American Politics Come to Wycombe Abbey

US Senate | Wycombe Abbey

As votes are still being counted across the United States to determine the outcome of the recent US Presidential election, the run up to the election provided the perfect opportunity to encourage a deeper understanding of American political history and culture amongst pupils at Wycombe Abbey.

A number of innovative approaches have been used to encourage girls to question the facts and opinions emerging from the echo chamber of social media. While pupils may remain unconvinced by the policies of President Trump or former Vice President Biden, they hopefully better understand why such political figures believe in their ideologies and how their arguments are based in American history, society and political philosophy.

Special Events and Programmes

Special events and programmes have included a national conference simulating the debate of the U.S. Congress, hosting a special pop up museum on American female political leadership, and organising a film series exploring areas of the country’s recent political history.

The dramatic debate of American politics was recreated in an online simulation of the U.S. Senate, the upper house of the American legislature. Pupils in the UV and Sixth Form were asked to analyse a range of issues currently in the news including coronavirus, immigration and racial justice.

Amongst the bills debated were proposals to require the wearing of face coverings in federal buildings, guarantee the franchise to those incarcerated, end federal upkeep of Confederate statues and provide funding for the US-Mexico border wall.

Wycombe Abbey girls chaired debates involving more than eighty young people from six different schools.

US Senate Debate | Wycombe Abbey

Kathleen (LVI) commented: “Having to research and take on the role of a real-life Republican Senator really required me to understand why some Americans interpret political issues in a certain way. I do not really identify with Republican policies, but the simulation has made me appreciate the arguments behind their worldview. It is so useful for my studies of A-Level Government and Politics.”

Exploring How Female Leadership Has Been Represented in American Political Art

The School also hosted a special pop-up museum celebrating and exploring how female leadership has been represented in American political art over the past decade. Amongst original posters on display were examples from Hilary Clinton’s 2016 election campaign, placards from the 2017 Women’s March, and a modern poster from Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s campaign to establish a Green New Deal. Each artwork was placed in its political and historical context with a series of captions written by the Government & Politics Department.

As part of the Weekend Activities Programmes, the Sixth Form have enjoyed a season of documentary films exploring various aspects of American government and politics. The first film, the BAFTA-winning RBG, tells the life of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who passed away a few days before its showing. Other films in the season have included the Oscar-winning The American Factory and a documentary telling the story of the trial following the shooting of Amadou Diallo in 1999.

Dr Goddard, who teaches American politics at A-Level, commented: “It is tempting for young people to unquestioningly follow a view of the United States shaped by their social media. In preparing events to mark the presidential election, we wanted pupils to engage with the campaign debate analytically and in way that identified the facts, recognised the nuance, and developed empathy and understanding of alternative political viewpoints”.

“It has been a hugely fun time for both teachers and pupils to analyse the subject”, he added. “There can be few academic disciplines where the facts are so constantly changing and historical precedents are so regularly becoming obsolete”.