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Encouraging Discussion & Critical Thinking

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Authored by Head of School Dr. Fran Bisselle

Tomorrow is officially Election Day. 
 
Many of our school parents, seniors, faculty, staff, and administrators may have participated in this election by casting ballots through early voting or by voting absentee by mail or at a Board of Elections drop-off location.
 
We’ve seen what appears to be record turnout already and if news reports are accurate, we can expect that there will be many thousands more contributing their voices to the democratic process and making their way to the polls in person tomorrow. 
 
Our system depends on having engaged and informed citizens who are active in their own government.

A history & civics lesson

Today, at Morning Meeting, Upper School Division Director Hallie Ritzman gave our students a bit of a history and civics lesson that I’d like to share with our parents, so that you understand the framework through which we are talking with our students about the democratic process in general and the 2020 Presidential election in particular.
 
An excerpt from her remarks:
 
“Every four years, registered voters can participate in our election process and cast their ballots in secret for the office of President and Vice President. Those votes then inform state electors about how to cast their ballots in the Electoral College, maintaining the democratic republic that has been in place since our Constitution was framed and ratified in 1787.
 
Of course, you know all of this from your Middle School social studies and history classes. And if you need a refresher, I’m sure that (Upper School History Department Chair) Ms. Day and the other members of the Upper School History Department would be glad to chat with you about it.

Encouraging Discussion & Critical Thinking

While HB is a non-partisan institution and would not endorse any particular candidate or platform, we encourage discussion and critical thinking about our system of government in the United States.
 
Remember, however, that ballots are secret. Your teachers are not going to tell you who they voted for, and they won’t ask you either. We’re not going to rate the candidates or engage in debates about who should be elected. 
 
But we will not discourage conversations about the world beyond our doors.
 
Any conversation about politics or the political process that takes place here on campus, though, will be framed through an academic lens. We’re all here to learn—with and from each other.
 
Hathaway Brown benefits from having so many different people with different life experiences and perspectives all here together as a community.
 
Remember also that we do not participate in or condone ad hominem arguments at HB.
 
If that Latin term is new to you, I’m sure that (Upper School World Language Department Chair) Mr. Kollin would be happy to explain that it means arguments against a person. 
 
In other words, informed intellectual discussion should be focused on taking issue with positions as they are critically analyzed, and not at taking issue with the person or people who hold points of view that differ from our own.”
 
Our Upper School students are naturally interested in the Presidential election and democratic process because they are either of voting age or soon will be.

But HB students of all ages all across campus are learning in age-appropriate ways about the society we’re all part of.
 
HB faculty in every division not only understand HB’s philosophy related to these important discussions, but they were also the ones who helped to design it.
 
In fact, their academic conversations are shaped by our school’s Community Agreement, and we’ve developed this HB structure for Civil Discourse in the Classroom and Beyond.
 
As Ali Day said in her introduction of our Listening and Learning for Life young alumnae panel on Civic Engagement a few weeks ago, in a time when things can feel very polarized and polarizing, some might prefer to avoid the subject of politics and government altogether. 
 
But that’s not in the best interest of our students’ development as engaged and informed citizens who will be the leaders and difference-makers in our world.
 
We are living in a moment that will unquestionably be part of the United States history curriculum for generations to come.
 
Again, I want to underscore that our role as a school is not to try to persuade students to embrace any particular ideology, but rather to give them the tools and information they need in order to engage in critical thinking, and form their own opinions and value systems so that they can be involved members of our shared society.
 
Even with different points of view and political affiliations, we can—and must—peacefully and civilly coexist with one another.
 
That’s the beauty of the American experience. 
 
I’m so grateful to be living in this moment with the amazing members of our HB community—teachers who frame intellectually stimulating lessons that spark critical analysis, meaningful dialogue, and engaged participation, and students who never cease to rise boldly to the challenges of our times.

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