Mount Tamalpais School

Thoughts on the Eve of an Election

A recent letter Andrew Davis wrote to the MTS Community

Driving on the highway on Friday, one of my boys asked from the backseat, “no matter who wins the election, we are going to be okay, right?” Robin and I both took turns attempting to answer this tricky question. After getting the boys to bed that night, Robin and I reflected on the yearning for safety and the complexity of this moment. While I cannot offer a “right way” to approach conversations about tomorrow’s election, I want to share a few thoughts on the day and weeks ahead.

We Are the Weather

During a recent professional development workshop I attended, the leaders reminded me that we – parents and teachers – define the world our children inhabit. Especially for our younger students, we are the weather; our turbulence will be their turbulence. I do not mean to suggest that we hide feelings of excitement or disappointment, but rather be mindful of the impact these feelings have on the children who watch our every move, listen to every word, and look to us for clues about how to interpret the world in which we live. Some children are particularly sensitive to our every move, while others appear not to notice but often do. As the Head of School, regardless of the outcome, I plan to wake early on Wednesday to have some time to process the events and bring the clearest skies and calmest winds I can to the MTS campus.

It is Just Like Sex Ed

I have loved everything Deborah Roffman has written about talking with children about sex. I remember laughing out loud and furiously taking notes listening to her to speak in 2014; I had a two-year-old at the time. In that talk, she taught us that children don’t want – or need – to know the full story right away. Her advice was to start with the very basics – topics of plumbing, I believe she called them. Likewise, with the election, many children – including my two boys – want to understand how the election works. That is what they are ready for. For this reason, our Kindergarten through second-grade students are engaged in an election tomorrow to determine… the next free-dress theme.

As with talks about sex, when children get older, the conversations about politics get deeper and might feel trickier. Roffman and so many other early adolescent experts I admire have taught me to approach genuine big topics with wonder and interest rather than judgment. If your child makes a statement about the election, a candidate, or an issue that catches you off guard, approach with wonder. Though it might be hard to do so, try an “Interesting, tell me more.” Or a “Huh, she said that. What do you think?” Follow either of these – or just about any response to an early adolescent with a healthy dose of silence. The quiet will invite your child to share more. Often the first bold statement – “Paul said Biden…” or “Trump …” – is the best way an adolescent can say, “I want to talk with you about this election, and I am a bit confused.” The same goes for so many other issues, including topics of sexual development and health.

It’s In the Mission

Last Tuesday, we spent most of our weekly professional community meeting talking about how we can best support our students in learning about and processing the election outcome. We framed that work around respect and inclusion, two words in our mission statement. As educators, we have been and will continue to work with our students to create a school environment where a diversity of thought can feel respected and included.  I ask that you do the same in your household. One metaphor that seems to resonate with students kindergarten through eighth-grade is celebrating an athletic victory when we have friends on the other team. Another strategy is offering up six ideas or reasons why someone might think or respond differently than you do.

Thank you for being partners in raising outstanding children ready to be the next leaders our world needs. Though we may bring different individual views, together we are a strong MTS community. Do know that if you end up debriefing family conversations about the election with “I wish I had said…” you will be in good company; that is what Robin and I did for a good thirty minutes after our boys went to bed on Friday. Parenting is not easy, it turns out, and there is no “right” way to do it!

Read More