As a new president was inaugurated in Washington, the mood was mostly gloomy inside Constitution High School in Center City.
By and large, students signaled the same message to history teacher Carl Ackerman: They did not relish the pageantry and symbolism of President Trump’s formal ascension to power.
“They don’t want to watch it,” Ackerman said.
Still, it was a teachable moment, and Ackerman didn’t want to miss that. His world history students analyzed coverage from various international sources.
And in his Advanced Placement U.S. History class, author and scholar Christopher Phillips was on hand to lead a Socratic discussion among the juniors.
The day “should mean leadership and the betterment of our culture, and diversity,” Dionna Herrington said.
OK, that’s should. What does it mean? Phillips queried.
“Preparing for our downfall,” Herrington said, frowning. “Watching someone about to tarnish our nation.”
Christopher Javier was thinking about those who felt marginalized by the incoming leader.
“I can’t just imagine what undocumented immigrants must be feeling,” said Javier.
His classmate Christopher Coleman nodded.
“We need a president who’s not just going to say what he’s going to do to keep certain races out,” he said.
Phillips pressed on.
“Tell me something that you want to see addressed in the next four years,” he said.
“Why is this man my president?” Coleman said.
Many of Ackerman’s students said they wouldn’t have attended the inauguration if they had the chance.
"I'm not cool with this president," one student mumbled. "I don't need to be cool with him."
Philadelphia schools had no mandate for handling the election; it was up to individuals to decide whether they wanted to incorporate it into the day’s lessons.
In South Jersey, Scott Oswald, superintendent of the Oaklyn and Collingswood school districts, gave teachers in middle school grades on up the option of having students watch the ceremony.
“We didn’t want to force the inauguration on anybody,” Oswald said, “but we didn’t want to take it away from anybody, either.”