Dear MCS Community,
I spent most of last week with 23 education leaders from across the country in the Pahara-Aspen program. All of us share a fervent belief that transforming education system is the foundation for building a better democratic society. Whether from New York, Chicago or Los Angeles, or Memphis, Indianapolis or New Orleans, we shared lots of experiences with values tensions but that didn’t mean we couldn’t find plenty to argue about too. We came away more determined to turn schools in the United States into places that are rich learning environments and where democratic values are examined, questioned, and lived in ways that bring people together. The conversations continue on WhatsApp until we meet again next July.
Our trips home Saturday evening were interrupted as our electronic devices displayed stories of disturbing violence that ended in eleven elders’ deaths at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh.
For a moment, our eyes and ears focused on anti-Semitism, as destructive for democracy as the racial hatred earlier in the weak that led to deaths in Kentucky, or a leaked government memo redefining gender and allowing people to legally discriminate against anyone who does not follow gender conformity. Clearly the values tensions today are not just playing out in schools.
Returning to school on Monday, I was anxious to observe how values tensions and the latest news might be a part of MCS. Usually proud of how attentive to the world we live in that students are encouraged to be, I admit to considerable nervousness. I kept walking through the building to listen in on morning meetings, lunch table conversations, and history classes all week. I’m sure I missed something, maybe a lot. Quite honestly, I need not have had so much concern, and not just because at mid-week came Halloween. Teachers and parents have obviously been cultivating tools of empathy for dealing with “big feelings” and strong emotions. Older students assigned to share current events included the pipe bombs sent through the mail targeting critics of the president, the attack on Tree of Life Synagogue, and various strategies being employed in the upcoming election. They certainly display sophisticated powers of analysis, ability to question each other and teachers, and savvy media literacy skills. They also understand that change has been achieved when individuals speak up and when groups organize, as well as through the power of the vote. They remain empathetic with their peers, reminding friends that they will show up for a bar or bat mitzvah, or planning to attend political rallies to support immigrants who have been separated from their children.
For the last two and a half years, our gym has been the gathering place on weekends for Jermaine’s Back-to-Basics program and Darkhei Noam, a lay-led partnership minyan and halachic Jewish community. Organized around values in many ways similar to those of MCS, the leadership responded to our outreach with information about interfaith gatherings being planned for this weekend. A letter from MCS will be among other expressions of solidarity. An MCS graduate celebrating a 50th birthday is asking friends to contribute to a crowdsourcing site that will support HIAS, an American nonprofit organization that provides humanitarian aid and assistance to refugees.
Education leaders from across the United States believe that the kinds of things I saw happening at MCS this week help us remain determined and hopeful about change in the face of the values tensions that are embedded in a democracy.