From the Director: Election Reflection

This election season is a time for the entire family to be civically engaged. Director Vince Durnan shared the following letter with the USN community on Thursday, October 29, offering five tips to control what we can — our response.
We’d be hard-pressed to identify a more divided time, with more caustic interactions on full display, in at least a generation. Not that the nation has historically avoided deep factional conflict at critical inflection points through its evolving narrative, but truly it must be said that in too many instances, the magnitude of contemporary civic challenges is bringing out our very worst. So, you’d be forgiven for worrying about what next Tuesday’s results will mean for all of us.
 
Meanwhile, with efforts here on campus so single-mindedly focused on keeping the doors open, by getting all the mitigation efforts right and appealing relentlessly to our constituents to do their part, there’s been little bandwidth left for anything else. For that reason and because of the regrettable examples being provided in the public sphere, the usual mock election sequence, complete with competing platforms and speeches, is nowhere to be seen this time around. Instead, across grades and classrooms, teachers are framing thoughtful exercises to highlight the process and issues at hand—my High School advisory group just completed HS History Teacher Anna Stern's suggested 538.com simulation, for example.
 
My hope is that this moment, alongside the unraveling COVID-19 numbers, will remind us of the importance of schools and the role they should play for our republic. Something will happen next week, something connecting incumbent, challenger, frustration, celebration, resentment, past, present, and future. We’ve each probably done about all we can do by now to make likely a particular outcome, save a last burst of effort—and happily our habitually low-turnout state has already shattered early voting records, by a wide margin. Now to ready for the work ahead.
 
What we can control with certainty about next week is our response. Let’s make time to commit in advance (and perhaps reconnect to) some core principles, ideas with the potential to transcend partisan distraction, focused on our pursuit of inclusive excellence, among them:
  1. Schools do best when they teach children to think for themselves.
  2. Progress flows from the free exchange of ideas in a respectful environment.
  3. USN serves as a sanctuary of sorts for people who might feel marginalized elsewhere.
  4. We need to address the causes and consequences of centuries of racial inequity.
  5. There’s ultimately more that unites us than divides us.
I am still a little amazed when these broad statements are read as political in themselves.

I shared with our HS inductees to the Cum Laude Society this month that the purpose of education, per Larry Bacow, of MIT>Tufts>Harvard presidency fame, is to help students grow to be wise, creative, empathetic, and engaged. May we resolve to see our conversations with our children through those four lenses—what promotes those qualities should be done in abundance. What falls short should be left aside. And let’s expect the same, let’s count on the same, from one another. There's plenty for us to do here on Edgehill Avenue.
 
Next Wednesday morning we’ll have school, in the best way we know how. It’s our responsibility and our choice. Through cataclysms, urgencies, and tensions of all kinds over many decades, people here have come together to make school, understanding the power of our opportunity together and the needs at hand. That’s not subject to change, nor should it be. Here comes the next case in point.
 
Chalk this message up, if you must, to my being an underemployed, nearly washed-up civics teacher. Among the missing pieces of our national educational answer, curriculum in that area figures prominently, but somehow the additive nature of programs K-12 makes that time hard to budget—and the consequences loom large. For now, perhaps it can be our shared work to support and extol the virtues of civic engagement. And I sure am looking forward to next semester's class—in the company of this year's seniors. 
 
This our beloved community. We can and should live an instructive example. And this nation needs that from us.
 
Grateful for each of you and all of you,
Director
 
*And if you haven’t seen, here’s a remarkable story (also pdf here) about a member of the unforgettable USN '07 bunch—TJ Ducklo was busy caring and making a difference in our halls way back when.
 
**Lastly, with Halloween just around the corner, please, please think public health and act on your own common sense—let’s avoid the really scary stuff, OK? Every decision matters.
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