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Election 2016: MCS Students Say “Vote for Me Until I Can”

Friday, November 4, 2016

Michele Sola, MCS DirectorTuesday, November 8 is our annual Parents’ Visiting Day. Manhattan Country School originally chose to hold this event the same day as Election Day because MCS families who were public employees were free to come. Their workplaces in public schools, city offices and the like were closed. This year, our first in a new neighborhood, brings that history to mind. The Brandeis High School Campus (our neighbor on 85th Street) is a polling site. As you are walking to MCS Tuesday morning, there are likely to be the telltale signs of an election taking place: posters for sure, and probably lines of voters waiting to cast their ballots.

Children who are curious and attentive to their surroundings are bound to notice. Election Day is an important day for democracy, when a citizen’s act of voting shapes policies, and ultimately, for a neighborhood or a country to align with values that are honed over a lifetime. Election Day is one important point in a long timeline of electoral politics—with a focus primarily on winners and losers and celebrations of victory and defeat.Some of the ways I’ve heard teachers engaging kids in conversation about this election are more nuanced and complex. I hope you will see and hear some of that when you visit MCS on November 8.

Who gets to vote? Sixth graders’ study of the U.S. Constitution introduces a historical perspective on how the answer to that question has changed. They and other classes consider members of our community who would and wouldn’t have had the right to vote when the Constitution was written, how Amendments changed that and the ongoing struggles related to the Voting Rights Act today. Candidate advertisements and statements made in debates are judged (sometimes passionately) against both values and knowledge about pervasive patterns of discrimination.

Voting as Participation and Activism

Making choices is something MCS students practice daily, as is taking responsibility for making a community work. Elections are an extension of this.

Seventh- and eighth-graders are immersed in the process of choosing an activism project theme for the year. The issues of the presidential election are one source influencing their thinking; the curriculum at MCS is another. Learning to navigate different opinions and to support arguments with facts that are well researched is not always easy. Results of an election will determine the final decision. Regardless of which topic emerges, our students will find ways to work together toward a common goal.

Local candidates can be lost in the context of polarized presidential elections. Leo Reynoso, our shop teacher, is an activist on behalf of youth in the Dominican community of Washington Heights. He has worked with New York State Senator Adriano Espaillat in that effort. Espaillat’s political career began in Washington Heights; he is currently running for Congress. If he wins, he will become the first Dominican-American member of the U.S. Congress and will replace  Representative Charles Rangel in a historic transition for a Harlem neighborhood.

The Halls Echo—From Selma to Manhattan Country School

 

No MCS students are old enough to vote in official elections, but learning about the power of a vote doesn’t have to wait. Susan Harris has been the Lower School music teacher for three decades. Our halls echo with the voices of children in the 4-5s and up singing songs from the repertoire she teaches, including “The Voting Song.” With roots in the Civil Rights struggle in Selma, it resonates historically for MCS as we celebrate our 50th anniversary.

I’m just a little child, you say.

I don’t know what’s going on in the world to-da-ay.

But when I hear the people sigh,

I have to ask the reason why.

I would like to bring about a change,

But I’m too young to play the voting ga-ame.

Won’t somebody hear my plea,

And go to the polls and vote for me?

Chorus:

Mommy, Daddy, take my hand,

Vote for me until I can.

Sister, Brother, take a stand,

Vote for me until I can.

College student, business woman or man,

Vote for me until I can.

Voting is more than a right, you see.

Voting is your responsibil-it-y.

Voting is more than a right, you see.

Voting is your responsibility to me.

On Election Day 2016, this song still feels relevant and being in a place where full-throated children’s voices determinedly embrace the vote strengthens my resolve to go to the polls, work toward a more equitable democracy and to sing on.