Andover the Factory?

At midterm, I received an FF in Chemistry and Ds in Math and French. Naturally, certain measures were taken in response to my poor academic standing. I found myself on academic restriction and under “no excuse,” was I permitted to leave the town of Andover. Fortunately, in my experience, the adults with whom I have dealt have been thoughtful, kind, caring individuals who truly do seem to be “on my side.” I have, however, gotten the impression that this institution has the potential to be somewhat impersonal at times. In Fall of my eighth grade year, my parents met with the headmaster of the small, private day school which I attended to discuss my next educational step. Speaking with my parents afterwards, he went through a list of schools and eventually reached Andover, my first choice. “It’s a great school,” he said. “No doubt about that. It’s big, though, and it can swallow kids up.” He called it “a factory.” Only now do I realize to what my former headmaster was referring. Andover is, for its size, incredibly personal in dealing with academic and disciplinary issues. Sometimes, however, it seems as if the school responds uniformly to certain situations, regardless of the mitigating circumstances. Throughout my academic troubles, which began at the beginning of this year and became more serious over the course of this term, I have sensed is that my presence at Andover is far from vital. Maybe I need the school, but it sure does not need me. If I cannot perform well academically, there is a student who is ready to move into my room. Maybe this is only my imagination, a distorted view of the messages sent to me from members of the faculty and administration, but when those “above me” were questioning my place at Andover, I began to do so, too. I felt that I was not intelligent, motivated, or talented enough to take advantage of the opportunities I had been offered. In such an academic environment, shortcomings in that area often become mistakenly confused for weaknesses of character. In my experience at Andover, at least, this has certainly been the case. Recently, a student was approached by his house counselors, who asked if he had committed several serious rule violations. Initially, the student did not admit to the transgressions, but rather explained they were rumors. Later the same night, however, after some contemplation, the student decided to confess entirely to his house counselors. He talked to them with complete honesty, admitting even to rule violations of which he hadn’t been accused. As a result of telling the truth, however, his offenses grew more serious and made the possible punishments more severe. Disturbingly, despite the student’s decision to “come clean,” dishonesty was placed on the list of offenses for which he would be DCed. Only after a strong request from the student’s parents was dishonesty removed from the set of charges. The DC determined that the student would be suspended for the remainder of the academic year and placed on probation upon his return next autumn. The student in question had obvious problems to work out, and of course these would have interfered with his ability to focus on academics, athletics, and other activities. Time away from campus represented the clear solution to the problem; suspension, however, didnot. Although his offenses were severe and did occur rather frequently over an extended period of time, how does any individual benefit from suspension? How was suspension a different answer from having to leave for the remainder of the year? In my opinion, it wasn’t. The student broke the rules repeatedly. He deserved to be punished, but the most severe punishment is not always the most fitting. This particular story is just one, isolated case; I have witnessed many in which it seems as if the overall objective is to “get” the student in the most amount of trouble possible. Instead, the school’s goal should be to help the student learn from his mistakes so that he does not make them again. Regardless of what he has done, no matter how bad the offenses, every student needs and deserves help and support. It concerns me that perhaps the Academy is beginning to become overly impersonal in regards to disciplinary as well as academic issues. So what is the solution to all of this? I am not entirely sure. I have been fortunate. My cluster dean, academic advisor, and house counselor, among others, have been entirely supportive throughout my academic troubles. My experience would have been much more difficult had the way in which they had responded been different. People listened to me and related. I had a bad term, but I’m working on making things better for myself. I can, however, see that not everyone’s experience is the same as mine. Not everyone gets the chance to explain why he or she is receiving a D in Math, or an F in Spanish, or why he began using alcohol or drugs. I would like to remind those who run this school and make it what it is that they should always listen. Andover exists to educate its students in a way that will, hopefully, turn them into clear-thinking, compassionate people. When we do make mistakes, then the issue addressed should be why the mistake was made, not what the most severe response should be. Here at Andover we should be educated, not churned out.