On Wednesday, the United States inaugurated Joe Biden as the country’s 46th President and Kamala Harris as the country’s barrier-breaking first female, first African-American, and first Asian-American Vice President. The inauguration capped off an extraordinary election season and transition of power, one that holds many lessons for Americans and people globally—lessons about the strengths, tension points, and fragilities of representative government.
We have been active in recent months taking time in our classrooms to listen to our students’ hopes and fears and helping them think through some of these vitally important lessons. The remarkable diversity of our SAS community—with people from all over the United States and more than 60 countries globally—offers us unique opportunities to engage in these discussions. Our students have been deeply moved by recent events, and I have been proud of the level of engagement by young people in this election across the United States and here at SAS. It was inspiring, for example, to see the determination of our US-citizen educators and students of voting age to navigate complex absentee ballot systems and cast their ballots.
We have held many conversations with our educators about how to talk about recent events in our classrooms and how to make them productive topics for learning. Our educators have thoughtfully used current issues to bring alive historical parallels and help sharpen students’ critical thinking. We have sought to emphasize a number of key points:
First, we have focused on our core values as a school—including honesty, compassion, and respect. We challenge students to think through these values in making their own decisions on important issues they face. We encourage our students to use values rather than political partisanship to guide their thinking, because these values transcend any particular political party. While some political leaders spread falsehoods about the election results, many others at the state and national level resisted intense political pressure and in some cases physical threats to put their loyalty to the law and the Constitution above their loyalty to a political party or leader. Ultimately, a key lesson here is that the strength (and weakness) of a democracy rests not so much on institutions as on the integrity and values of those entrusted power in those institutions.
Second, in a day when misinformation can spread so rapidly through social media, we want our students to think critically: to distinguish fact from falsehood, to base their claims on facts, to assess and test their sources.
Third, we want our students to understand history and both the US and global context in which these events occur. The conflicts of the election—whether around racism, economic challenges, public health, or the scope of executive authority—have many historic and present-day analogues in the US and globally, and we have a unique opportunity as an international school for students to understand this broad context.
Finally, it is important for our students to learn about the forces that both divide and bring people together in society. The violent riot at the US Capitol, provoked by President Trump’s rhetoric, marked only the latest example of how divided the US is today and demonstrated the risks such divisions entail. In a school that deeply believes our diversity is our greatest source of strength, lessons on bridge-building across cultures, races, and nationalities are some of the most vital for our students to learn.
It is with great hope for the US that a new President begins his term. And, with great hope for our school and the future of our students, we continue in our learning journeys.