Considering Our Values

Before the administration holds another talk about values at Phillips Academy or faculty members say we need to get our priorities straight, here’s a tip: walk a mile in our Andover flip flops. Andover students have a set of values all our own. And success, however one defines it, is at the top of our list. To one person, it could be a 6.0, being popular at all costs or fulfilling one’s parents’ hopes and dreams. If anything gets in the way of our success, we will struggle to overcome it. We always look to what we value most for guidance in how to act, and because of this, it is important to know why we value what we do. When cheating, dishonesty, drinking, depression, or other issues surface, there’s usually another reason, something that takes more words to explain than just “he’s a bad kid.” Most Andover students aren’t bad kids. In fact, it would be difficult to say any kids are plain bad or good. So instead of passing judgment on students’ priorities, here is a question: where do these values come from? The obvious answer would include our teachers, coaches and house counselors, but, of course, our priorities also come from our peers. In fact, most principles are discovered in between the time spent at our desks. We pick up lessons about trust, ethics, and how to treat one another in those ten-minute passing periods. During late nights in the dorm, or from watching TV, or after a fight with our parents, we figure out what is most important to us. First, it goes without saying that we all learn to value college and grades highly. This repetitive idea is enforced by our parents, our teachers, and the entire school community. Every time we hear “the best and the brightest” or “the future leaders of America,” we are reminded of a need to live up to those names. It’s worth pointing out, too, that this value does not necessarily coincide with a desire to genuinely learn the subjects we study, which ought to be higher up on the list. In any case, plagiarism, cheating, lying to teachers, and grade-mongering are all products of a mindset that sees success as a perpetual place on the honor roll. If one doesn’t value grades all that highly, then a different set of priorities surfaces. Most students on campus value friends and a social life, which can outweigh the importance of succeeding academically. Enjoying high school doesn’t necessarily mean excelling in classes. In this case, students will go to great lengths to be noticed. In Andover’s exceptional pool of people, it is a difficult task to stand out. For this reason, certain traits are valued, just as they are outside of high school: good looks, a sense of humor, and so forth. The social scene can be brutal, and Darwin’s “survival of the fittest” holds true. Meanwhile, the media screams the importance of being sexy, of having the right clothes, of being a cool or at least “normal” kid, which may include drinking and doing drugs. All that up against a preaching prep school administration – what’s a teenager to think? Right or wrong, we do what we do because of the values we pick up outside of class, from the media, our parents, our friends, and our teachers. So let’s look at where and from whom we get these values and make sure they are the ones we want to carry with us for the rest of our lives.