A Letter from Principal Mark Jackson

Dear ARHS Parents and Guardians:

With the Presidential election now a few weeks behind us, I want to revisit some of the larger issues that, like the rest of the nation, we are working our way through.

To begin, here are two observations:

  1. Shortly before Election Day, our government class held a school-wide, mock Presidential election. For students, the results were: Clinton: 71% and Trump 13%; for adults, Clinton, 68% and Trump 14%. The remainder of the votes were distributed somewhat evenly between Stein, Johnson and ‘other’’.
  1. The results of the election were deeply upsetting to a great number of ARHS students and faculty.

The upshot: we are a politically diverse school. The political affiliations held by the 1200 or so citizens – both students and adults – that spend seven hours a day together under this roof mirror that of our nation.  

Like with any other challenge, our work is to find opportunity in the moment. With considerable urgency, preparing kids for the hard work of democracy is what the moment asks of us.

In my judgment, the questions below are central to our nation’s future. They also double as immediately relevant to our school:

– How do we  challenge ourselves to live in the current tensions and not succumb to easy generalizations? Where there is strong emotion and deep conviction, the temptation to demonize and point fingers becomes almost irresistible. But, in my judgment, the larger priority is to manage whatever slashing judgments we might hold in the interest of not dehumanizing those with whom we disagree. These days, adults across the nation don’t do this particularly well. I’m interested in finding ways to help students learn this skill.

– This skill is a balancing act. On one hand, convictions are meant to be expressed. And, expressing a conviction that is critical of another’s perspective can’t be construed as an act of hostility. The real issues that divide us aren’t easily wallpapered over. On the other, conviction isn’t a license to stop listening and working to understand. However difficult, we need to do both well.

These tensions have surfaced in ARHS classrooms and, no doubt, will continue to do so. Our work is to manage them so that teaching and learning can continue, but, more importantly, so that students learn how to navigate them on their own. I’d like to think we can graduate students who contribute productively to  the nation’s political discussion and not just add to the noise.

Specifically, the day after the election, we refreshed the faculty on what we have referred to over the last few years as ‘managing difficult moments’. The framework for how to do this well is described in this article, which we’ve relied on for the last several years.

http://bokcenter.harvard.edu/managing-hot-moments-classroom

The intent here is to help adults frame conversations for young people, when emotions are running high, that provide them with space to express what’s on their minds, but in a way that keeps an ethic of respect running through the discussion. Regardless of the topic, this is important. Given the charge that is currently running through the nation, our community and school, it is especially so.

Please let me know if you have thoughts or concerns.

Thank you,
Mark Jackson
ARHS Principal

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