When it comes to students and politics at school, their go-to is often to parrot what they hear in the culture outside of school. In the grown-up political climate and culture, we see great division, and sometimes dehumanization, of people who disagree with one another becoming increasingly normalized. I often say that if it’s in the culture, it’s going to be in the school. Yet, as a Progressive school we know we must teach students how to “foster empathy, communication, and collaboration across differences.” At St. Francis, we create conditions for students to express themselves, to learn about democracy and the civic process, and to think critically and compassionately about their world.
In the weeks leading up to the recent election, as Suzanne Gorman mentions in her column in this same newsletter, faculty members on both campuses collaborated to create guidelines for engaging in respectful, productive conversations, using our previously existing framework, “How to Have Difficult Conversations” for Middle and High School and “How to Have Courageous Conversations” guidance for Lower School (created last year and linked here and here).
Also, Billy Spalding–self-professed history nerd, patriotic Army veteran, and Middle School Social Studies Department Chair–prepared a slideshow titled “Election 2020: How to Stay Calm by Staying Informed,” for teachers to share with students about the civic process, the Electoral College, the legal process for counting votes, and the overall importance of voting. Other classroom teachers also created age-appropriate learning and discussion opportunities for students about the civic process, media literacy, American history, democracy, and how persuasive techniques and arguments are used in politics.
As Rosalind Wiseman’s Cultures of Dignity states, “Our democracy can only survive if young people are taught that disagreement is not disrespect and we are all committed to creating and protecting the environment for civil discourse.” Modeling and practicing the skills we want our children to demonstrate is the way forward. As I said in a message to the faculty earlier this week, may our shared values guide us, always.