“As anger and disillusionment toward the current state of our political system rises, the number of people voting falls? Surely this can’t be the solution.” Senior Walker spoke at Morning Meeting recently about the aim of The Bay School mock election, citing nation-wide lack of citizen participation as a serious issue that even the youngest among us have potential to amend. The thought is nothing new – if young people can rise to the challenge of understanding and overcoming the complexities of our country’s political system, the country will be better served.
In striving to prepare students for the specific challenges of the 21st Century, The Bay School continues to promote a solid understanding of the roles history, bias, privilege, religion and cultural factors play in the political system. Aside from the attention devoted to the mock election, entire classes – such as Religion and U.S. Politics and Power and Participation, not to mention U.S. History and American Literature – are formed with the express purpose of fostering informed, mindful citizens.
With the election approaching, Katherine Riley’s Religion and U.S. Politics class has spent time discussing the rhetoric and actions of political parties and their constituencies. The Bay School Blog got the chance to ask a few students about their experience in Katherine’s class and beyond. “We’ve been watching the debates – we watched both conventions,” Jackson says. “We’ve been looking for religion and how it plays a role.” Amy adds, “We talk about it again in class and break down what happened.”
Student exploration of political ideologies isn’t contained within any one class, however. “The cool thing about Religion and U.S. Politics for me this trimester is that some of the stuff connects to American Literature because they’re both about the American idea,” Jackson notes. Amy agrees, “I’ve noticed U.S. History and Religion and U.S. Politics directly overlapping … It’s helping me to really understand everything – the current and historical parts of it.”
Many have taken an interest in current events and thus begun to explore these topics further on their own time. “I’ll see something in the news; I’ll see something in the New Yorker,” Jesse says, “I’ll actually want to reflect on that and talk about what I personally think about it. I probably watch a lot of liberal media, and just reflecting on that and noticing my own biases is very interesting.” Julia is particularly interested in the role of religion in this year’s election. “Now usually when I hear an issue come up in the news, I can usually slot where each of the religious groups might feel around them and how they might vote on the issue,” she says. Her thoughts on everything from Scientology to Roman Catholicism followed her even to the dentist’s office, where a magazine bearing Mitt Romney’s image and the headline “The Mormon Faith” intrigued her. She reflects, “Before [Religion and U.S. Politics] I wouldn’t have felt inclined to go and read that or had any interest in it whatsoever; I’m becoming a lot more aware.”
Other resources at The Bay School contribute to the political involvement of its students as well. Model UN provides a forum for discussion and briefly adopting unfamiliar perspectives. “We’re one of the only independent schools in San Francisco that has Model UN,” Jackson says. “It’s a pretty cool experience.” In addition to holding a relatively lighthearted mock election debate of its own, Model UN’s regular activities also function to keep students aware. “You play a delegate from a country in a committee,” Jackson explains, “One time I was on the IMF, or the International Monetary Fund, as Mexico, and we had to deal with the economic crisis in Greece and emerging market economies.” Issues of national and international importance crop up not only in class and Model UN, but in Debate Club, during Morning Meetings and even on the summer reading list.
The Bay School’s culture, which combines mindfulness and respect with academic rigor and social relevance, provides an ideal backdrop against which to test political views and concerns, no matter what the forum. The curriculum “builds to really engage you during junior and senior years,” Jesse says. “It makes you curious.” Many classes also help to shape balanced views of the world. “I realized you can take good things from both parties and both political ideologies; neither is always right,” Jackson comments. And, perhaps most importantly, such personal engagement with socially relevant material leads students to take charge of their own learning experiences. “Coming into The Bay School, I would never have chosen a class about politics,” Julia professed. “Now I actually want to learn about all of these issues.”