I consider myself an optimistic person. As adults who are active in the lives of students, I believe it is important to model positivity, joy, and appreciation for the most minute aspects of this amazing planet.
The past two weeks, however, have proved to be particularly challenging. How do we adhere to a positive disposition when faced with the latest atrocities of hate filled violence and mean-spirited leadership in our country? How do we counter the tacit as well as overt approval of racism, anti-Semitism, anti-immigration, homophobia, Islamophobia, and transphobia by our nation’s leaders, and watch as millions of people rally around these messages marked by xenophobia and nationalism? In my darker moments these past weeks, I feel as though I am witnessing our country’s slow march toward fascism and I wonder what can I do?
Of course, one of the most important responses is to vote. As noted in The New York Times in an article by Dr. Perry Klass, “It turns out that there is evidence in the world of political science and public policy research that lifelong voting habits are formed in childhood and adolescence, and that those issues of routine and habit may be important in determining voter behavior and therefore election results” (November 7, 2016). By voting regularly, we provide a model to students that this civic responsibility is important and that it matters.
But what happens when people do vote, and they end up voting for a dictator? For example, a referendum concerning the establishment of the French Empire was held in France in November 1804. The officially announced result showed a nearly unanimous French electorate approving the change in Napoleon Bonaparte's status from First Consul to Emperor of the French. About seven million voters were called to participate, of which 53% abstained. In 1933 the Nazi Party in Germany garnered such wide support that Hindenburg reluctantly appointed Hitler Chancellor of Germany, a move that swiftly led to dictatorship. We believe that this phenomenon of electing a dictator is not possible in America’s political system because of the checks and balances put in place in the constitution. But what happens when our government chooses to interpret the constitution in new ways, or perhaps ignores it all together?
No matter though, we must vote, and we must engage our students in the issues the world is facing, for they will very much influence the world they grow up in and live in for years to come. One interesting initiative that I recently learned about has been started by LWHS Alumna Madeline Hung 2012. Working with Simon Anholt – who created the The Good Country Index – which measures the amount of good each country contributes to humanity, Maddy has started a cyber country called Good Country. Maddy’s work is a testament to how young people are thinking big about how to change the world. I am extremely proud that she is a LWHS alum, for she exemplifies the values of contributing to the world with confidence and compassion.
When I come across the work of how people are actively seeking solutions to hate and bigotry I do manage to find some optimism during an anxious time in our country. I am buoyed when I sit in a room with members of the Black Student Union and the Jewish Student Union here at LWHS, as they support one another and share their fears about being hated for something outside of their control. I know, too, that there are so many in this country who do not, and will not, passively stand by while others are hurt. So tomorrow, I will smile, I will vote this Tuesday, and I will revel in the hearts of so many young people striving to make this world a better place.
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A private school with public purpose, Lick-Wilmerding High School develops the head, heart, and hands of highly motivated students from all walks of life, inspiring them to become lifelong learners who contribute to the world with confidence and compassion.