- Beyond the Classroom
- Building Character
- In the Classroom
Tim Bearden, Chief Academic Officer and Upper School Director
Assembly message delivered to Upper School students on Wednesday, November 4, 2020
When I was in elementary school, my parents took us all to Mackinac Island. It was great – rode tandem bikes, had fudge, went to the fort – all the things people do at Mackinac. One of my most vivid memories though is that there was a store my parents wanted to enter. As we walked to the door, I noticed a sign that said no children allowed without their parents. As a kid with a fiercely independent streak, I refused to go in – any store that didn’t trust me was a store I didn’t trust. My parents were very frustrated, but I sat down next to a cigar store Indian on the sidewalk and wouldn’t budge. My mom has told this story many times, which is perhaps why I remember it well. Even though my thinking may have been confused, I’d like to think I was standing – or sitting – on principle.
As you couldn’t have possibly avoided noticing, yesterday was election day. We still don’t know the results, and may not for a few days, but one thing is painfully obvious – we are a country divided. Perhaps on some level that is a failure of my generation. We have left a lot of things for young people to fix in this country and in the world. The economy, the environment, the handling of a worldwide pandemic, systemic racism – all of these things were issues in this election. Perhaps most importantly though, and where I’m most concerned that my generation has failed, is that not only have we seemingly lost the ability to empathize, it seems we’ve lost the desire. The only path to repairing our divide is in a desire to understand and support our differences.
In 2016, I addressed our school community following the last presidential election. I urged everyone to find a way to avoid despair or elation around the outcome, and seek to understand one another. Our adults have fared poorly at this over the past several years, but I have hope that our young people will be better at it. The same message is critical now – regardless of the outcome of this election, we know the single greatest threat to our future as a nation is our extraordinary polarization. As we discuss our country and this election in our classrooms, at lunch, with our friends, we have to listen and seek to understand how others sometimes see the world very differently. This country was founded on a belief that a diversity of ideas makes us stronger.
Finally, I thought it was interesting, and telling, that education was rarely a topic in the election. Perhaps there are too many existential threats that require attention and discussion, but I have always believed that education is the solution to problems. To know more about the world, to know more about each other, to truly develop empathy, we must be educated people. One of my former colleagues was fond of saying “keep the main thing the main thing”. In schools, the “main thing” is teaching and learning, and no matter the outcomes of elections, we will stay focused on our mission as a school to prepare each of you to be solution finders, and to grow in your understanding and empathy for one another.
Stand, or sit, on your principles. Don’t be ashamed of your foundational beliefs and values, and allow them to be your guide, but also acknowledge that others may have conflicting beliefs and values. Learn about them, understand them, ask questions, question your own beliefs, and become stronger in your view of the world because you’ve considered all ideas. I’m sure that the store owner who placed a sign in the window restricting kids from entering without their parents had seen some unsupervised hellions come through their store and wreak havoc. The sign was placed for a good reason – to protect the merchandise and property that the store owner worked so hard to maintain, and which was his or her livelihood. I also had a good reason for not entering – even as a young person I wanted to be respected without the assumption that I couldn’t control myself. With the perspective of time and a degree of maturity, I more clearly see the issues. The same will happen with this election – with time and a degree of maturity we will understand why our country is so divided, and hopefully the solutions lie within the minds of the young people in this school and other schools around the country.
Regardless of the outcome, and regardless of your feelings about it, don’t despair – REPAIR. The future of our world depends not on the winner of this election, but on the young people of the world. Listen to each other, understand one another. Don’t despair – REPAIR.
Detroit Country Day School is a private, independent, co-educational, non-denominational, preschool through grade 12 college preparatory school in Michigan focused on a well-rounded liberal arts education. Emphasis on academics, arts, athletics, and character development is prevalent across the curriculum. The school admits students of any race, color, religion, sexual orientation, national and ethnic origin to all the rights, privileges, programs and activities generally accorded or made available to students in the school. To learn more visit www.dcds.edu.