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Education and the Nurturing of Citizenship

At the end of the week, Louise Melville, our Coordinator of Experiential Learning and Round Square, and I joined colleagues from Round Square schools from North and South America. The annual meeting was held in Bogota, Colombia this year at the Colegio Gran Bretaña and afforded our Heads of Schools and Round Square Representatives an opportunity to share best practices and discuss strategic issues.

In addition to our meetings, we were fortunate to hear from Mr. Pontus Ohrstedt, Head of United Nations Resident Coordinators Office in Colombia, who spoke about the importance of development in fostering peace in the country. Ohrstedt provided our group with context around Colombia’s history including its oft complex political situation. It was a fascinating presentation during which Ohrstedt explained the United World Colleges (UWC)  belief that “education is a force to unite people, nations, and culture, for peace and a sustainable future.”

I couldn’t help but think of his words as I read an article from the Washington Post entitled ‘Teachers are Told to Not Get Political in the Classroom. What Does that Actually Mean?’ I was disheartened to learn that one state in the USA has brought forth a bill which would forbid educators from bringing “any controversial issue that is not germane to the topic of the course or academic subject being taught” to their classrooms.

I, like UWC, believe that education is a conduit for change. Change often results from discussing and reflecting on current issues and, in particular these days, on political events. We want our students to be strong citizens; it is hard to imagine that in reflecting on any country’s history, we wouldn’t be able to consider and parse controversial events. In avoiding divisive subjects, surely we are avoiding learning which, at its heart, is as a result of engagement, debate and reflection. The educator has a challenging role when facilitating these sorts of conversations, and no doubt one has to be careful to acknowledge biases, to ensure equal voice and to frame discussions carefully; however, if we wish our girls to be outstanding women who are intellectually curious, courageous and compassionate, we must ensure that we are challenging them to think.

As Jennifer Rich writes, “Schools need to prepare students for political engagement in a nonpartisan way…Regardless of political affiliation, teachers can- and should- educate students with the goal of creating strong and engaged citizens.”

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