Reach Across the Aisle

Nearly every week, Andover students lumber into Cochran Chapel to repeat our tradition of All-School Meeting. Oftentimes, we are treated to a guest speaker. These presenters come from different fields, different countries and different cultures. However, most guest speakers in the past two years are linked by a commont trait. Namely, they have either been overtly liberal or have not expressly disclosed their political ideologies. Some are more blatantly leftist than others. In the fall of 2008, artist Kip Fulbeck’s liberally-charged speech generated turmoil and conversation on campus for weeks afterwards. Other speakers stay more in their area of expertise, but it is not at all uncommon for them to make offhanded political comments. Just last week, Annie Leonard made an extempore comment about how nice it was to now have a president and government that support scientific progress, in a clear attack against both conservatism and a notable Andover alumnus. Then there are speakers who merely avoid the topic of politics altogether. In a Phillipian article by Juliet Liu ’10 from October of 2008, Mr. Hoyt acknowledged that “…guest speakers seem to represent liberal-leaning, maybe Democratic, [views].” He goes on to first lament the possibility of “[closing] the gate on [expressing political views],” and then expresses a tentative desire for “balance” among the speakers. So far, neither of these notions has been implemented. Like Mr. Hoyt, I see two potential solutions to this situation. One is for Andover to embrace conservatism like they do liberalism. As an ideally nonpartisan institution that educates adolescents, or, as the administration likes to put it, “future leaders of the world,” I think that this school has a responsibility to represent both sides of the political spectrum. With all the calls for bipartisanship in the government, how can you expect political parties to cooperate if their leaders have been exposed to only one side since high school? According to CNN, in the 2008 presidential elections, 46% of the nation and 43% of the town that we live in voted Republican. Ignoring the views of 46% of our country and 43% of our own town is knowingly and irresponsibly creating a gap in our political education. Would a conservative speaker be accepted by the student body? Stephen Stapczynski ’07 remembers how when a neoconservative spoke in 2005, the students disrespectfully talked, laughed and rolled their eyes. Perhaps this experience of student antagonism and a wasted lunchtime hour scared off the administration from inviting similar speakers in the future. However, after All-School Meeting, I often return to class with a sizable number of conservative classmates who feel they are unrepresented and are irritated by the constant leftist speeches. We need to accept conservatives rather than distance ourselves from them. The other solution is to make All-School Meeting totally nonpolitical, by actively trying to deter speakers from expressing their political convictions. This solution might make everyone the happiest. For one, it would make the life of the administrators easier by preventing them from having to support or explain radical speakers. In addition, it seems that students are most engaged and well behaved in non-political All School Meetings. The first All School Meeting of the year and the Veteran’s Day All School Meeting are always some of the most powerful, yet tasteful, ones. However, the adverse consequence of a total break from political speakers is the loss of opinions and thus learning opportunities about the most essential parts of both our country and world events. As something so quintessential to American life, political opinions should remain a part of our education. Accepting conservatism and bringing in right-leaning speakers to diversify All-School Meeting may be a tempestuous change, but it is one that benefits both Andover and its students. Derek Farquhar is a two-year Lower from Andover, MA.