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Raising Real Citizens

Sunday, October 14, 2018

What a great first Fall Fair on the new Ann Van Deusen Campus Commons and in and around our new Logan Loft!  A special thanks to our parent, staff, faculty, and administrative volunteers. What a celebration of our Burgundy community!

Even in the afterglow of our Fair, however, I continue to wonder about the impact, on ourselves as well as on our kids, of the volatile times we are experiencing and the ongoing and shrill social-political strife around so many important issues. While it is comforting to be in the Burgundy community in times like these, we are not insulated from the toxicity! We worry about the cumulative impact on ourselves and our children.

As parents and educators how are we navigating and contextualizing this challenging and often ugly climate? When our human and ideological differences seem to matter more than our commonalities, we find ourselves asking hard questions: What in fact is shared among us? What is sacredly American? What does it mean to be American anymore? What does our nation stand for? Is our democracy working? Is this what it will look and feel like forevermore? Is civil debate dead? Are we in the midst or on the verge of major cultural change? What seems clear is that many people feel worried, distrustful, even unsafe, and, at best, fatigued of the tone of it all. I’ve heard more than one person among us refer to these times as discouraging, even debilitating, as much for the spirit of things as the content of concerns being argued.

In this loud and dissonant environment our children are receiving a lot of potentially unsettling information, images, and emotion, whether via the news and media or passively by observing and listening to our own reactions. Shocking allegations and behaviors leave us wondering what to think, and we may wonder what and how and how much to share with our children, whether we’re talking about the ‘news’ or our own perspectives on it. How should we be handling all this with our children? There are resources to guide us. CommonSense Media is one. Much wisdom is similar to what was shared during the run-up to the elections two years ago, but the advice is still sound.

One piece of advice that sticks with me is that if your child seems to need to talk about it, we should do so, and in terms they can relate to (in a developmentally appropriate way). Similarly, psychologists recommend we respect children enough not to force conversations if they’re not wanted and not necessary. That’s a subjective and personal calculation. And, again, resources are available to guide and support us in talking about difficult topics. Our own Counselor and Diversity and Inclusion Coordinator Pat Harden is an excellent resource on specific questions.

Here at school in the regular course of our work we will continue to try to honor children’s needs and perspectives when troubling news or confusing or dehumanizing messages may be swirling; we recognize that our job is less to tell kids what to think than to help teach them learn how.  Keeping some balance in what teach and we say to children is a challenge we accept. In the end we’re in the business of helping to develop self-actualized young teens and to help them move into larger and often times more diverse environs, confident in what they believe and comfortable in their own appearance, personal politics, and self-identities. We also hope they’ll be respectful and caring concerning the rights and well being of others, as well as protective of our environment. In other words, real citizens.