Next Generation Science
The Next Day
Author: Anna Van Dordrecht
Note: Views in this blog are personal and in no way reflect an endorsement of a particular candidate by the Sonoma County Office of Education. The intent is for readers to reflect on how we move forward as educators (with an open mind) in a tumultuous and divided country, regardless of which candidate we supported.
I, along with so many others, watched the election results last night...and was floored when the tide started to turn in a dramatically different direction than I expected. As a woman in a leadership position, an educator, and a huge proponent of science, I experienced many, many emotions as the night went on. Through conversations and social media, I was also keenly aware of the disorientation felt by others—chiefly teachers, science advocates, parents, and my former students who are just launching as adult participants in the American system. Regardless of who you supported, it became clear early on that we go forward with a country deeply divided and with strong feelings on every side. This is something we need to reflect on and address in education.
While the night was long, as the president reminded us, the sun still came up the next day. And with the dawn of the next day comes choices about how to respond, particularly as educators. In processing this, I’m drawing wisdom from a myriad of sources...namely Lincoln, Tolkien, and Dr. Seuss.
A former student shared that more than the election results, she feared the hate coming from staunch supporters of candidates. How does one respond when there are such deep divisions? No one faced deeper national divisions than Abraham Lincoln, and very few could have addressed such a situation with the same wisdom and grace that he showed. His words from the second inaugural address can serve as a guide to us now:
“With malice toward none, with charity to all, with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds.” As educators, we have an enormous task ahead of us—to affirm to students that they matter and are important, to instill in them the idea that all lives are valuable and worth protecting, and to show them that it is possible to stand for what’s right and move ahead without furthering hatred. If we hold to these messages unswervingly, repeat them over and over, and set them as a standard in our classrooms, schools, districts, and counties, the divisions and hatred will start to have less power. And then students, who are our greatest hope, can act from a place of empowerment and justice rather than fear.
It might seem unfair that it’s come to this, that we have to act in such a way in the face of uncertainty. Even setting the results of last night aside, we live in a tumultuous time where there are serious questions and concerns about racial and gender inequity, the environment and our impact on it, and many other issues. J.R.R. Tolkien, author of the “Lord of the Rings” series, was no stranger to tumultuous times. He lost many of his childhood friends during World War I and then wrote much of his beloved story in Europe during World War II. We see this reality reflected early on in the narrative:
“I wish it need not have happened in my time," said Frodo.
"So do I," said Gandalf, "and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”
We can wish that we didn’t need to respond, that the troubles around us would just go away or be someone else’s burden. And that might work for awhile, but it certainly doesn’t invoke change or empower students that they can make a difference. We live right now, and we need to decide what to do with our position and circumstances and encourage students to do the same. In doing so we can take comfort from Tolkien’s resounding message and from what history has shown us over and over again- even the smallest person has the capacity to both be a change agent and do great good in the face of incredible odds.
In order to be a change agent, you first have to care and invest. And this is perhaps our most significant role right now in education. We need to provide students with information and opportunities to act with purpose so that they can choose which issues they care about and will invest in both now and in the future. More than any presidential election, this will have a profound impact on issues such as environmental impact and equity. To inspire this, we both need to examine and hone our pedagogy. We also must be explicit with students that we care about and will invest in them and also in the grand experiment of education for all. On both counts, the words of Dr. Seuss ring true: “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”
The sun came up this morning. The next day has arrived. None of us can change and impact everything, but we can choose to change and impact something. While we aren’t sitting in the oval office, we are all in unique positions of power as educators. How will you use that power today and all the days that come afterwards?