By Samantha Renzulli and Sarah Green
When Capitol riots and Inauguration anticipation exploded political sentiments across the US and world, Fairfield Public School and Warde leaders assumed the responsibility of addressing how classroom conversations could ensue. In Warde’s microcosm of collaboration, reactions to Warde’s simultaneous facilitation and regulation of discussion have questioned the transparency of and limitations to students’ real-world learning experiences.
Following the inauguration and insurrection, Principal Cavanna released 2 spoken statements. After the Capitol breach, he knew in conscience he had to do something and began to draft a statement with the Social Emotional Learning Committee. The goal was to support the faculty in order to support the students. Cavanna also saw the need to address the students himself, not to enforce a singular belief but rather encourage and provide his perspective on peaceful and productive discussion. He shared, “If you’re not taking this opportunity to talk to your students [when] something [like this] happened, obviously it’s negative, but it’s still momentous, and going to be in history and you have to take advantage of that conversation because if you don’t, it’s just like it’s just another day and it’s not just another day.” Regarding the inauguration, the decision to prohibit viewing was dictated by the school board to mitigate students from viewing unforeseen catastrophic events. Cavanna still saw it as potent to release a statement. Cavanna believes that there’s a way to shed light and kindness on events such as this. While he admits he’s unsure of whether or not he achieved this, he notes that “most times people respect you for trying.”
Members of the Warde community expressed positive sentiments regarding productive conversations. Dr. Faber, English teacher and Co-Chair of the Warde Teaching and Learning Committee, shared that in her AP Lit class, “conversations were poignant and meaningful.” Echoing other teachers, she shared that the school had an appropriate response. She appreciated that the school left class instruction to the “discretion of teachers,” and her class’s discussion was “amazing.” Students agreed that the school did the “best they could,” as shared by Daniya Ali, Warde senior and Co-President of the Warde Young Democrats club. She acknowledged that “teachers have done a great job making sure there is a place to be heard,” and that these conversations encourage students to champion different opinions, as the new administration praises. Though some teachers were apprehensive, it appears student voices penetrated lesson plans, propelled by a yen for understanding. However, frustration emerged in response to cursory conversations and limited classroom exposure.
Cavanna himself encouraged class discussion on the events that transpired, but the inability to watch the inauguration gave many the opposite message. Fiona Honohan, a senior, pointed out that students say the pledge of allegiance every day but couldn’t watch the inauguration. Hazel Foley, a Warde junior, believed it was keeping school and politics too separate and they need to be integrated.
“It shows how superficial our education is because we are not being taught about what’s happening in the real world.”
While students felt frustrated from not being provided information, some also felt there was a greater lack of perspective and therefore respect. Young Republicans President Ryan DeWitt said that despite not verbally supporting Trump, he and others were “ridiculed and made fun of for their views.” He attributes this to there being a one-sided, “‘accepted’ narrative in the building” that dictated discussions. DeWitt found that it was a problematic decision to encourage class discussion when there was no context and “the widespread one-sided political nature of Warde’s teachers, especially with some who are very intolerant of right-leaning views like my own.”
Additional frustration was a product of Warde’s projected lack of trust in the student and teacher body to engage in deeper conversations, specifically in response to not being able to watch the Inauguration. Some students feel they should have been consulted. As senior Taylor Treonze expressed, “Paul had a meeting with the teachers, and students were not there.” She supports that student voices could have guided the Warde response more effectively. Students, such as junior Mary Montini pointed out that students were “forced to seek out information on their own” and senior Fiona Honohan exclaimed she had “seen more TikToks about the capitol breech than [she had] heard teachers talk about it. Humanities and American Studies teacher Mr. Cehousky communicated that this kind of exposure was inevitable, that “teachers can’t stop kids from personally seeing it.” He believed they would receive news from their phones regardless, so it would be better off to receive the news in school, where context and understanding could be provided. He emphasized that it was important to see the persistence of democracy; an opportunity “for a generation to see a peaceful transition of power.”
Some teachers feel they were not in control. Ms. Norrie shared the inability to watch the inauguration felt like she was not “trusted to do her job,” and was “saddened the administration didn’t think more highly of students.” She also highlighted an obscured dichotomy: “high schoolers can vote, drive, buy a pistol, but not have access to info [they] need to become adults?” The balance of the duality of Warde’s learning experience — to teach and to protect — is being called into question. Teachers and students, as Honahan expressed, felt they were “being left out,” calling for more trust, transparency, and accountability for exposure of such potent discussions.
Not everyone was in support of bringing the political discussions into the Warde classrooms. Some shared beliefs that it detracted from the curriculum, which many already feel is lagging behind. Others expressed it to be “irrelevant” to their classes, felt “tired of news,” and saw no need for political infiltration. One such sophomore conveys that he “already knows who the president is, I don’t need time taken out of my school day to see it…there’s no reason.” A contrast to previous upset at censorship, this is not uncommon or unreasonable. Ms. Norrie validated their statements, saying that “they are more in line with traditional thinking. It is traditional; the inauguration isn’t usually as big of a deal as the election.” Evidently, student opinions are pervasive and distinct, and can only be appeased through consideration and comprehensive conversation.
The past months have inspired teachers and students alike to the importance and complexities of politically relevant classroom discussions. In retrospect, Cavanna thought that his time-crunched speech was not geared enough towards the students. He is actively looking to create a team of students he can consult on how to respond to these types of events. This eagerness to hear student perspectives is not uncommon at Warde. In the future, we hope to see a school that is teaching how to communicate, actively listen, and find common ground.
DeWitt, Ali, and Spisak worked together on reaching understanding and respect in their clubs, which all three call for in the classroom. DeWitt shared that “in the future, [the teachers] must learn to make all students comfortable expressing their thoughts.” The outcome of Warde’s reaction—students, teachers, and administration alike—has left something to be proud of and something to learn.