Before school started, on the morning after the presidential election, my 4th-6th-grade classroom was buzzing, so I made our first order of business a half-hour discussion of the whole election. The subject has come up regularly for the past year in our weekly ‘questions’ sessions, when the children can ask me anything they like – and sometimes I can answer them.
It was clear that most of the class was fearful of the result, whether from their own convictions or, more probably, because of opinions learned from their parents. Several children even thought that a war was now inevitable. I did my best to allay their fears, by pointing out that presidents are constrained in various ways, not least by the fact that they want to get re-elected, and that many presidential candidates make promises that they know will never be enacted.
It was a useful discussion because it did much to diffuse the apprehension and even fear that had been so evident early on, but what really made a difference happened at lunchtime.
It’s our practice in the class to sit in silence for a minute before lunch, sometimes feeling gratitude for our food - or the people that grew it - but often simply being still and quiet. Today, however, I asked one of the children to suggest something we could be grateful for, and he thought for a moment and then said, ‘being alive’. So we all sat there in silence, and I could feel that most, if not all, of the class was taking the suggestion seriously. At end of the minute - and it may have been two - I said, ‘You know, when you feel gratitude simply for being alive, it makes the result of the election seem so much less important.’ And there were widespread nods of agreement before we lined up to fetch our lunch.