I hope you have been enjoying this cooler weather and are practicing some self-care by periodically disconnecting from technology to recharge your batteries as we prepare for Halloween and anticipate next week’s election results.
Whatever your political leanings, I think we can all agree that the polarization of our country has slowed our ability and responsibility to evolve as a democracy. Our children are the ultimate casualties of this divisive landscape, as they struggle to make sense of the deep chasm they see dividing so many adults in their lives. We owe it to them to continue foregrounding the values we want them to learn from us: candor, respect, integrity, kindness, sincerity, self-control, inclusion, equity, justice, and love.
As you may already be aware, our teachers are helping students navigate the upcoming election and its outcome, allowing for a wide range of students’ voices and perspectives to be amplified as we all continue to make sense of this watershed event. Teachers are careful to focus on issues, not individuals; to back opinions with evidence; and to approach disagreements with curiosity. Maintaining relationships—with and among students—is our priority and keeps us focused on the equitable actions we hope to model and embody.
In Elementary, lessons for our K-1 students focus generally on the definition of an election, the requirements for voting, and the great responsibility of casting one’s ballot. Teachers are emphasizing that everyone’s vote is private and should be respected. Children will participate in their own “elections,” with Kindergarten voting on a Halloween costume for their class mascot, Gerald, and Grade 1 voting to decide on an upcoming Friday Fun Day theme.
Grade 2 has been discussing the rights and responsibilities of citizens. Students have identified important causes that would benefit all Grade 2 students and have created campaign videos to promote their cause. In Grades 2 and 3, teachers are discussing why it is important to vote, the fact that not everyone has historically had the right to vote, and the history of suffrage movements. Grade 4 is building on these ideas by focusing on the traits of effective leaders and on writing and delivering persuasive speeches to influence voters.
In the videos below, Grade 3 students Sofia and Nate read their opinion pieces on “Should Kids be Allowed to Vote?”
In Middle School, all grade levels are focusing on these key topics:
- Definition of democracy
- Three branches/separation of powers/term limits
- The electoral college versus the popular vote
- History and timeline of voting rights
In Grade 5, after learning about the Articles of Confederation leading to the Constitution, students are discussing the three branches of government, the creation of the Electoral College, the popular vote, and the power of government seats. The students will then conduct a debate about whether the electoral college should be abolished, and will play an online in-class game of “Win the White House,” which challenges the students to build their own campaign and allows them to simulate a presidential election. Guidelines for running a successful campaign include:
- Building arguments to support timely issues that are relevant to you
- Strategically raising funds to support your campaign
- Generating campaign momentum through targeted media campaigns and personal appearances
- Polling local voters to see what issues resonate
In Grade 6, students are being guided by their year-long essential question, “How do communities make sense of their changing universe?” to examine the overlapping and symbiotic nature between the concepts of democracy and community. Students are covering both national and local elections and have the opportunity to contact one of their representatives to discuss an issue that is important to them and their community. Lessons focus on why voting is such a critical responsibility for those who have access, as well as voting rights and gerrymandering.
Grade 6’s exploration of the election will culminate in a pair of simulations that allow them to experience what it is like to make an informed voting decision and to participate in a campaign from the candidate’s perspective.
Grade 7 has been exploring the idea of rights as a form of power (based on their year-long essential question, “What is power?”) and connecting individual/universal rights to their reading of Angie Thomas’ novel, The Hate U Give. Additionally, students are exploring what rights should be granted, reduced, or extended in our society to make it a more just and equitable place. Students will use these ideas to then develop their own political platform and write their own campaign speeches.
As Middle School students discuss voting rights and advocacy, students were instructed to write poems, create posters, write letters, or record speeches as avenues for demonstrating their understanding of the power of voice in history and present contexts.
Grade 8 students are continuing their analysis of their year-long essential question, “What is justice?” through their study of government and elections. They began by diving into the history of voting rights in America, and after giving presentations on pivotal changes in American voting rights over the past 250 years, students began evaluating key challenges to voting rights today.
On the national voting front, students constructed arguments for rethinking the electoral college, evaluated the practice of gerrymandering, and discussed partisanship. In thinking about local topics, students are dissecting the California propositions on the November ballot. In addition to developing new vocabulary, students are analyzing the possible impact of the proposed laws, evaluating bias in political advertisements, and suggesting their own laws, further developing an understanding for how change can be made through democracy.
As you can see, from voting on Halloween costumes to evaluating bias in political ads, our students are immersed in valuable lessons about our country’s history and values, as well as key intellectual skills, including critical thinking, reasoning, and inquiry.
If you would like guidance on how to talk with your child about the elections, PBS has some helpful resources: Talking with Young Kids about Elections, Democracy, and Justice for All and How to Talk to Children About Politics. If you subscribe to the New York Times, the October 25 edition had an informative and accessible election section dedicated to children.
As evidenced above by the lessons they are creating around the election, our teachers and students are finding ways to meaningfully participate and connect despite their physical distance. I am hopeful these lessons about how we can unite beyond that which divides us will serve us well in the days, weeks, and months to come.
Head of School