Visiting classrooms and listening into student conversations in the corridors has been fascinating this week. The US elections have been the topic of the day and teachers have made creative use of the topic, from class discussions on the strengths and flaws of democracy to Maths problems based on the voting numbers. The mood of the student body has been one of surprise mixed with some wonderful humour. What have been the causes of the shift away from the inclusive, liberal values that have informed British and American politics for the last forty or fifty years? As an IB school we want our children to be internationally minded and critical thinkers. A balanced education enables one to see that ‘other people with their differences can be right’, to quote from the IB Mission Statement. The level of student understanding and critique of the American democratic system has been very impressive.
As parents and teachers we look for teachable moments and this is certainly one of them. Probably the most important thing that we teach our children is how to make good decisions. Is the popular thing necessarily the right thing, even when validated by an election? Our lives are shaped by the decisions we make, and the course of American history will be determined by the decision of its electorate this week. At the end of the day we want to raise self-sufficient, strong, capable individuals who make a positive impact in the lives of others.
Making wise decisions requires knowledge of self, a mastery of thought, and a broader perspective of how our actions impact the lives of those around us. How do you learn to handle anger, control impulsivity, what career do you choose, should you accept the offer of a drink at a party, should I date this boy or girl? Good decisions are the product of one’s faith, philosophy, and ethics. The consequences of good and bad choices can last a lifetime. These are not the content of lessons and do not appear on the examination question paper, but are at the heart of a good education.
Children need to learn that sometimes unpleasant things need to be done in order to achieve worthy goals. No-one wants to wash the dishes and it takes courage to speak up when someone in class is being mocked. They need to learn to appreciate healthy food, doing chores around the home, to think of others first when serving themselves at dinner time, tidying up or saying sorry when they have offended a friend. No one would vote for such things, but we know that they are for the greater good. Doing unto others as we would have them do unto us does not come naturally or easily to a young child. The values we as teachers and parents teach during their formative years will inform the decisions that make all the way through life.
I would encourage you to make use of the teachable moments and make some time to talk to your children over the dinner table about the difference between doing the popular thing and the right thing.