Schools as Models of Civic Maturity

I’ve become painfully aware these last few months of the political tightrope on which I am supposed to balance as a school administrator in a small-ish town. And that is entirely appropriate.

No matter your political leaning, though, three things remain true: 1. This is an historic election that will impact the fate of our country for years to come. 2. We are all concerned citizens who feel like there is a moral imperative to civic involvement now more than ever. And, 3. This election will impact high schools, high school students, and communities around the country regardless of how it shakes out. 

For those reasons, it would not be very courageous of me to choose to avoid the topic in this week’s note to staff.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the fine line between morality and politics. It used to be possible to talk about respecting differences of opinion without people thinking you are shying away from conversations about fundamental rights, basic decency, and the tug and pull of good and evil. This is no longer the case.  This is what makes educating in this political climate so incredibly complex. But,  if there is anything I have learned these past few years, it is that to truly make a difference on a large scale, one must–more than anything–make a difference in their own sphere of influence first and foremost. We must “keep it personal, local, and immediate.”

Here is just one example that comes to mind from my immediate sphere: There are two staff members with whom I have spent a lot of time these past few years as both their roles are crucial to keeping students in school and engaged. One of us is registered Democratic. One of us is a registered Republican. And one of us is a registered Independent.  Surely based on this criteria alone (and our current political climate), one of us is a good human and the other two, not so much.  

Except this narrative just doesn’t fit the reality.  The one thing, in fact, that stands out the most to me about this crew of three is our shared love for all families in our community and our relentless commitment to serving them well. Do we debate about how to best serve them? All the time. Do we debate about who deserves our efforts? Never. 

The three of us stay grounded, productive, and passionate due to the constant naming of and discussion about our shared why. We each grow and become better every day due to the willingness to engage in hard conversations, listen to each other with the intent to understand rather than respond, and sometimes even put our pride aside and allow ourselves to change our minds and change course. I can’t help but wonder what a better world we would live in if we all engaged with our own spheres of influence with this kind of respect, grace, and shared humanity. 

After all, we are in the business of educating. And, every great educator knows that one does not learn something deeply and grow in a meaningful way simply by being told the facts and stats. We certainly do not grow by being told that our thinking is stupid, immoral, or invalid. We grow the most when we feel emotionally compelled to grow by the very people who love us and are willing to stand by us while we learn. We are compelled by them because we respect them, the example they set, and their lived experiences. 

What I want most for our school and greater community these next few weeks is not to sweep politics under the rug but to keep them personal, local, and immediate because that is how we make the biggest difference and because, I’ll say it again, the fastest path to meaningful change is never hate. It is always hope. As always, great change comes one person, one story, and one loving conversation at a time. We will change the world by who we vote for, yes. We will also change the world by who we love. Let’s love each other this week no matter what.

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