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Queries after an American Insurrection

I spent the first period of this day with our middle school students and teachers, talking through yesterday’s deeply unsettling events at the US Capitol.  At noon, I sat with Renata and a group of 2nd – 4th-grade students who wished to discuss it.   Both sessions started with student questions.  A younger student asked why President Trump doesn’t understand that he lost the election.  An older student asked why the police had been more forceful against Black Lives Matter protesters than the mostly white crowd at the Capitol.

There is much to understand.  The causes and actions of yesterday are complex, and for every American of every age, there is much to reckon with.   As an educator, I wonder why so many Americans are willing to put aside evidence in favor of conspiracy and lies.  What has failed in our educational system?  As a Quaker, I wonder how we can stop demonizing each other enough to recognize that we share this country and world.

At Chicago Friends School we do our best to teach according to the fundamental Quaker values of Peace, simplicity, integrity, community, equality, and service.  I would like to believe that these values stand as a bulwark to events such as yesterday’s.  How would it have been different if we were all committed to peaceful problem solving and nonviolence?  If we valued the voice of everyone in our communities equally, would it have been easier to accept the votes of every community, including those that are not in agreement with our own?  Would a police and justice system committed to equality treat different racial groups differently?  If we were committed to community, would we work to remedy the deep economic disparities and lack of opportunity that undergirds so much rage?

Quakers have a tradition of asking queries—questions that are meant to elicit deeper thought about our values and how we live our lives.   Yesterday showed us all a deeply fractured America.  And as an American, I must examine whether I am complicit in this fracture.  Here are some queries that I am considering today.

(About integrity)

  •  Have I ever looked the other way when aware of injustice?
  •  Has there ever been a time when I have allowed a lie to stand, or chosen to   believe a falsehood because it felt better to me than to face the truth?
  •  Have I been rigorous in seeking confirmation that the ideas that I hold are   grounded in truth?
  •  Do I lovingly hold others to account when I feel they are doing wrong?
  •  Have I spoken the truth, even when it might result in negative consequences for   myself?
  •  Have I stood up for my values in public?

(About equality)

  • Have I rested in my privilege, allowing others to be discriminated against while I am comfortable?

(About community)

  • Have I been guilty of stereotyping or demonizing those who are different from me?
  • Have I dismissed the pain or struggle of people I don’t agree with?

As an educator, I work every day in the hope that my students will make a better tomorrow.  This must be done in a way that is hopeful, but also clear-eyed.  By facing up to ourselves, we can do better.  We can make a better tomorrow.

Karen Carney

is the head of school. Karen’s career demonstrates a rich and diverse set of skills: project oversight, curriculum development, educator training and mentoring, and classroom instruction. Prior to coming to Chicago Friends School, she worked as a senior specialist in science curriculum for American Institutes for Research. Before this, she oversaw educational programming at the Adler Planetarium, first as its director of education and then as associate vice president for visitor experience and learning. She has also worked in instruction and teacher development at the University of Illinois at Chicago’s Learning Sciences Research Institute and has authored more than 20 scholarly papers, book chapters, and conference presentations.

Karen is an active, dedicated Friend (Quaker) and has held various leadership positions at the Evanston Friends Meeting. She enjoys baking, cooking, and painting and is a member of the Playmation improv comedy team.