Winston Churchill said that democracy is the worst form of government-- except for all of the others. The basic question of democratic government has always been some variation of “how much is enough?” This question speaks to our individual ability to observe, reflect upon and change our own internal or self-“government,” as well as our collective ability to do the same with the formal government that interweaves and binds our cultural and economic lives.
At the grade school, government structures appear and are studied historically through the emerging pictures of tribalism, monarchy, then early legislative bodies through democracy, as expressed in the stories of the Tanach, Queens and Kings in various settings, the Roman Senate, Athenian democracy, and finally in the French and American constitutions. Governance is also embodied through modeling by the teachers, including the collegiality among them, as well as the social-emotional bonds that evolve over time among the students themselves, including all of the benefits and challenges of coexisting in a small community.
High school students learn about government beginning with the main lesson block on Idealism at the end of ninth grade, where in small groups they work out ideal values, laws and economic systems for a hypothetical society and present it publically to their parents and classmates. By the tenth grade, students’ interest in the structures and foundations of the world—how things work—presents an opportunity for them to learn about the structure of the U.S. government.
The tenth grade U.S. Government class summarizes key constitutional concepts which the students explore further through exercises such as: developing and presenting arguments in a mock U.S. Supreme Court case; drafting and voting on legislation in the House of Representatives; writing an amicus brief supporting or opposing a death row inmate’s claim that his constitutional rights were denied; and assuming the role of National Security Advisors to the president on three foreign policy scenarios. Tenth graders are also met developmentally in this class by considering the basis of their own political ideas, or by writing a Personal Declaration of Independence mirroring the original. In addition, interested students have the opportunity to be involved in the Model United Nations Club. This year’s Model U.N. students will be participating in the Sixtieth Annual Model United Nations at Berkeley in mid-March representing the country of Georgia.
Our entire K-12 program guides students toward a deeper understanding of both macro and micro governance—or self-regulation—through biography, history, role-playing, and analysis. Our goal in teaching this way is less about inculcating facts and dates, and more about promoting the kind of individual (inner) and social dialogues that characterizes healthy democratic and human government. As adults these skills can enable and promote active, lively and informed participation in the micro and macro communities. Following their experience at SFWS, some of our graduates find themselves inspired by this subject in their career choices, such as our Washington DC based alumni profiled in this issue. Their thoughtful and productive engagement with the political world speaks well of the foundation laid during their time at SFWS.
Dan Ingoglia, Head of Administration