What The Red States Teach Us


I’m at the tail end of the election-induced grief cycle… and that grief has yielded to action. So I have dusted off this blog page to channel my rage and trepidation– for however long it roils.

I hate what our country did on Election Day. I hate the fascist monster that was elected, and the frightening nest of characters he is weaving in to critical roles… and I will fight every day to the protect the civil rights of my friends and students.

But today… I looked in the mirror and realized just how complicit I may have been in this debacle. We learned that this was–in part, at least–  a revolution of disaffected voters who put their own economic interests ahead of the moral and cultural arc of our nation.

Their disaffection must be profound. And it is. And at least on one level, it is owed to the schools they attended– because their disaffection was, at the core, as much about job preparation… as it was about disappearing jobs.

Alvin Toffler said:  “Our job is not just to prepare students for the future… it is to prepare them for the RIGHT future.”

And this is where my epiphany lies.

In 2014, I founded Bayfront Charter High School in the heart one of the most economically depressed pockets of Chula Vista. 95% of my students are children of color—90% are Latino and 85% qualify for free and reduced lunch. A healthy percentage of those are the subject of the country’s rage about immigration and building walls (which by the way we already have.) This school is organized around preparing our students for College and Career pathways that they might not have otherwise discovered in the other overcrowded neighborhood high schools. And that’s the backdrop for this election.

In the run-up to Election Day 2016, I was, like most Americans, shocked and outraged (and at times amused) by trump’s antics and vitriol. I tuned in every night for the latest daily outrage waiting for him and the Republican cabal to implode.  Then, just as we settled in to celebrate the election of America’s first female President and dismiss trump to the footnotes of history, the nightmare unfolded. I was numb. And livid. I had dismissed trump’s backers as bigots– but that was too simple an analysis.

So I started connecting the dots…

This is the electoral map:



Bayfront Charter High School sits squarely in the blue on the southwest corner of the United States. All that red? Those are the middle class/working class voters we heard so much about. The white, male, non-college educated citizens of Michigan, Alabama, rural Florida and points in between. The ones that were so angry about lost jobs that trump could have thrown babies off a roof top on one of his reality tv shows and they still would have voted for him. It’s the economy, dumb ass!

The problem, however, isn’t necessarily the scarcity of jobs in that red sea.

It’s a lack of jobs that align with the skill sets and education level of the available work force. In fact, according to America’s Divided Recovery: College Haves and Have Nots, 2016– published by the Georgetown Center on Education and The Workforce, “a quarter-century of U.S. economic growth under Democrats and Republicans alike has added 35 million net new jobs.”


But the number of jobs held by Americans with only a high school diploma or less has fallen by 7.3 million. The disparity is striking. The country has experienced a doubling of jobs for Americans with a four-year college degree, while the number of jobs for those with a high school diploma or less has fallen by 13 percent.”


This trump can’t bring jobs back to an unskilled or undereducated work force. But that’s his problem.  And theirs.

Meanwhile, the large swath of blue on the two coasts is not coincidental. California is the largest state in the union and the strongest driver of our nation’s economy… fueled by rapid innovation in technology, energy, and STEM in general. And many of the companies driving that growth—can’t find enough skilled candidates—American or otherwise—to keep up with the job opeings.

It’s not just a demand for folks with a specific degree– it’s the degree plus some very distinctive skills: like the ability to adapt, solve problems, collaborate, make stuff, innovate, and exercise creative and critical thinking.

Those skills. Soft skills. The ones we have been talking about since the SCANS report of the 1990’s. The ones that the Common Core actually demands and develops. And the ones that are still not front and center in our schools. The ones required in every community of America that can’t quite figure out how to reinvent itself– short of importing a regional arm of Amazon.

So at Bayfront, we are sharpening our focus around preparing our students for the right future.

Yes, they live in a country filled with racism and intolerance that has bubbled to the surface– and at least for the moment it is personified by our bigot-in-chief.  They are the very students who trump wants to deport and to whom he would deny fundamental civil and constitutional rights.

But we intend to fight; to launch our own counter-revolution to assure that the cultural direction of our high school positions our students to compete in an entrepreneurial economy.  We intend to prepare every student to achieve whatever they imagine…whether its a career in Silicon Valley, or their own community,  or one right there in the White House.



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2 responses to “What The Red States Teach Us

  1. Paulette Scheffer

    Great article and please recognize the challenge of getting women to pursue STEM. I’m talking about girls and women who are interested and talented in these fields, but opt out. The number of women graduating with STEM degrees was dropped by about 50% since the mid 80s. That is a problem for all of us.

  2. Linda

    Thank you Dr. Riley! Beautifully said. I’m proud to be on the Bayfront Team!

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