NAIS Research: Civil Discourse in Independent Schools

Executive Summary

The 2016 presidential election created a climate of political polarization that few Americans had experienced before. In schools across the country, the divisive rhetoric and partisan combativeness affected even the youngest students. Many school leaders, administrators, and teachers reported feeling unprepared to manage the situations in their schools.

Leading up to the 2020 presidential election, many school leaders wanted to ensure that their communities nurtured open, respectful interaction among diverse groups. They sought to engage students in the civic process and create climates that welcome authentic dialogue, but some worrid that fostering political discussion could inflame divides.

To help schools address these concerns, the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) and Pollyanna, Inc. collaborated to gather information about independent school educators’ experiences before and after the 2016 election and their hopes for the 2020 election season. Between August and September 2020, the organizations administered a survey to heads of school, administrators, and teachers. The survey responses suggest key lessons from the 2016 election. This report also provides suggestions to help educators foster civil discourse in their communities during future election seasons.

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