THE CORNERSTONE OF 21ST-CENTURY SKILLS
ROBERT MOVRADINOV, DIRECTOR OF COMMUNICATION
Educators often speak of the innovation and collaboration, problem solving and other “21st-century” skills that we aim to foster. But seldom do we spotlight the one skill without which any of the others flourish: communication. Engaging in uanced and, at times, difficult conversation is vital if our students are to go into the world
and tackle society’s problems.
French American considers critical thinking and communication across cultures of paramount importance.
Going into 2015, our community was particularly
jolted by disturbing news in both the U.S. and France.
Stateside, the latter half of 2014 was filled with myriad
accounts of police brutality, often ending in the death
of African Americans. On January 7, the Paris offices
of Charlie Hebdo came under siege, killing 12 people.
Our teachers, understanding the importance of addressing these tragedies directly, gave students in grades 5-12
forums in which to process the events.
In the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attacks, teachers
began a dialogue with 5th graders by viewing Secretary of State John Kerry’s expression of condolences to
the French. As students weighed in, teachers made the
distinction between extremists and Muslims at large.
The conversation explored the freedoms of speech and
expression, among les droits de l’homme, which the
5th grade had recently studied. Notwithstanding those
rights, students observed, it is possible to hurt individuals with particular statements or caricatures.
In the middle school, meanwhile, students assembled
in mixed groups of 6th, 7th and 8th graders. A handful of 10th graders served as mentors by discussing the
significance of Je suis Charlie, Je suis Ahmed, and Je
suis Juif (memes that became ubiquitous in social media
after the attacks) and by inviting the younger students
to illustrate the notions of tolerance and freedom of
Responding to events in Ferguson, New York, Ohio
and other parts of the U.S., our International High
School students held an assembly about race and social
justice mid-January. They began by watching the video of
Eric Garner’s death and by listening to an NPR interview
of civil rights attorney Constance Rice, who worked to
develop a partnership between the LAPD and the com-
munities that it serves (to promote empathy). A set of
communication guidelines framed the ensuing discus-
sion to insure that all voices were honored.
Teachers and students of color spoke of transgressions
minor and major—about fearing for their siblings every
time they left home. Another student noted that her
father, an African American police officer, faced difficulties navigating both sides of the tension. Some students
discussed scientific studies on colorism, or how we
respond with prejudice in a variety of situations. Others
admitted also to feeling white privilege, or fear of those
After the event, Alaezia Benjamin ‘ 16 noted, “Listening
to each high school student’s voice made me realize that
I am not the only one who feels so strongly about this is-
sue. It felt reassuring to know that many students empa-
thized with those who have been treated badly because
of the color of their skin or the background they come
from. I would suggest that we have many more panel
discussions next year covering all aspects that impact
our high school students. It was a great privilege to be a
part of such a wonderful panel.”
Olivia Clopton-Foster ‘ 15 also noted, “I think it’s amaz-
ing that we took this big step towards bettering our com-
munity and communicating with one another.” Olivia’s
point is well taken: authentic communication strength-
ens communities. Indeed, the ability to think critically
and to communicate across cultures is vital. As Head of
School Melinda Bihn observes, “Putting those skills to
use with a sense of agency in the world is our ultimate
pursuit. At French American International School, we are
confident that our students will rise to the occasion.”
This article appears in the summer edition of the
NAIS Independent School magazine.