By Neal M. Brown, Ed.D., Head of Green Acres School
I’ve been reluctant to write about the election, because it is hard frankly to know where to begin. As educators, we are focused on helping our students make sense of the world and their place in it. With this election, as we’ve read in the previous few blog posts, we’re experiencing unique and substantial challenges in guiding our students’ understanding and thinking. As progressive educators, we’re particularly focused on helping our students to develop an openness to others’ perspectives, to practice kindness and civility with friends and enemies alike, to demonstrate respect for everyone, to see differences as strengths, and to focus more on someone’s ideas than on their appearance, social standing, or bank account. It’s been difficult but not impossible to continue to impart these messages in the face of the daily messages and images we have been inundated with over these many months.
Our school’s mission statement calls that we “challenge and inspire” our students to “live and learn” with “compassion,” among other traits. We expect our students to demonstrate integrity and honesty—and we seek to cultivate in them ethical behavior both through their daily experiences in our inclusive, democratic community and through our explicit focus on proactively teaching “character” and on reactively addressing breaches as they naturally arise.
Of course our challenge as a community, in addition to making sense of the behaviors our children have witnessed in this year’s political drama, is making sure that we are practicing what we preach and setting an example worthy of our children. Ted and Nancy Sizer addressed this vital challenge for schools in The Students are Watching: Schools and the Moral Contract. Here they laid out the simple but powerful premise that character education must be an intrinsic part of every successful school—and that a school community’s daily routines and habits, most notably how people treat one another, matter more than any specific lessons given about respect, honesty, or integrity.
This year our students have definitely been watching us and watching what is going on around us. They are seeing that adults don’t always tell the truth or treat one another with respect or kindness. Ideally, the experiences that we are giving students are serving as a powerful counterbalance and giving them the ethical and intellectual habits and tools they’ll need both to thrive and to contribute.