Nobles Parents' E-Newsletter

November 2016

Nobles Parents' Newsletter November 2016

"Obligations of Citizenship" by Upper School Head Michael Denning and Associate Director of Academic Support Sara Masucci



A word after a word after a word is power. - Margaret Atwood

What are we, as citizens, parents and educators, to do in an age of unprecedented incivility?

We are privileged to teach history at Nobles because we believe in its mission to promote “leadership for the public good” and because we want to inspire our students to care for their communities and believe they can “create a more perfect union.” While remaining faithful to the timeless democratic principle that reasonable, ethical people can, will and should respectfully disagree, we champion the search for historical truths because of the ways in which history can powerfully inform a person’s view of our country’s greatness and potential, as well as its challenges.

Our historical analyses and analogies, and those of our students, will sometimes be flawed, but we see wisdom in American philosopher Jorge Agustín Nicolás Ruiz de Santayana y Borrás’ cautionary aphorism: “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Most importantly, we teach history to shine a light on the responsibilities we all bear, as members of a free society, to protect and care for each other.

Our republic’s founders were deeply concerned with preventing tyranny. Embedded in the Constitution were safeguards against the formation of a European-style absolutist regime, one which would deprive individuals of their “inalienable rights” as free people. But with so much freedom, who was to protect individuals—particularly those unfairly burdened by a historical legacy of discrimination and oppression—from others more powerful or numerous? This has been a difficult question to answer and problem to solve, one that remains a profound concern in spite of over 225 years of legal decisions, a civil war, civil-rights legislation, federal enforcement of human rights, new and different schools, and amendments to The Constitution, particularly the 13th, 14th, 15th and 19th. Whether we like it or not, no government agency in a free society can eradicate violence, sexual assault, corruption, oppression and discrimination. Government agencies must do all that they can, but so, too, must citizens—in their personal and professional endeavors, in their communities, in their schools. In the words of one of the great observers of American democracy, the 19th century political philosopher Alexis de Tocqueville: “The health of a democratic society may be measured by the quality of functions performed by private citizens.”

This election has seen candidates and their advisors who:  

  • Condone corruption;
  • Would use national and local security as a rationale for limiting the rights, privileges, and opportunities of members of particular religious, racial, national and/or ethnic groups;
  • Demean and belittle others not only for what they say or do but also because of who they are;
  • Practice dishonesty;
  • Threaten to jail their political opponents;
  • Implicitly and/or explicitly condone gender discrimination and sexual assault.

Alas, while they might have a more modern veneer, these tactics and behaviors are as old as they are dangerous. Indeed, one need only look at the histories of Europe and the United States in the 20th century to find examples of politicians who pointed to scapegoats and threats, and used discriminatory language to garner supporters and votes.

We acknowledge that teachers who speak out about politicians during an election campaign, even at its very end, run the risk of appearing partisan. But are we simply to remain silent while others teach our children that misogyny, bigotry, assault, dishonesty, and corruption are acceptable attitudes and behaviors? If we believe, as we do, that our children are watching, listening to, and learning from us, then the assertions that politics are just politics and words are just words are not responsible positions for us, as teachers, parents, guardians and role models, to take. Elections matter not only because of their results, but also because of the ways in which they teach our children who we are. History has demonstrated that there is little to no safety in a world in which words have no meaning and in which political leaders are not held accountable for what they say and promote.

We cherish the privilege we have to teach history at Nobles and the values for which our community stands. Inasmuch as our school is dedicated to preparing students for the most rigorous undergraduate programs, this goal is superseded by a commitment to helping adolescents become people of character, leaders who embrace the idea that ethical principles—honesty and respect for self and respect for others—form the bedrock of just, safe, vibrant, strong, and supportive communities. And when politicians will not stand for these principles (or, at times, stand against them), then, as Tocqueville entreats us, it is “private citizens”—teachers, community leaders, and parents— who must do so in their place. This election will end on November 8 (we hope), but the incivility and unethical behaviors that threaten our republic will not. So, regardless of which side of the political fence you may stand upon, please join us. Talk with your children, as we will continue to do with ours, about the obligations of citizenship and the primacy of ethics and community principles. Their safety, liberty, and futures—and those of their neighbors—demand it.

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If you have questions, comments or suggestions for this newsletter, email Kim Neal at kim_neal@nobles.edu.