Get Involved

As November sets in, the United States prepares to enter another election year. Presidential politics has once again become an extremely important issue for all Americans, especially for those of us on Academy Hill. All eight presidential candidates will visit nearby New Hampshire during the coming week alone, hoping to gain support from voters before the Granite State kicks off its first-in-the-nation presidential primary in January. Although tremendous political excitement is heating up just a short distance away, few Andover students have had the opportunity to engage in the presidential election process. Attending off-campus political events, discussions, and forums and inviting politicians to speak to and answer the questions of the Andover community not only are incredible opportunities for students to expose themselves to diverse peoples, issues, and ideas, but also are consistent with the educational goals of the Academy. According to Andover’s Course of Study, acquiring knowledge, skills, and an understanding of history and social sciences is “fundamental to a liberal education.” Such an understanding, the booklet explains, “continues to be a prerequisite for a participating citizen in a constitutional republic.” Given the major emphasis that Phillips Academy places on its 300-level U.S. History course, it is a travesty to think that, at times, we do not pay attention to the history being made by the presidential candidates near our borders. Moreover, if students are not aware of and involved in active dialogue regarding modern political issues now, when will they ever be? Recent surveys show that teenagers view politics and elections “…more as the business of elites, than as avenues for democratic participation.” In addition, the survey confirmed that “[y]oung adults’ ambivalence about the [political] impact they can have may be fueled, in part, by uncertainty about the goals and responsiveness of candidates, politics, and government.” Teenagers, in particular, have mixed feelings about whether the government is addressing their needs and concerns, and about how important young voters are to politicians. At Andover, administrative policy adds another layer to students’ political interest and involvement – a layer that should be one of encouragement and support. However, the very nature of this institution is largely responsible for many of these challenges. It goes without saying that Andover’s heavy workload and – dare I mention it? – hectic pace of life sometimes cause us to isolate ourselves from current events and lose sight of the impact that national news and politics can have on our lives. The study of modern-day political issues is as important to students’ educational development as is any other aspect of Andover’s social studies curriculum. But by choosing to inform ourselves primarily through intellectual media, like textbooks, we often miss out on the richness and real-world application of what we are learning. Still, the Academy seems cautious to embrace such issues, perhaps because of a concern that the reputation of the school remain politically equitable and unbiased. If, in fact, Phillips Academy is hesitant to invite partisan candidates to campus for fear of being labeled “conservative” or “liberal,” what about the fear of being labeled “apathetic” or “aloof”? Isn’t it the responsibility of an educational institution like Andover to provide for the sharing of diverse ideas, wide-ranging views, and varied political positions? Thus, the purpose of inviting politicians to the Academy and allowing student to participate in off-campus events is by no means intended to serve as a campaigning mission, but rather to inspire the inquiry, discussion, and debate that is an intrinsic part of the Andover experience. Politics is controversial; exposing Andover students to politics should not be. It is time that Phillips Academy increased its administrative efforts to empower students to understand the U.S. government’s role not only in the context of American history, but also as a crucial instrument for change in the 21st century. A clear policy must be established to offer the necessary support for students to take part in educational opportunities that involve the political process. After all, if Andover hopes to nurture the future leaders of tomorrow, it must first expose them to the future leaders of today.