Essential Civic Education

You have likely heard that this past weekend, white supremacists protesting the results of the Presidential election in the streets of Washington, D.C. tore down and burned Black Lives Matter signs displayed at four historically Black churches. I am appalled and disturbed by this, and relieved to hear these events are being investigated as hate crimes. 

This despicable action reminded me of the paradox of tolerance, articulated by the philosopher Karl Popper in 1945: unlimited tolerance cannot be extended to the intolerant, for they will then destroy the very tolerance that allows their existence. This is a challenging idea that I wrestle with whenever I think about educating children to fulfill the portion of Gateway’s mission that calls for citizenship. We work hard to teach children about diversity and inclusivity, and we must also teach them to think through when limits of tolerance must be drawn, both societally and individually. 

At Gateway, we understand citizenship to exist on multiple levels — personal, local, regional, national, and global. This is why we teach students about a wide range of perspectives and views about life and society across both time and geography, and promote values of mutual respect, non-violence, participation, and ethical behavior in our Cultural Studies curriculum and our social-emotional program. We also teach skills of communication, initiative, leadership, collaboration, and responsibility, such as upper elementary students learning to take turns in a discussion without raising hands (truly no small feat!).  And we present a curriculum that is real, topical, and sensitive to students, such as the recent events in our nation’s capital, with an eye on Teaching Tolerance’s Social Justice Standards to help us stay aligned and organized across the grades. 

In its broadest terms, citizenship means educating the next generation of citizens for participation in our democratic society. Our children need to understand the systems and processes of government, and also be able 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. This year’s Presidential election gave us a remarkable opportunity to help our students develop these meaningful understandings. 

At Gateway we explicitly promote the ideas of environmental sustainability, economic security, and social justice. This requires teaching students to be self-reflective about our own privileges, and develop an ability to see multiple sides of an issue; creating strong classroom communities where students see inclusion in action as a lived experience; and furthering conversations that move children and adults alike towards thoughtful anti-bias attitudes. The pandemic and new ways of remote learning, which can lead to literal and emotional distance among peers, have only intensified the importance of this in our curriculum.

Children want to understand the world. They are curious about how and why things have come to be as they are, and the possibilities that exist for creative new ideas and ways of being to emerge. How lucky we are, staff and families alike, to have this partnership as we contribute to their unfolding futures.


Dr. Zachary Roberts
Head of School