Commentary

On Friends, And Summer

I came to Andover almost nine months ago as a well-rested, over-ambitious and over-confident new Upper. I realize now that my primary objective was to make friends, not in the interests of networking but because I was homesick, 1000 miles from family and best friends. My tour guide at St. Paul’s had told me that Andover was “cutthroat,” but it wasn’t as bad as I expected – just busy. The friendships I have made and seen this year testify to the continued success of Phillips Academy, but I also believe that the structure and culture of Andover can limit casual interactions among administrators, faculty and students. This year’s State of the Academy survey bears out this perception. Communication, relations and attitudes come down to being friends, or at least better acquaintances. 1. Friends with the administration Students and administrators should seek to treat one another like friends, not rivals. Too often a stigma develops around the administration. The administration becomes “faceless” because they are so tied down in offices or travel, rather than being able to spend time with students. Administrators everywhere face this problem: how to divide time, and whether to wade though paperwork and meetings or interact with people. Not that administrators do not have an accurate reading of the student pulse – many are connected, because they talk to a broad enough range of students to get a good idea of student opinion, and because they’re bright enough to figure out what’s going on. But because they don’t talk to enough students, more so than talking to students enough, some administrators get a bad rap from the student body. It’s great when administrators come out to the athletic fields for games or participate in Philo Forums (alarmingly, the only substantial, student-faculty-administrative, public discussion of campus issues besides The Phillipian). Increasing dialogue, companionships and interaction between students and administrators will, over time, begin to close the student-administrative rift. 2. Friends with the faculty: house counselors, academic advisors, and teachers Faculty members love students – that’s why they teach. And it’s remarkable how in-touch they are, as demonstrated in this week’s vote on the Athletic Committee proposal. Instead of eliminating or restricting Slide altogether, the faculty voted for the most liberal option: to keep Slide and add another term I think that students and faculty are friends – we’ve escaped the enemy-over-25-years-old mentality. But communication, especially over a meal, could be better. The culture of campus makes it uncommon for students and faculty to eat together if not discussing something academic. Student-Faculty dinners are a prime example of how students and their teachers can get to know one another. Organized by Danny Silk ’07 and Student Council this year, these dinners will continue next year, and after the success of the first last April, Mrs. Chase graciously offered to fund the next one. There’s another disconnect between students and faculty in the absence of student input at or awareness of faculty meetings. Covered extensively elsewhere in this week’s paper, faculty meetings (to some extent) set policies that directly affect students and student-faculty relationships. For instance, the animated discussion at faculty meetings on the new drug and alcohol testing policy has been held entirely in the absence of students and the student press. In this case, student involvement would not have affected the decision; most students would actually vote for the breathalyzer, supporting the administrations initial decision. But why not have a broader discussion on an issue aimed at students? School Congress, a joint meeting of Student Council and the faculty scheduled for once each term, is a fantastic idea that has not been implemented as well as it should be. Student Council must seek to make these joint meetings with the faculty more productive, offering student perspective on issues currently under review. 3. Friends with students: cluster sports and a student center And weekend activities and student facilities fail to provide a forum for students to talk to each other, especially across gender lines. Ryley is crowded and noisy; dorm common rooms are always busy; it’s either cold or rainy or both outside; and parietals are so awkward. Weekend activities are designed to appeal to the lowest common denominator, which tends to be the Junior class. We really do need a student activities center, even if it is in the (already renovation) Pearson. 4. The Depersonalization of Education House counseling, cluster sports, better student-administrative relationships, and even fairer grades engender a sense of togetherness and bonding – friendship. As with many issues, like “The Organization Kid” syndrome, what James Wickenden called a “sink-or-swim” mentality, and the decreased presence of religion, Andover is a case study for a nation-wide trend. The depersonalization of education through SAT’s, SAT II’s, Advanced Placement curricula and tests, and the No Child Left Behind Act undermines the foundation of our society: students. Nothing gets more impersonal in education than standardized testing. AP’s and SAT’s reduce students to immaculate bar codes and lead-smeared bubbles, a reflection of a college admissions process that often puts more weight on the numbers than on the person. Let’s just all be friends. It’s time for summer.