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Finding reason for optimism

This morning, Dr. Thomas López sent the following letter to families, faculty and staff:

Dear Gordon Community,

Even in a time when incidents of gun violence have become commonplace, this past week has been decidedly uncommon. On Wednesday, a white man in Louisville, KY, killed two black senior citizens at a grocery store after a failed attempt to enter a predominately black church. On Friday, a Florida man was arrested for sending pipe bombs to prominent political opponents of Donald Trump. According to reports, he was known for making racist and xenophobic statements to family and co-workers. And Saturday morning, a shooter entered the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, PA, killing eleven and injuring six, including four police officers. This horrific incident marks the deadliest act of anti-Semitism in American history.

It makes sense to wonder where we go from here. Sadly, violence driven by racial, religious, and political hatred is nothing new in this country, but it seems that our current civil discourse has become anything but civil. Political opponents have become political enemies. Social media is used to tear down rather than lift up. You’re either with me or against me. It’s us versus them. And marginalized communities—people of color, LGBTQ+ people, religious minorities, immigrants—are under particular threat. Even as last week's violence unfolded, the country was learning of a Trump administration proposal to redefine gender in a way that would legally undermine the identities of transgender people.

So, how do we turn this tide? Perhaps three words in the Gordon mission statement indicate the next step: child by child. If we want to create peace in the world, let us create peacemakers. If we want justice in the world, let us create justice seekers. Let us commit, as a community, not just to seeing the inherent dignity, beauty, and value in every human being. Let us also commit to standing up and speaking out when we see anyone treated as less than their humanity demands.

This work is already underway at Gordon. Last Thursday, Luke Anderson stopped regular eighth grade humanities class to lead discussions about how to have healthy civil discourse. Students listened to one another, named the challenges of discussing politics and current events, shared their feelings. Then, they planned action, offering what they could do to demonstrate respect and support for their classmates when they are engaged in these conversations both inside and outside of school, as well as in person and online. It was a hopeful discussion that helped students practice empathy and build that essential skill as they prepare to leave our community and enter a larger, more adult world. As Assistant Head of School Lynn Bowman noted, “Having difficult conversations while taking care of each other is their generation's charge.”

Unfortunately, recent calls to civility from some politicians have been more about moral equivalency than moral clarity. To be clear, this work is not about finding “good people on both sides.” No one should be asked to look for common ground in bigoted beliefs. The skill of engaging in civil discourse rejects the ideas of “sides” and asks, "What is expected of a citizen of a community?" One of the responsibilities of a citizen of Gordon is to be willing to engage in dialogue around difficult and emotional topics, to appreciate multiple perspectives, and to consider how new understandings will help us contribute to the common good.

I am proud to be a part of a community where the adults understand the importance of modeling civility for our young people. To support our work in this area at school and at home, I have attached a resource from the Center for Spiritual and Ethical Education entitled Bridging Divides, which includes tools to help us deepen our children’s ability to listen to and empathize with one another. I am also including some resources about how to talk to young children when tragic events happen in the world. Judith Gnys, our school psychologist, will also be available to students and families who may need extra support processing the events of this past week.
As for security here at Gordon, we are taking the steps necessary to be prepared for the unlikely event of an active shooter in the building. In coordination with and at the recommendation of the East Providence Police Department, our Buildings and Grounds Director Joe Almeida has taken a course issued by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and will serve as our point person for lockdown drills. He is visiting every classroom at Gordon to discuss with teachers an individualized plan for responding to an active shooter in the building, and we have created conspicuous signage to indicate safe spots in classrooms. We are planning our first lockdown drill in the next few weeks and will create a regular schedule for them moving forward.

Our thoughts are with all of the victims of the hateful violence of this past week as well as their families and anyone in our community with connections to these incidents. Let us continue to work and live together with hope and optimism. Speaking of which, I would be remiss if I did not say congratulations to those of you celebrating the Red Sox World Series victory. While it’s a tough day for this Yankees fan, I think we could all use a little joy, from wherever it may come.

Take care,

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