Learning to lead a civil discourse

In October, the seventh graders were asked to write evidence-based persuasive letters to decisionmakers around the school with ideas about how the school recognizes Columbus Day. more

 

Today, Head of School Noni Thomas López, Assistant Head Lynn Bowman and Middle School Director Gabe Burnstein responded.

 

Dr. Thomas López began by praising the students for their ability to take into consideration other people's experiences.

 

"You all took care to say, 'I feel this way, but I know not everybody else does,' in a way that showed your respect for other voices," she said. She had just written a letter of her own about the importance of respectful discourse, so that was high praise from her.

 

The adults spelled out the common themes they'd found in the students' letters:

The first weekend in October should continue to be a long weekend.

The question of renaming the holiday was complex, it was worth grappling with, and it should include as many voices as possible.  

And—the strongest consensus of all—a day in October should be given over to teaching about the historical context of Columbus Day.

 

Then, the adults outlined a proposal of their own.

 

For the past several years, Gordon's Middle School has hosted a series of daylong cross-grade teach-ins on topics of identity and social justice. For January's teach-in, the seventh grade would be challenged to lead the fifth, sixth and eighth grades in a workshop on the Columbus Day holiday. 

This conversation, the adults explained, needed to continue, and these seventh graders are the ones to lead it. This year.

 

In that spirit, the adults also proposed that students could volunteer to present the Board of Trustees and its committees with options on how Gordon could recognize Columbus Day. The meetings would take place this winter and spring.

 

It sounded like a lot of work.

 

The students were thrilled.

 

"I want to thank you," said Ms. Bowman. "When I researched this topic, I saw that most schools and institutions approached it as a choice between names, between 'Columbus Day' and 'Indigenous People's Day.' But your letters helped me see that there might be other, more interesting ways to approach it. And I'm looking forward to seeing what we come up with."

 

There were many questions.

 

None of these students felt the need to rehash what they had already said in their own letters, or argue their case.

 

Instead, they were very curious about what everyone else had said in their letters.

 

They also wanted to know how the followup meetings would be structured to include everyone who wanted to participate.

 

This is going to be a good conversation.

These students are going to lead it.