Reflections on Civil Discourse and Elections

As we anticipate the potential anxieties and concerns that today’s presidential election may bring, I thought it would be helpful to offer some small sense of perspective.
 
As we anticipate the potential anxieties and concerns that today’s presidential election may bring, I thought it would be helpful to offer some small sense of perspective.

In the months leading up to the last presidential election, Cathedral School’s faculty met to discuss how best to approach political conversation with students on campus. The 2016 campaign was growing increasingly acrimonious, and we were worried that the rancor could influence the dialogue among students. In fact, national political discourse had devolved so fully that some schools were considering the need to silence political conversations altogether.
 
What our staff realized, though, was that in order for our society to become more constructive and considerate in its discourse, schools needed to teach and model the very behaviors and approaches that some adults were failing to demonstrate. Our staff believed that Cathedral students were capable of mature conversation, even about the most controversial topics. Thus, rather than back out, we decided to lean in.
 
The boys responded beautifully then, and the educational approach of our teachers continues to persist. I happened upon a conversation in 4th grade last week about the Second Amendment. I wish our elected officials could have been on hand to take notes!
 
Alas, the state of national politics and political discourse has continued to regress since the last presidential election, and we find ourselves on the cusp of what will be, no doubt, another contentious period in American history. We live at a time when politics, ethics, and self-interest are interconnected in ways that make it difficult for some and impossible for others to follow the basic standards of citizenship. Passion and conviction are not the problems. Incivility and self-interest are.
 
My post-election day letter of four years ago included the following observation: 
 
It seems like there are a few ways that we can proceed. We can wait around for someone else to come along to fix all that we might deem to be broken. Similarly, we can allow our anxiety over a country so sharply divided to reduce us to a state of aphasia. Neither approach is productive. The problems will persist; so, too, will the divide. Alternatively, we can strive to ensure that both our actions and our reactions demonstrate the constructive behavior that our country needs and that we are longing to see from others. This is an important expression of our citizenship, and it is an essential lesson for our children.
 
I stand by these words more so now, even, than when they were penned. At all times, and especially these times, it is important to demonstrate to our children and to one another the type of citizenship that our democracy demands.
 
The next few days will generate a great deal of emotion. Emotion necessarily follows the things we care about. We should not let emotion, though, confuse the responsibilities that we owe to our sons and to one another. Let’s strive to display our very best selves and commit to the work necessary to form a more perfect union.
 
Very truly yours,
 
Headmaster

PS: You may find these additional resources helpful to guide family discussions about the election.
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Cathedral School for Boys

Located in San Francisco, CA, Cathedral School for Boys is an independent elementary school for boys in grades K-8. Our Mission is to provide an excellent education through intellectual inquiry and rigor that is centered in the Episcopal tradition and is respectful of and welcoming to people of all religious traditions and beliefs.
1275 Sacramento Street, San Francisco, CA 94108   •   Phone: 415.771.6600   •   Fax: 415.771.2547