The Issue’s in the Class

Andover students often complain about the rigorous course requirements the school enforces. Some of these requirements make some sense: reaching a relatively high math seems like a reasonable goal and taking at least three years of English has never felt unwarranted. However, one course requirement that I can never seem to figure out is the two terms required for “Life Issues.” In its current form, Life Issues is a course that informs students, in their lower year, how to respond to issues that they encounter in every day life. Suicide, drug and alcohol abuse, as well as race and sexuality are all topics covered in the two-term course. The problem with the course, however, lies in its lack of a compelling format. Last term I decided to adventure into the realm of six courses, and Life Issues took up my only free period. I would have been fine with this if the class had been compelling and intense. However, most students in my class used it as a forum to tell funny stories and study for any quizzes or tests they had for the remainder of the day. Others at Andover feel the same way. James Martino ’09 commented, “Life Issues is useless because the conversation goes nowhere. You don’t do anything to help yourself deal with the topics this course tries to cover by simply discussing them.” The class, it seems, also deals with issues that are either outdated in subject matter or in approach. The discussions on suicide and race are the most striking examples in my mind. In order to properly discuss suicide, my class watched a video that discussed reasons not to and signs if someone was going to “take a permanent nap.” The video was baffling and hilarious, two words that should not come to mind when discussing such a serious topic. The class, though, seems unsure of how to approach these complicated subjects. It is hard to take teachers seriously, no matter how many times they repeat that they were once our age too, in matters that can be so age-based. In terms of the race discussion, there was so much focus placed on the color of people in the class that I felt more sensitive and aware of people’s differences when I left. It appears that the issues that had confronted older generations simply are not the same for us. Especially at Andover, race is no longer a serious issue and cultural and religious prejudices seem more persistent. But because of the class’s failure to acclimate to the changing times, each session seems useless, hilarious, or, at worst, damaging. Sayoko Kumamaru ’08 explains, “ I didn’t learn anything new because we covered such basic things. I feel like the topics were outdated.” It seems, fortunately, that some members of the administration and student council have listened to these complaints and a new Life Issues system has been suggested. While the system is unlikely to be implemented, it still represents what many would view as a legitimate replacement for the current course. Under the possible reiteration of Life Issues, seniors would teach the class to alleviate some of the problems described above. The most notable change will hopefully come in making the class both more interesting and accessible to students. However, this possible new format also comes with its own thorny issues. The main problems could be concerns about confidentiality within the class. All issues discussed in Life Issues, as a result of their very personal nature, are supposed to “remain in the classroom.” The new iteration would place a new responsibility on everyone, because with Seniors teaching, it seems like it will be more difficult to keep especially heated and personal discussions from leaking out of the class. Another issue could come in the form of relationships. If a Lower is placed into a Life Issues class with a Senior whom they strongly dislike or are strongly disliked by, it could create a hostile environment within a class meant to have a feeling that is the opposite. This problem may seem trivial because the hope is that most Seniors and Lowers would be able to put personal problems aside, but the issue could become much more complicated. For example, if a Senior is teaching or moderating his or her ex-girlfriend or boyfriend’s class or even a friend’s class, discussions about relationships, sexuality, and almost anything could be awkward and difficult for both persons to handle. It would also place an unprecedented burden on the Senior class as soon as 2008, because they would have to be held fully responsible for problems that occur within the classroom setting. In the end it seems that both the current and possibly future incarnations of the Life Issues class are riddled with problems. One possible solution would be to eliminate the class all together. Already a handful of activities exist to discus the issues that the class seeks to confront. FCD Week and Martin Luther King, Jr. Day are both examples that seem to demonstrate the lack of a compelling reason for existing. The class was created before forums like this existed and before CAMD took such an active role in discussing topics such as sexuality and relationships. Life Issues causes more problems than it solves, and should be dealt with accordingly.