Civil Discourse is not Dead

“Who really killed Bob?”
“Should the children have stayed there and taken consequences?”

“Johnny was doomed from the start.”

On Monday morning, you could have heard these phrases spoken in our 7th grade Humanities classroom. The culmination of a literature study of S.E. Hinton’s beloved book The Outsiders, the students assumed costumes and characters to debate topics such as whether killing someone is ever justified, and the intersection of personal and social responsibility in conflict situations. Using the Anti-Bias Framework from Teaching Tolerance, this project succeeded in challenging our children’s preconceived ideas (and developed their public speaking skills): by the end, they were looking past what the “Greasers” wore and where they lived to think more deeply about the perspectives and experiences of those characters.

Teaching students to truly listen closely to each other is just one of many ways that our Middle School pursues the part of Gateway’s mission statement focused on developing citizenship in our students. But it is not easy. At a young age — and even more so in early adolescence — children begin to listen defensively, to seize on perceived weaknesses, and to respond selectively.  We believe it is very important to teach the skill of listening without judgement, and with an open mind that is willing to change its views based on new information.

Educating the next generation of citizens for participation in our society means teaching children to sort through a wash of competing information to arrive at well-reasoned conclusions and decisions about how they will participate and the issues for which they will advocate. At Gateway we explicitly promote the ideas of environmental sustainability, economic security, and social justice, which requires teaching students to be self-reflective about our own privileges, and develop an ability to see multiple sides of an issue. Unfortunately, many of the visible models in the public arena available don’t reflect these behaviors in positive ways. As Bay Area school leader Dr. Barbara Gereboff puts it, “How unfortunate that politicians currently refer to this so cavalierly as ‘flipflopping’ rather than the careful reconsideration of ideas that it often is.”

In our middle school, students apply critical thinking and problem solving skills in highly engaging and thought-provoking curriculum that often interdisciplinary. Through both academic curriculum and the Advisory program, our faculty create strong classroom communities where students see inclusion in action as a lived experience, and further conversations that move children and adults alike towards thoughtful anti-bias attitudes. Citizenship is an ongoing process that relies on self-reflection in pursuit of better self-knowledge, and it’s one of the many ways our Middle School supports our students on their journey to citizenship.

I do hope to see you at tomorrow night’s Middle School Information Night, where you can experience the magic of our Middle School classrooms for yourselves.

Warmly,

Dr. Zachary Roberts
Head of School