Civic Engagement Club and classes react to US-Iran tensions


Adrian Arnaboldi , Staff Writer

The Horace Mann Civic Engagement Club (HMCEC) held a communal event to process the recent developments between the U.S. and Iran. The discussion had low attendance—besides the club’s presidents and advisor, only two students took part.
In an invite email sent to the high school, HMCEC presidents explained why they thought it was necessary to create a space to discuss the recent issues. “We understand that this news can be very disturbing, frightening, and confusing, so we feel that we need to open up a communal space to process and discuss everything from specific politics seen today (e.g. sanctions) to the very real possibility of war,” Co-President of HMCEC Sofia Del Gatto (12) wrote in the email.
Ryan Rosenthal (11) attended the event on Monday during I period and was not surprised that so few students attended. Many students have other prior commitments including clubs, he said.
Alexa Turteltaub (9) was among the majority of students who did not attend, although she did consider going. “I chose not to go because politics is really delicate,” she said. Many of her friends discussed attending, but they felt that it was intimidating to tackle a subject that can be controversial, she said. “That scares people.”
The controversial nature of the topic also deterred Jared Contant (9) from going, but he also did not attend because conflict with Iran does not influence his daily life as a New Yorker and as a student, he said.
Students at the school have very little spirit of social justice, Del Gatto said. “That is because we really like to talk and intellectualize about political issues, but there is no real communal spirit of concern for humans that makes us act together.” Students do not often consider joining protestors on the streets or have a sense of real civic engagement, she said.
Aside from discussing the recent events in Iran, attendees also talked about the history of why the conflict escalated and the possible future ramifications of the decision to kill Qasem Soleimani.
Rosenthal said that his takeaway from the event was the importance of breaking out of the “bubble of Horace Mann” and of being constantly interested in global news. “The world we live in is the only one we have got, so we really need to understand what is going on with our country and be engaged.”
While Rosenthal said that the school itself cannot necessarily be politically active, clubs should organize students to attend protests and help students be more aware of how they can be involved, he said.
Del Gatto and co-President Micheye Trumpet Jones (12) currently lead the club, which, last year, comprised of mostly seniors who have since graduated, Del Gatto said. Attendance has been low, but the club’s main focuses are both to discuss important events and to plan ways to stand up politically, she said.
The HMSEC event was not the only way in which students have engaged with the Iranian conflict at the school. Leyli Granmayeh (11) discussed an article in her Religion in History class that pointed out the inconsistencies in American foreign policy, she said. The article said that while sometimes the U.S. acts as a “global policeman,” oftentimes the country tries to evade conflicts. “The article was saying that we flip-flop a lot,” she said. The class was able to discuss whether they agreed with the opinions of the article. While conversations like these do not always directly relate to topics in religious history, they serve as a learning experience, she said.
Additionally, Devin Hirsch (11) said that in his section of The Global Cold War class, the class spent an entire period last Friday on Iran and compared the conflict to aspects of the Cold War. Specifically, the class compared the Iran conflict with the Non-Aligned Movement.
History Department Chair and teacher of history elective Global Cold War Dr. Daniel Link sometimes returns back to current events topics weeks after initial discussions, he said. “Part of our culture today is that news moves so quickly… there are often developments with stories that we have discussed in the past that we have to reconsider.”
Sometimes current events can relate to class material in religious history, Granmayeh said. “That is really helpful because when you actually discuss current events and how religions are currently playing out, it can be a lot easier to conceptualize them,” she said.
Hirsch said that the class discussion was generally very liberal. Most students were against President Donald Trump’s decision to kill Soleimani and it might have been uncomfortable for a supporter of Trump’s actions. “I could see why they wouldn’t say anything,” he said.
In Turteltaub’s Atlantic World History class, the discussion was broader. “I said primarily that it is really hard to form an opinion on the situation because there is so much information that is being withheld,” she said. Other students in Turteltaub’s class said that the issue is gaining more press simply because of President Trump’s global image. Turteltaub appreciated the fact that she is able to discuss current events in class, she said. “The reason we learn history is to tie it to modern life—history repeats itself a lot.” Looking at the news through a historical lens allows for a deeper dive into history, she said.
Having not discussed the Iran conflict in any of his classes, Contant thought that conversation could have gotten too political between teachers and students.
“We definitely should be talking more about this,” Hirsch said. “A lot of kids do not really have enough time to cover politics. When I was younger, if I had the chance, I would read the news and stay up to date, but now the time is really on the bus to read news articles briefly.”
While Del Gatto appreciated the class discussions around Iran, part of the HMCEC’s mission is to push people to contemplate news in a non-intellectual way. “Try to actually feel the immensity of a lot of these issues,” she said. “At Horace Mann, we have debates in history, and I think that is important. But [it is] not where I want the club to be.”
As a history teacher, part of Link’s mission is to help students understand what is going on in the world. “Developmentally, where high school students are, they are starting to make sense of the wider world,” he said. “How do we make sense of the fact that it was looking like, last week, Iran and the United States might go to war? Why is that?”