Shut Up and Listen

If you happened to stay awake for Monday’s All School Meeting (long meetings can be tough at 9:30 AM, we understand), Martin Luther King Jr. Day speaker Lani Guinier had some provocative things to say. As young women who have felt frustrated when our competitive male counterparts haven’t always listened to us in class or given our ideas equal consideration, Guinier’s depiction of the young women at the University of Pennsylvania Law School resonated with both of us. In our community, students can dismiss gender issues as “not a problem” and say that our classes, teams, and clubs are not gendered. Those who say this have not been on the receiving end of gender-biased treatment. At Andover, we have a mix of female students: Some girls tend to fit into Guinier’s description of shy, silent young women who sit back and listen, while others overcompensate in their participation not only to assert themselves, but also in defense of their quieter female comrades. Perhaps we see gender as a non-issue at Andover because it is not always obvious that girls feel slighted in the classroom. Until those members of the male community who do not recognize gender’s effects on the classroom dynamic find themselves in a class where their opinion is dismissed or undervalued, they may not fully understand Guinier’s message. But before we get ourselves caught up in an Andover “battle of the sexes,” we think Ms. Guinier had far more important things to say about our approaches to leadership in the twenty-first century. It is no accident that the same day Ms. Guinier spoke to us about collective intelligence, the New York Times ran an Op-Ed in which columnist David Brooks cited the importance of this very same concept. “Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Carnegie Mellon,” Brooks wrote, “have found that groups have a high collective intelligence when members of a group are good at reading each others’ emotions — when they take turns speaking, when the inputs from each member are managed fluidly, when they detect each others’ inclinations and strengths.” Sound familiar? One of the first things we noticed upon coming to Andover is that students here struggle to work in groups. Even in a community as intelligent and motivated as this, some students are dismissive of others’ ideas; they can make their classmates feel small to preserve their own intellectual security, and struggle to use the strengths of all members of the group effectively. I (Marilyn) remember feeling shell-shocked after meeting with my history group for a project the second week of Lower year. There was a lot of arguing and a lot of wondering what exactly I had gotten myself into in coming to Andover. This is not to say every student here needs an academic attitude adjustment, but we’ve all acted like this in a group situation at one time or another. Even now, as a Senior, I still have to stop and re-group when I catch myself talking so much I stop listening to my fellow students. Our generation faces a difficult future: the job market, social security, and the state of the national debt all look grim to say the least. The nation will look to its leaders for guidance, and (without getting revoltingly patriotic and clichéd) who better to put their heads together and create some positive change than the minds coming out of Phillips Academy? There is so much potential in our collective intelligence. We know that Andover students are capable of so much more when we work in groups. Lani Guinier is right: to harness this untapped potential, all of us, men and women, need to shut up and listen. Marilyn Harris is a three-year Senior from Steamboat Springs, CO. Kerry Lanzo is a three-year Senior from Towson, MD.