It seems to me, the best way to combat the growing cynicism and fracturing social structures within America these days is to invest in the critical and usefully innocent perspective of the country’s youth. I am fortunate to be able to work each week with a sample, however small, of young minds, and their ability to hold civil discourse in reaction to complex subject matter gives me qualified hope. During the opening third of the semester, the 7-8 class has wrestled with philosophy by Plato, literature by Ray Bradbury, relative historical contexts, and current events, all in an effort to affirm the value of civic engagement, objective reasoning, and critical discourse. In response to “The Allegory of the Cave,” they assessed Plato’s distrust of democracy and his thinking that, without the guidance of a philosopher king whose actions were rooted in ethics, most people would be inclined to vote against their own interests for the sake of short-term gain or affirmation of their misguided beliefs. If that sounds all too familiar in today’s political climate, know then that the students impressively addressed the potential of such perspective, applied it to various critical readings of contemporary media coverage, and demonstrated a remarkable respect for each other and empathy for competing national perspectives. Especially amid the existential weirdness of needing to wear a mask everyday, I am struck by how much they appreciate and embody the timeless values of speaking face-to-face and active listening. Moreover, they have revealed an acumen for writing, and I’ve enjoyed seeing their interpretations develop in formal presentations on paper. Lately, they’ve been dissecting the rhetorical intentions of both candidates during the first Presidential debate, then weighing the relative success of those intentions against public reaction and fact-checking sources, and learning how not to let their own subjective and political mentalities influence their assessment. For upcoming projects, they’ll develop their own political advertisement as though a fictitious, third-party candidate, and they’ll construct another paper that merges their reading of Fahrenheit 451 with current events to critique a society that does not allow for free thought and meaningful engagement with complex truth, even when (and perhaps especially when) it’s disturbing. While their projects will be individual, their construction is a collaborative undertaking by the entire class, as they bounce ideas off of one another and receive honest feedback. They are increasingly aware, therefore, that real learning cannot happen in a vacuum. As such, they teach me everyday, for which I am grateful.