I hope you and your family are staying in good health and spirits. 2020 continues to bring us many challenges that require us each to be at our best, our most compassionate, and our most focused. And as if the year hasn’t been challenging enough, this election week has been an especially emotional one for our nation and communities.
Many of us recently exercised our rights and responsibilities as American citizens. Whenever you voted, and for whomever you voted, I hope you voted. The candidates, the judges, the representatives, and the propositions we choose to elect or reelect make a difference in outcomes for our communities.
As a Montessori school, our focus remains on nurturing and challenging each of our community members to develop the skills and courage we need to be our best selves. We believe in grace and courtesy, respect and inclusion, and in every individual unleashing their full potential, whatever that potential and whatever their beliefs. We do not believe in divisiveness; rather we seek to thwart it.
Earlier this week I had a good conversation with some of our middle school students about the general nature of elections. We discussed that on a macro level and within complex organizations such as our country, voting is a tremendous privilege which allows individuals to stand up and share their voice. We then discussed that our form of government in our country is a Republic, in which we elect others to represent our voice and do the important work of deliberating, compromising, and analyzing situations, laws, and cases.
On the micro level, we explored how the act of voting on its own is not always the most constructive form of deliberating or decision making. Voting by itself has the potential to be binary, which can lead to polarization, hurt feelings, or divisiveness. On a micro level, we can be afforded the space to dialogue, to dig into ideas, to honor that people are complex, to compromise, or to find common ground.
During our conversation, the topic somehow steered to ice cream. There were 21 of us in the conversation (which we held outside with masks and everyone socially distanced). We said that if we were asked to vote on whether we wanted to eat Ben and Jerry’s Cherry Garcia or Blue Bell Vanilla Bean, and if 11 people voted for one and 10 the other, then through the vote nearly half the group would not have gotten the flavor they wanted. Whereas, if we allowed ourselves the space and time to listen, to discuss, to collaborate, maybe the outcome would be different. Maybe we would have ended up with a different option; maybe we would have swirled the two flavors together; maybe we would have decided on a sundae bar with more choices; maybe we would have decided on brownies instead; or maybe we would have discovered that some of us just don’t like ice cream. But we only would have been able to uncover these nuances through dialogue, listening, and engagement. While our nation is certainly not as simple as ice cream, and while voting is of course a tremendously important and necessary tool, my conversation with the middle school students is a good reminder that respectful, active dialogue can be a very important tool in navigating different opinions and complex situations.
As a Montessori school, this is one of the things we teach our students. As a whole, our School is not a political institution: in our community we have republicans, democrats, libertarians, and everything between. What unites us is our openness to civil discourse, our willingness to lean into complexity, our intention to listen deeply to those with whom we disagree, and our desire to be compassionate, respectful, and empathetic to all.
Families are able to count on us to listen to their children, to not promote any personal political beliefs we may individually hold, to keep a safe space for the students, and to help guide our students as they seek age-appropriate understanding about complicated concepts. At school, this week and always, we do not force our ideas upon our students or each other as faculty and staff.
We wanted to share some of the guidance that we earlier offered our families on how to support their child during election season at home. As parents, many of us are naturally protective and may want to shelter our children from the distresses with which we are grappling. We must remember that children are sensitive and can sense our emotions and moods as adults, which can result in their own anxious feelings. Even very young children pick up on pieces of conversations and news stories, sometimes filling in missing information with their own imaginations. Children will ask questions about what is happening, and we need to be prepared to respond.
Here are some suggestions from a Montessori perspective for talking about the election with your children:
- Follow the child. Pay close attention to your words and media around children. Respond to their curiosity and feelings with sensitivity to their age and stage of development.
- Listen. Before jumping in with explanations, take a breath and listen, and invite them to express themselves by saying, “Tell me more about that.” Listen carefully.
- Keep it positive. Reassure children that elections are a good thing and a way for everyone to have a say in big decisions and participate in our democracy. Children shouldn’t fear elections or voicing their opinions.
- Help them respect other opinions. Let them know other people will always have different ideas and opinions and that this is okay. It is not a reason to not like someone, but an opportunity to understand them.
- Keep it simple. Answer their questions briefly and honestly in language they can understand, without adding more than what they asked.
- Provide a sense of security. Acknowledge and name their feelings, and provide encouragement and emotional support when they are feeling confused or worried. Make a genuine effort to relate to their confusion or concerns.
- Offer information. Explain how elections work. For young children this can be as simple as “everyone gets one vote and the person with the most votes wins,” while older children can learn more about complex issues such as the Electoral College, voter rights, and history.
- Ask open-ended questions. Examples include: “How are you feeling about the elections coming up?” “What do you think about that?” “What questions do you have about the election?” “What are you wondering about?”
- Give them the opportunity to have their own opinions and ideas. Be a model of all the ways we can listen and learn from each other, as this provides a valuable lesson in good citizenship, starting in our homes.
In addition to taking care of our children during a stressful election week and post-election season, we also need to take care of ourselves and our communities. Much of the advice above can apply to ourselves, to our friendships, and our families, especially when there may be differing opinions.
Regardless of the outcome of the election, there will be millions of people who are delighted and millions of people who are distressed. We recognize and respect the diversity of our community and the diversity of our voting and political opinions, just as our middle school students respect those who like different flavors of ice cream than they do. Greensboro Montessori School will always be a supportive environment for each of our community members.
I wish all the best for you, your family, our communities, and our nation. And let me know if you ever want to go out for a (socially distanced) ice cream to talk it through.
Dr. Kevin Navarro
Head of School