The 2016 Presidential Election

I hope that you found summer’s final unofficial weekend to be peaceful, joyful, and fulfilling. Faculty and staff had an energizing return to school last week, and we are all excited for the arrival of the children over the next several days.

The reason for this letter is to remind you if you haven’t noticed already, that we are in the midst of a Presidential election campaign.  In true constructivist fashion, every four years since 1992, the School for Children has seized the election as a “teachable moment,” and the entire Upper School (10/11s-13/14s) spends considerable time during the first two months of school engaging in a deep and rich election simulation.

Once again this year, each of the four Upper School grades will play an important role as our community grapples with the content, the issues, and the processes surrounding the 2016 election.  The 10/11s will serve as the Federal Election Commission and be charged with voter registration, counting votes, and announcing the results.  The 11/12s will be hard at work as the pollsters and aim to gauge where the Upper School electorate is leaning heading into Election Day.  The 12/13s will act as the two major political parties—the Democrats and the Republicans—while focusing on the substantive issues that distinguish their party platforms.  And the 13/14s will play the role of the media, covering the campaign and moderating the debate.

It’s important to note that our students will not be running as Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, but rather as themselves.  Whereas the 12/13s will serve up the two major party candidates (and likely, in some cases, have to represent opinions and policies that deviate from their own beliefs), Upper School children in the other grades will have the opportunity to run as independents.  Both in class and during designated Upper School assemblies, students will have the opportunity to delve deeply into the issues, ask questions, and advance their knowledge and understanding of the many nuances of Presidential politics.

Why, if the simulation resides exclusively in the Upper School, am I sharing this letter with the entire Bank Street community?  Needless to say, this is no typical year.  According to a survey conducted of 2,000 teachers nationwide by Teaching Tolerance, a project of the Southern Poverty Law Center, “the campaign is: eliciting fear and anxiety among children of color, immigrants and Muslims; emboldening students to mimic the words and tone of the campaign; and disrupting opportunities to teach effectively about political campaigns and civic engagement” (http://www.tolerance.org/election2016).   

In light of the broader social and political climate surrounding this election, we know that the simulation will reach well beyond the Upper School.  As such, my hope is that we will stay true to what makes Bank Street such a proud, strong, and reflective community and agree to some basic principles that will guide our teaching, learning, grappling, and conversation over the next couple of months:

    1.    At Bank Street, we treat all people, even those whose opinions differ from our own, with decency and respect.

    2.    At Bank Street, we pride ourselves on acknowledging, understanding, and embracing diversity in all of its forms.  This includes ideological diversity.

    3.    At Bank Street, we teach children to use their minds well and to ground their political opinions in deep understanding of ideas, policies, and history.

    4.    At Bank Street, we refrain from personal attacks, and we stand up to name-calling, stereotypes, and slurs.

Earlier in my career, I had the good fortune of working closely with Ted and Nancy Sizer, two giants of progressive educators who, at the time, were touring their new book, The Students Are Watching: Schools and the Moral Contract.  The basic premise of the book is that as much as from the content of our curriculum, our children learn from how we, as adults in and out of schools, act and interact with one another.  Especially now, as the 2016 Presidential election literally and figuratively approaches primetime, I invite all of us—parents, colleagues, and community members—to summon our best selves in service of our children.  

–Jed Lippard, Dean of Children’s Programs