A Moral Foundation?

At this week’s All School Meeting, Peter Currie ’74, President Elect of the Board of Trustees, and Van Jones, environmentalist and human rights activist, addressed the student body as a generation. Both talked about the tools students will need to solve problems and take up responsibilities in the future.

In particular, Van Jones emphasized the need for a combination of moral and mental vigor to find “fourth quadrant” solutions which address multiple issues at once, like the environment and social justice.

Equipped with size and a second nature understanding of technology, the current generation has the resources and responsibility to solve environmental problems and social justice issues, he explained. Change-makers will need “big hearts and rigorous minds” to approach challenges with commitment and creative thinking about solutions that cross over multiple causes.

In his speech, Currie mentioned that throughout the school’s transitions, preparing students for the work force and other areas of life remains a priority. Phillips Academy must oufit students to navigate the landscape of the future. Resiliance is one key life lesson Andover offers, he explained.

Currie and Jones both emphasized a system of values as an important tool for the future. Is Andover really preparing students with the emotional and intellectual base to make positive changes?

Andover provides students with an incomparable base in Shakespeare, US history and biology, but while it clearly is intellectually rigorous, it could do a better job of morally preparing students for the future.

A number of systems at the school perpetuate elitist and egocentric values. Even if these are only subtly integrated into accepted practices, they can rub off on students when they head to other environments and have to make choices.

The first indication of a flaw in our preparation comes in blue type face on the certificates of matriculation students receive upon entrance which guarantee them the “rights and privileges” of the academy but does not mandate responsibility, a critical component of “Non Sibi,” a fundamental value of the school. A certificate asserting the new students also have a new responsibility to the world would be more appropriate.

The housing system also subtly contributes to a sense of complacency among students. A system that gives priority based on years in cluster, seniority or squatter’s rights creates a false sense of entitlement. Students at Andover do not earn their housing. Some get put in a desirable housing cluster, others do not. From their, the disparity is exacerbated as students stake out territory in dorms over the years.

A yearly all-school lottery that allowed students to draw numbers with friends but randomized desirable housing would create more egalitarian housing without false senses of property rights.

The DC process is component of Andover life that may implicitly teach dishonesty. The DC system should be the place where students learn to be honest, but parts of the system take away students’ opportunity to come forward with the truth themselves. Sometimes liars even escape with less severe punishment, teaching students that lying might be in their own self-interest.

With 728 responses so far, The Phillipian’s ongoing State of the Academy survey indicates that 58% of students would lie in a DC if they knew they could get away with it. Detailed in the Blue Book p. 30, a DC is convened once rule-breaking is detected.

One way to remedy this would be to give students a period at the beginning of the process to come forward and be honest about their actions, without any ramifications for the result of the DC. Telling the truth would not absolve students from punishment. A window of time dedicated to the opportunity to be honest would help emphasize the importance of honesty and perhaps convince a few students that being honest is more important than avoiding punishment.

Compartmentalizing education into classroom experience and outside absorption or thinking of four years at Andover as separate from “real life” would be a mistake. It is important that the school make sure the values students absorb from their environment are the type of preparation that will help students solve “fourth quadrant” issues and make good choices decades into the future.

This Editorial represents the views of The Phillipian Editorial Board CXXXIV.