In the midst of the renovations and scheduling that marked this past summer, a trustee and parent came to me with a concern that has resonated over these past months. She asked, “How will we discuss the election this year?”
In retrospect, I responded too quickly and cavalierly. We’d explore both sides of every issue, I suggested. We would be sure students recognized both candidates’ perspectives. No big deal.
But the trustee persisted - no, really, THIS year, how would we be able to achieve equanimity in conversation, to pause and to reflect, and to have respectful dialogue when the candidates’ words all too often feel deeply disrespectful of one another and of our fellow community members?
As her message resonated, as August built towards September, and as public dialogue grew increasingly heated, I reflected on the experience of our faculty in fostering respectful conversation during Community Time and through our Words of the Month. I recalled the thoughtful way I’ve seen our students tackle authentic topics within the framework of our social justice curriculum, demonstrating the ability to step back from emotion and to explore perspectives with peers.
With the polls open and lines long this morning, my gratitude for our faculty and my belief in the power of IDEAL’s mission are stronger than ever. Despite the political climate in the media, our students have engaged in a process that reinforces my understanding of how an IDEAL education fosters “academic excellence, creative leadership, and the desire to build a more just and equitable world.”
Our fifth grade teachers, for example, have introduced the positions of Lower School President and Vice President within our Lower School. The election process for the leaders of our Red and White Parties involved not only speeches but also intentional debates in front of students in grades three through five and focused on issues such as academic technology, clubs, and student leadership. After the candidates responded to each issue, I observed our students asking thoughtful questions and our teachers encouraging students to summarize the candidates’ perspectives. I am looking forward to meeting not only with our own newly elected Lower School leaders but also with the entire fifth grade class, whom I have charged with developing new initiatives and new ways they themselves can model leadership and serve our community.
In the Upper School, history classes have been analyzing debates and perspectives over the past month. They have watched presidential and vice presidential debates, taken notes on the views of the candidates, and evaluated the merits of both parties’ arguments. During Community Time, students in grades six through eleven gave speeches to run for various offices in our Student Government Association and spoke of the ways in which they would engage their peers in building school spirit and work with faculty and administrators to effect positive change. Today, in history class, eighth graders applied their understanding of the candidates’ views on the issues to specific case studies, projecting how Republicans and Democrats would respond differently to real-world situations. Our teachers, trained in approaches to cultivate a spirit of reflection and voice within a diverse group of young people, are prepared to lead meaningful conversations tomorrow, post-election, in our morning and afternoon advisory meetings.
Yesterday, I visited a third grade classroom where the students were using a Venn diagram to compare the parties’ beliefs on issues such as taxes, gun control, and same-sex marriage without bias. As students summarized the elements of both the Democratic and Republican views, they maintained positive and fair language and tone in representing the differing perspectives. When I asked students what they had learned through their discussion, several volunteered that they better understood not only the right of citizens to vote but also their responsibility to educate themselves about the issues. Most impressive, however, was the common ground in the center of the diagram and the overlapping core values of our two parties, belief in the sanctity of love, independence, and contribution to society.
As the results of our nation’s election begin to stream in tonight, I am going to hold tight in my mind to the voices of our students. It is their ability to engage in respectful dialogue, to dig deeply to understand opposing views, to seek common ground, and to give back to their community that will make IDEAL future leaders.
For resources on discussing election results with children, I recommend Common Sense Media’s
“17 Tips to Steer Kids of All Ages through the Election Season.”