Calm in the Storm

IS Families,

First, and to keep it from landing at the end of this message—don’t forget about the Color Run this weekend. If it’s going to be the “first annual,” as the posters proclaim, we need to launch well and build momentum so that other years will follow. Should be a blast. I, alas, will be on O’ahu seeing a son whose Navy ship now sits in port for a bit, so we don’t want to miss the chance, especially on Veterans Day. That all puts me in mind of our deeply divided, partisan country (just confirmed by the midterm elections) and the burden/opportunity that generates for schools, our included.

Knowing that the topic can be radioactive, let me tiptoe into how partisan life has been in thousands of school environments for the last several years. Conversations about the direction of the nation, sharp edged and confrontational, made their way into classrooms and hallways, echoing what was being broadcast on media of all kinds and by leaders in high visibility elected positions. Grownups were saying things that students would be rightly disciplined for if they said to one another in class. And teachers often found themselves smack in the middle, wondering where their voices fit in and where their responsibilities resided.

For the first time ever, and as a direct result of all that, I found myself (in a deep blue city in a deep red state, a kind of blueberry in a tomato), advocating for NOT holding a mock election at school, mostly given how toxic the political dialog had become and also the fact that the school clearly tilted in a single direction. There seemed little to gain by creating a venue for teenagers to shout at each other. Our elementary kids voted, ironically, on their preference for cats vs. dogs. Dogs won, btw.

Fast forward to now, to here, to the land of mail-in voting and lopsided results. Our US Senate race was called on national TV before any votes were even posted. Yes, there were some close local races, but in general we’re distanced, in every way, from mainland political chatter. As I type, our small but mighty HS Civics class is discussing, within earshot because there’s no classroom space for them and we’re sitting under the same tent,  what happened on election night, with their teacher, who was reelected to a 3rd term on the County Council. But it’s just one class.

And guess what—they know a little, mostly about what happened on the island, but past that their awareness is spotty—why would they know, way out here? Why should they care? And what should we do about all that? Our cozy campus exists largely outside political partisanship, busy with lots of other stuff, free from bumper stickers and MAGA hats and Roe t-shirts. Is that OK? Is it for the best? Makes me wonder how things are in your house. You might be appreciating being outside all the electoral news frenzy too.

Then there’s the question of what students should know, in the universe of what they could know, about the systems that decide on issues that will probably affect their lives in some way, not to mention whether they have any obligation to participate given the education they’ve received. I completely understand their being soured by what they see and hear about government shortcomings, and at the same time I really hope they will not walk away. We’ll be working on getting our older kids pre-registered to vote as soon as they are eligible at 16, staying non-partisan and encouraging them to make informed choices, focusing on how rather than what to think. Schools that duck that opportunity are settling for less.

As an editorial comment, I wonder if folks in the Island School community know how lucky we are to have differences of opinion and mindset under our not so big community tent. Lots of places aren’t put together that way, based on factors beyond their control or on a wish to just be around people they agree with. 

What little I know tells me that we almost certainly don’t all vote the same way or hold the same political views, and yet we are not at each other’s throats. What we have here is pretty uncommon. It’s hard enough to make a really good independent school in the first place—navigating political food fights makes it almost impossible. And so far for me anyway, we’ve steered clear of that kind of distraction. That’s not to say you should avoid those dinner table conversations about what matters—just the opposite really—we need you helping to build thoughtful young people on your end.

We sure have plenty of work to do, helping to raise informed, active, caring, ad productive citizens. But what could be more important?

Climbing off my soap box. Enjoy the holiday,