Reflecting on Election Day
The results of the election were more surprising in some settings than others. In Multnomah County, where Opal School resides, Hillary Clinton earned four votes for every one received by Donald Trump – so we live in something of a blue bubble, shading our vision. Like others around the country, we find ourselves called upon to help support children in making sense of this election. I’ve appreciated reading reflections from a variety of schools, including early childhood centers, elementary schools, high schools, and colleges. I thought that you might like to read this letter, sent by Susan MacKay to parents yesterday, to hear how Opal School is dealing with this question.
Dear Opal Community,
Many have reached out today, concerned about how to talk with children about our election results. Like many of you, I am concerned about what they are witnessing and what they will witness in the days ahead. And I’m concerned about what they are feeling.
I woke up this morning with renewed resolve for Opal and its mission, and with tremendous gratitude for the opportunity to do this work. At this school, children practice – really practice – what to do when we find ourselves in difficult circumstances as members of a community. We practice dialogue, perspective-taking, and inquiry. We know that the conditions we create sustain curiosity and empathy. We actively nurture agency, emotional intelligence, and civic responsibility. I have no doubt that Opal School graduates woke up this morning with renewed readiness and willingness to put these habits of mind to work in their communities. I know my own daughter, disappointed that her first presidential vote (in Pennsylvania, no less) did not result in a broken glass ceiling, still woke up feeling strong and ready to stand up for what she believes in.
Here are the words of another graduate:
This makes me feel like I have to get up and do something to change this. I just feel like my entire top priority in life has been shifted to fighting the bigotry, sexism, racism, and classism in the United States. I don’t know anyone in my generation who isn’t willing to do anything it takes to get the country in a stable place.
-Aiden, senior at Cleveland High School.
Many children, like many adults, are asking: What does this mean for me? Here we find an opportunity to model what we do with feelings of uncertainty and fear. Maybe especially those of us who live with the kind of privilege that won this election – those of us who are White or straight or male or physically able or Christian or of comfortable means—need to get serious about naming what we value most, and work hard to walk that talk. At Opal School, our practice is based on a vision of democracy that operates with alternatives to the kind of “law and order” that bigotry both requires and encourages. This is a democracy that operates without a privileged set who have power that doesn’t require them to consider alternate perspectives – who use a kind of control that doesn’t require them to exercise self-control. Creating this democracy means modeling an awareness of our privileges and a willingness to surrender them so that our children will become willing to do so as well.
We surrender privilege by learning how to listen to things we don’t agree with or understand, being clear about our own values, and not accepting solutions until they work for everyone. As current 5th grader Chase wrote recently, It’s like being friends despite a difference but still supporting each other. Our children need to know we’ll protect them but they also need to practice how to manage themselves when things aren’t going their way.
On a highly practical level, it seems like a good time to limit the amount of news media you invite into your home or car, and to be ready to talk with your children about what they do see and overhear. Be aware at all times that your children are listening, thinking, working so hard to make sense of what’s going on – and to find their place in it. Just like we all are. Let’s help each other know more about what to do – whether things go wrong, or go just as we had planned. Let’s help each other, in the words of Zadie Smith, create a proper and decent human harmony.
If you are curious about how the topic of the election will be addressed in your child’s classroom next week, please don’t hesitate to speak with the teachers. We’d like to invite community discussion of these topics and are looking for the most effective way to do that. If you have input, suggestions, questions, we would love to hear them.
Here are some articles we are finding helpful today:
I’ve spent the last 12 hours engaged in parent conferences and feel so filled up with the beauty that is the love we have for our children. It has been a blessing to soak in that today.
There are so many other resources that could be added, but I want to draw readers attention to What to Say to Kids on November 10 and the Days After, which was posted after Susan’s letter went out.
How do you find yourself responding to Susan’s letter? What do you value in it and what concerns does it raise?
How are you supporting children to make meaning of this?