Headmaster's Newsletter Friday 23rd October 2020
When we come back after half term, across the Atlantic we will be witnessing an era-defining election. Maybe that’s being hyperbolic, but it certainly seems that there is a lot at stake in a volatile country. America is not the only volatile country in the world where there is a lot at stake, I grant you, but it is one we are following closely because of our political and cultural crossover, the once much-vaunted ‘special relationship’, and the possibly seismic reverberations around the world. You probably know that we are legally (and ethically) obliged to teach and promote what the government calls ‘Fundamental British Values’: democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty, and mutual respect and tolerance. Clearly these are not exclusively British values, many of us have informed the government, so it is sometimes useful and entertaining to teach the boys about democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty, and mutual respect and tolerance in countries other than our own.
Recently, through our ‘news roundup’ assemblies, I have been attempting to teach the prep school about how the American electoral college system works, and how the popular vote and poll predictions can sometimes go out of the window in such a system. (I reminded the boys that when I gave an assembly ahead of the 2016 US election Hilary Clinton had a 83.5% chance of winning …). Some of you will already be ahead of me, by postulating whether recent US politics have admirably demonstrated mutual respect and tolerance, while there have also been fears about the preservation of the rule of law, differing interpretations of what ‘individual liberty’ means (especially in the context of Covid-19), and just how ‘democratic’ the current electoral system is.
Many of those things will be for civics lessons in American high schools, but they should most definitely be on our radar too. It is very easy to take ‘Fundamental British Values’ for granted, but if they are not exercised they weaken and wither. We haven’t quite gone down the road of having our own mock US election, with an electoral college giving disproportionate weight to different classes (though the mischievous side of me wishes we had – Reception as California? 8S as Wyoming?). But by keeping engaged with democratic politics around the world, and the different forms it can take, we can hopefully instil in the boys the importance of staying alert, engaged, and involved – and by most definitely voting when they get the chance, and preserving democracy whenever it seems that someone might want to corrupt or twist it for their own purposes.