Gann’s Jonathan Golden on The Four Questions of Election 2016 and Why Gann Teaches Democracy Differently Than All Other Schools

November 1, 2016
I love teaching American history in an election year.  Like American educational philosopher John Dewey, I believe that my primary purpose is to prepare my students for participation in American democracy.
Over his 16 years at Gann, Jonathan Golden has taught AP American History, chaired the History Department, and served as Assistant Head of School and Director of Academic Operations. A 1995 graduate of Princeton University, he received his MJEd from Hebrew College and PhD from Brandeis University. At Brandeis, he studied American Jewish history under the tutelage of Professor Jonathan Sarna and wrote a dissertation entitled From Cooperation to Confrontation: The Rise and Fall of the Synagogue Council of America. In 2007, he was the recipient of Hebrew College’s Sydney Hillson Memorial Award for Distinguished Leadership in and Commitment to Jewish Education. In 2014, he received the AJC Boston Young Leadership Award. He is the Chair of AJC ACCESS Boston, the young leadership division of the American Jewish Committee’s Boston office. Golden also serves on the Board of Directors for Camp Yavneh which he attended for 13 summers as a camper and counselor.

I love teaching American history in an election year.  Like American educational philosopher John Dewey, I believe that my primary purpose is to prepare my students for participation in American democracy.  My favorite teaching moment of all time was the day after the 2000 election.   I barely spoke 2 sentences before my students’ hands were in the air for the entire hour, asking questions of genuine curiosity about the intricacies of the voting and vote counting process.  It was an education for us all.

My teaching colleagues around the country have struggled with (and in some cases shied away from) election education in 2016.  I empathize with the challenges that we face as educators to foster productive and constructive education about this complex election.  Here are four questions that have been my guideposts in my teaching during this unusual election year:

1.   How can students play the role of analysts and advisors?

After the first debate, I asked students to analyze what each candidate hoped to accomplish in the debate and to assess what they actually accomplished.  Then, I had students imagine playing the role of advisor for each campaign:  what would be the next ad that the campaign should produce?  The next campaign spot?  The strategy for the next debate?

2.   What are the parallels between this election and key moments in American history?

In AP History, we are studying the American Revolution and looking at themes of how leaders and “the common man” shaped the Revolution and the newly emergent Constitution.   Students can draw connections between when candidates stress their leadership credentials and when they emphasize their common roots and backgrounds with voters.

3.   How have our Limud Clali (communal learning) programs prepared students for this election?

For the past 2 years, students have heard speakers and engaged in advisory discussions about race and gender.  The content and modalities of those conversations have been helpful to process this year’s election.

4.   What role can students play in election education?

This year, our Junior State of America chapter at Gann will lead our Limud Clali program on November 11 to process American democracy through the lens of technology (our Limud Clali theme this year).  They have already held discussions of the candidates and the 4 ballot questions in Massachusetts.

Like the Passover Seder, when we ask the right questions, the telling of the American political story liberates students to engage with meaning and depth so that they are ready to be voters and active citizens.

Of note:  Jonathan will be offering a special post-election analysis "For the Love of God and Country: Jews, American Religion, and the 2016 Presidential Election in Historical Context” on Saturday, November 12th after services at Mishkan Tefila in Brookline.
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