, community members and activists gathered to protest Ivanka Trump and billionaire Apple CEO Tim Cook’s photo-op at an elementary school in Wilder, Idaho.
Organized by PODER of Idaho, Immigrant Justice Idaho, and the Idaho Organizing Project, the crowd denounced Ivanka Trump’s appearance in a mostly Latino community at the same time the Trump administration brutally attacked the caravan of refugees seeking asylum from U.S.-backed violence in Honduras.
People chanted: “When immigrants are under attack, what do we do? Stand up, fight back!”
“We’re not going to stay silent anymore.”
Activist Melissa Morales then spoke of the need to fight back: “We demand that this administration acknowledge the right to migrate, cease the use of violence and oppression to prevent migrants from seeking asylum. We’re here making sure that when Ivanka Trump arrives, she doesn’t do it with the narrative that this administration is doing good things for our students.”
“We’re here to speak up, to make sure these events are contextualized in their proper historical context. Our economic system that Ivanka Trump and Tim Cook benefit from is built upon extraction and exploitation of our people. This has continued since before this country was formed to this day.”
One young student who walked out talked about the effects of Trump’s racist policies: “I haven’t seen my family in 6 years, since I was little. I have family that want to come to the United States but can’t.”
PODER organizer Estefania Mondragon spoke in Spanish to the diverse crowd, saying: “We are standing here with you in solidarity. You are not alone. The Trump administration is waging a war against our communities, separating our families, attacking us with gas. We are here to say we do not accept Ivanka Trump here.”
Mondragon then led chants: “Education, not deportation!” and “Stop gassing babies!”
Parents at the school did not know of the photo-op until the day prior, as the event was kept hidden until the last minute.
ConnectEd: hi-tech privatization for low-quality education
Tim Cook is the CEO of a multinational corporation with a market valuation of more than $1,000,000,000,000. By comparison, new teachers at the Wilder School District make a starting salary of $26,570, barely above the national poverty line for a family of four.
The photo stunt is part of a public relations campaign, as Apple has donated digital tablets and its other products to a small number of schools nationwide. Started in 2014, the ConnectED program boasts that it enables schools to “experience the transformational power of technology,” yet the problems of many public schools around the country stem from the fact that they are deprived of funding by the government through means such as charter schools and segregation-era funding policies.
Two years ago Wilder Schools was one of 114 districts that received tablets and laptops from the behemoth corporation. Mondragon interviewed two students from Wilder High School, who spoke on how the digital transformation has hurt their education.
“We’re not really learning anything here,” one young woman said. “At first we tried it as a resource and now we’re on [the iPads] the whole 8-9 hours that we’re at school. Honestly, we’re not really learning anything. If I could switch schools I would have already done it.”
The only discussions in the classroom center around the tablet, she said. “I’m not an iPad user. I want to write papers. We take our tests on the iPads and we don’t really learn much.”
In the past year 12 teachers have left the Wilder School District, a city with a population of 1,405.
A group of students walked out of the school, holding signs that displayed the dismal status of their education. One sign showed that only 14 percent of 3rd and 4th grade students are proficient in math. Another sign showed that literacy rates are also low, with just 10 percent of 3rd graders, 17 percent of 4th graders and 27 percent of 5th graders meeting literacy standards.
“We’re not really learning anything here… At first we tried it as a resource and now we’re on [the iPads] the whole 8-9 hours that we’re at school.”
Notably, former Apple CEO Steve Jobs refused to give his children access to the tablets, declaring: “We don’t allow the iPad in the home, we think it’s too dangerous for them.” This is not uncommon among billionaires, as technology can be addictive for young children. Billionaire Bill Gates also strictly limited the amount of screen time his children could access.
Many private schools for the children of billionaires are emphatically low-tech, yet the very tools and products they create are then forced onto children in public schools..While computers and tablets clearly can be used to support education, they are often primarily used in schools to prepare students for standardized tests, or to give students access to programs and apps that are then used to replace face to face teaching/learning experiences.
Barron Trump, the half-sibling of Ivanka, attends a private school that charges $39,790 per year for middle school students. His classrooms have a median class size of 12 students, and a student/teacher ratio of 6 students per 1 teacher.
Half of the population of Wilder lives on an income of less than $34,000 per year.
White House censors local press
Another important and troubling aspect to the day was the censorship of the local media outlets. Of the many local newspapers and TV stations, the White House allowed only one to send a reporter and photographer. The journalists were forbidden from interviewing anyone or asking any questions.
The other media outlets were blocked from accessing school property and were forced to congregate across the street. At the end of the publicity stunt, the local journalists were removed from the premises, and only ABC National was allowed to interview Trump and Cook.
Apple-Trump publicity stunt reveals hypocrisy of ‘corporate values’
In June 2016, Apple publicly pulled out of financing the Republican convention in reaction to Trump’s racist campaign rhetoric. And, after Trump announced the Muslim ban in January 2017, Tim Cook circulated a memo to Apple employees, claiming that “Apple believes deeply in the importance of immigration” and that the Muslim ban “is not a policy we support.”
Yet relations between the Trump administration and Apple quickly warmed with the passage of Trump’s $1.5 trillion tax giveaway to the billionaires, the most significant transfer of wealth since the Reagan tax plan of 1986.
Larry Kudlow, the director of the National Economic Council and former Reagan acolyte, commented on the now-cozy relationship after a meeting between Donald Trump and the technology giant CEO, noting that Cook has been “most helpful”. “[Tim Cook] loves the tax cut and tax reform,” Kudlow added. “He said it’s great for business.”
Despite the initial disagreements between Apple and the Trump administration, the recent publicity stunt in Wilder days after children were gassed at the border shows the shallow nature of these differences.
In a statement, Melissa Morales spoke on the connection between Trump and Cook: “Ivanka and Tim’s visit reveals more concern for Ivanka’s workforce development and [Apple]’s profits than any legitimate effort to address the inequities leading to mass migration of refugees, the U.S. warfare against them, and the poverty and educational disadvantages that affect students of Color and students from immigrant families.”
Max Shue contributed to this report.