Last Tuesday during morning announcements, I posed a question to our 7th and 8th grade students.
“Ask yourself: are you a denizen or a citizen of the Classical School community?”
I explained my thoughts during the following day’s announcements. A denizen is just an inhabitant of a community—someone who merely lives in a community but doesn’t help shape it. By contrast a citizen gives back and supports his community; he actively serves it. We at Classical talk about citizenship often; at Classical, citizenship means advancing the common good, following the laws and rules, and serving the community.
We are better citizens some days than others (we all make mistakes and regularly need a good deal of
grace and forgiveness), but I hope the question about denizenship vs. citizenship gave students a chance
to reflect on how they can help their school community thrive. We encourage our students to be
citizens—and of course what it means to be a citizen will change as students get older; they will accrue
greater responsibility throughout high school, they will eventually be able to vote, and so on—at this
early age, citizenship might mean keeping their voices down in the hallways, helping younger students,
or showing respect for adults and each other.
We at Classical hope that teaching the skills of citizenship will prepare our students for lifetimes of
community engagement. We believe that communities—schools, cities, states, entire countries—are
strongest when their inhabitants are citizens, not just denizens. Communities are strongest when their
citizens agree that upon the conduct of each depends the fate of all and when they understand that
citizenship requires them to refuse to exclude fellow citizens on the basis of religion, nationality, skin
color, disability, etc. And these lessons apply just as well to the national stage as they do to the
playground—which is why citizenship starts here at Classical School.
So ask yourself and your family often: Are we denizens or citizens?