To the Editor:
Thanks, Team Phillipian, for the annual State of the Academy. I was struck above all by the level of cheating reported: 34 percent in the 11th grade and 34 percent in the 12th (up from 17 percent in ninth and 28 percent in tenth, leading one to wonder, is that learned at Andover?). I hope these figures will be at the center of the Andover community’s attention in the coming months and years, examined and addressed until they drop down to somewhere far closer to zero.
I can’t help but think — somewhat squeamishly — that this was the year in which Andover chose “Citizenship” as its theme. How do we even begin to measure the cognitive dissonance between a year of inspired programming exploring diverse models of service and leadership, and the data suggesting that one in three 11th and 12th graders cheat?
I hope a radically honest conversation can begin at home and at school. It is likely to be a painful one and belongs in realm where it can be most fruitfully engaged: the realm of compassion. What makes us cheat? We need to be gentle enough to elicit trust and honest answers and brave enough to listen without judgment.
To contemplate the experience of a friend or a child choosing to cheat (Out of fear? A desperate longing to please, to “excel,” to belong, to be accepted? To not disappoint?) will almost certainly require us to examine our own roles. In what ways have I turned away from the glorious imperfections of unique beings, favoring instead… bragging rights? Social status? Achievement packaged, mistakenly, as virtue? In what ways have I objectified my child’s, or my student’s, or my friend’s, or my own experience, converting all activity — from academics to sports to “service,” “leadership,” and “citizenship” — into a checklist that apes, but does not embody, evolving maturity? In doing so, what masters am I serving? What are my own fears? How can I check them, and reset?
I hope Phillipian Editors, Religion and Philosophy instructors, Sykes Wellness Center professionals, Andover parents, rising Seniors, fresh-faced Juniors, and everybody in between will lead the conversation and be led by it, until honor is honored in both the quiet solitary place it unfolds within each of us and in communion. And a day will come when the State of the Academy reports with confidence and pride: When asked about cheating, 100 percent of Andover’s students say, “No way. Wouldn’t dream of it.”