Last night I sat with students in our AP Government class and watched the election returns come in.
I was able to listen to some of the best conversations I've heard in this entire election cycle, and it wasn't lost on me that 1. I teach the best kids and 2. I am so happy that we have a future generation of leaders like these. As mentioned I teach government, and of course we have spent time discussing the election, examining the polls, predicting the results, etc. Yesterday I had close to 70 students working the election, experiencing first-hand the process at work. As I sat with them later that night, and watched the results come in, I couldn't help but look at each of them and think about the questions they might ask today. All night and all morning I thought about how I might answer some of these questions, and I still don't know. I've never felt less prepared to face the day than I have today. And so, here I am, putting my thoughts into my blog.
Quite frankly, I've been appalled at this election. From the local to state to national races, I have been ashamed that these students would vote for the first time in this political climate. I'm 35, and while that may be young, I've been around politics long enough to know both that an election like this has been coming for a while, and that we are better than what we've seen in this cycle. I believe passionately, to my core, in the true and overarching singular value on which this country was founded: freedom. This country was not founded on the belief that we were, or would ever be, the perfect country, but in a belief in the greatness of our potential. That each American had the freedom to realize a dream in their own life. But I understand that the realization of this dream comes with a sense of responsibility, that we are responsible to participate in the government that guarantees us this freedom. This government relies, at it's foundation, on voting. But it is sustained through the acceptance of these votes, regardless of how hard that acceptance may be.
I may not be happy with the results of the election, but I will accept them, and I will move forward with hope. I place my hope in President-Elect Trump to realize the historic progress we have made as a nation, and that he will continue our march towards the true recognition of civil rights and liberties, of freedom, to all Americans. I place my hope in Speaker Ryan and Congress to recognize the key role that a strong system of checks and balances plays in the effective implementation of our system. I place my hope in the leadership of both major parties to realize the need for a more transparent method of choosing our candidates, that the parties will see the desperate need to encourage strong candidates to run for public office, and that these parties will realize that the current climate serves to discourage such candidates from running. The negativity that dominated this election has undoubtedly turned many away from the idea of public service. These parties must realize that the negativity, the atmosphere of partisanship and polarization, is one that they have largely produced, and can be equally responsible for its change. It seems true now more than ever, after such an election, that our progress forward as a nation stands in direct parallel with our ability to understand the partnership that belies our pursuit of freedom. We must either come together as a country, or we must face the realization that we have failed in the pursuit of our great potential.
Coming together does not mean sacrificing our ideals. Standing up for truth and freedom, standing up for what you believe in is never a waste of time. But we are a system built on the reality of compromise, on working together, giving a little each way, to accomplish something better. We've lost that. We've lost the art of conversation, the ability to engage in civil discourse with another who may see things different than we do, and emerge respectfully. In many ways it is this loss that has brought us to the caliber of candidates from which we chose. We have lost our great common interest- the preservation of our potential as a country. But I believe we can bring that back. A dream is only truly dead if we stop believing in it. But we must realize that our national recovery is not in the hands of any one politician, but in each of us entire. We can use this election as a transformative moment, as the moment that we took stock of our shortfalls and refused to descend further into polarization.
If my students are any indication of the caliber of leadership in upcoming generations, I am truly excited in what they can achieve. These kids are open-minded, deeply caring, and far more motivated than older generations give credit. I love my students, and see in them a tremendous generation of leaders. But we must realize the responsibility that we have to these kids, especially as teachers. We are responsible for igniting and encouraging active citizenship. This does not involve impressing our beliefs, values, ideals, etc. on them. In a country and world polarized like never before our effort is not in molding their minds into our own personal definitions of a “good citizen”, but in equipping each student with the necessary tools to become their own definition of a good citizen.
I may be deeply troubled with this election, but those concerns do nothing to dim my belief in what this country can be. This is our moment to fix our climate, to refuse to give into cynical beliefs that the system is forever and fatally corrupt, and make the changes that need to be made to ensure the opportunity for our students to lead us in the continued and renewed pursuit of American potential.