More Trouble in Paradise

Urban Campfire. Our Place at the Table. Seminars on the “truth” about race in rap lyrics. “Mix It Up Day.” Sound like MTV meets race relations? Close enough—it’s another Martin Luther King, Jr. Day on Academy Hill. It is no secret that Andover’s sickeningly-hip take on Martin Luther King annoys, angers, and even enrages those on campus who are the most vocal about the importance of tolerance and equality. But beyond this, do our ridiculous workshops and seminars scar the memory of one of the greatest men to live in America? The answer is a resounding yes. While the man’s legacy is a complex one, as was his life, there is little doubt that King would disapprove of the propaganda-ish videos we are shown, which seek not to provoke critical thought and intelligent discussion but rather hit you over the head with absolute truths? (Though I must admit we have come a long way since “Urban Campfire” two years ago.) What would he think of our dazzling selection of workshops, some of which seem to be very much in line with the man’s views and methods but others of which (“Why We Should Avoid War on Iraq”) are of dubious relevance and seem to push a teachers’ personal, unrelated agendas. At a school that sacrifices quality for hipness, this result is predictable. But beyond this, Andover’s entire take on race relations and method of “teaching” it, like another academic subject to be studied and regurgitated, is fatally flawed, as is its vehicle for this, the Office of Community and Multicultural Development. The term “teaching tolerance” always seems a bit idiotic, for “tolerance”—if it can be learned by those who don’t seem to “have” it—must be practiced at all times throughout one’s life in order to be achieved. A single workshop on one day out of the year, while perhaps placating the political correctness watchdogs, will affect almost nil in real change. “Tolerance” cannot be studied and perfected by hard-working Andover students like nearly everything else, and it is here that the administration and faculty fail to see the different approach the topic requires–every individual must approach and reconcile the complex issues of race and America on his own, with assistance but not indoctrination. It does not help that PA’s arbiter of race relation-education, CAMD, is itself one of the most divisive institutions on campus. While lampooned among its constituents and the greater student body for its contrived “Mix It Up Day” effort, it has larger problems. CAMD is,inherently, an exclusionary institution. Though it tries hard, by its very nature it will never reach out to those on campus who need its “tolerance education”, however flawed, the most—it lacks both the means to reach, and respect from, many in the community. But most important, its divisive nature, which is evidenced in its programs, prevents our campus’ discussions from ever attaining the level of depth or insight that they could. Would Martin Luther King, Jr. appreciate our school’s diverse community? Certainly. Would he appreciate the efforts we’ve made to commemorate his life and preserve his legacy through our MLK Day events? Absolutely. But would he have chosen this approach—propaganda videos, activities brimming of “hipness” at the expense of content, and other entertaining approaches to dodging the truly hard questions of race—were he in charge of this celebration? No.