Teaching and learning at Gordon during this election season
Dear Gordon Families,
Whenever there is a national election, Gordon teachers make time to discuss the election process and the candidates. It's part of our mission to find ways to engage students by drawing current events into classroom learning. Presidential races have consistently offered especially ripe opportunities to cover many basics of the American political system and to teach about larger ideas of leadership, debate, democracy and citizenship, and civil discourse.
Gordon approaches social studies by connecting the past to the present, and that made the 2016 election cycle especially difficult to explain. Candidates and their supporters engaged in personal attacks on a scale not seen in this century. It was hard to place the accusations of bigotry and corruption in the context of recent history. The stakes seemed higher than they ever had before. As always, Gordon's response was to meet students where they were: to hear their questions, to model civil discourse, to give them age-appropriate information about American democracy, and to help them find their own voices in the conversation.
Four years later, the break from history feels even more dramatic. Many of the longstanding foundations of our national election process have been called into question since November 2016, including the legitimacy of each American’s vote. For the first time in the history of our country, there have been very real and worrisome concerns raised about a bedrock of our democracy: the peaceful transfer of power.
The upheaval and confusion goes beyond our political system, too. This election is happening during a global pandemic, at a time when our country has a newly sharpened focus on racial justice. Even as we are teaching students about civil discourse, the long fight for voting rights, and how to find accurate information online, the conversations we're having with our students are going even deeper.
Parents, you need to know that your children are initiating these conversations at school in authentic, age-appropriate ways every day. They are happening in every corner of the building, at every age level. In one classroom, it might begin with frustration about COVID-19 precautions. In another, it is impatience with the long electoral season. Often, the conversation can begin with a more mundane concern or half-formed anxiety.
And I need you to know that Gordon teachers are bringing compassion, empathy and a unique and practiced skill set in guiding students through these difficult discussions. Since early in Gordon's August planning, teachers have come together to share resources and plan activities that focus not only on government systems and the election process but also on topics such as empathy, leadership, and the power of the individual and the group. Those election-year lessons build on a foundation of trust, compassion, and respect that is continually being strengthened in every Gordon classroom, every year.
Along the way, teachers are continuing to emphasize values that, as far as Gordon is concerned, are timeless and non-partisan. Honesty and integrity, in both word and deed, should be practiced every day. Thoughtful and informed citizens need to respect the work of scientists and historians, and to use their methods to question and construct an understanding of the world. A free press is essential to the open exchange of ideas. All of us must take on the hard work of discerning fact from opinion. Meanness is not welcome in our classrooms, neither is teasing nor disrespect. Compassion and courage are to be admired. Our community’s strength is in its diversity. Every voice should be heard, every citizen's needs matter, and, in a healthy democracy, every vote should be counted.
In addition we are taking special care to think about what happens in the days after the election. While we can’t plan for all the different scenarios, what we can anticipate is that your children will need a space to be in conversation with trusted adults and classmates, peers who have practiced how to hold each other up, how to empathize with each other, how to listen, how to question, how to search for the truth, and how to speak truth to power. These are skills they have been practicing since they arrived at Gordon, and they are skills that will serve them well beyond 2020.
We know that you and your families are having many conversations about the election and the state of the world. We trust that you see us as partners in this work of helping children navigate these difficult times in a way that honors where they are developmentally, provides them with the support and care they need to ask questions, listen openly, and engage thoughtfully.
Please feel free to connect with me, the Division Directors, or your child’s teacher, if you have questions.
Assistant Head of School
More on Gordon's response to the election season at www.gordonschool.org/election