Affirming Our Values

Faculty, staff and students gathered in the Smith Center this Monday to welcome John Palfrey, Head of School elect, to the Blue Squad. Sporting an Andover tie and a baseball cap, Palfrey emphasized that he was excited to join a team of committed faculty, staff and students. In an interview with The Phillipian, Palfrey complemented Andover’s founding values, “the idea of being a private school with a public purpose, the idea of knowledge and goodness, and the idea of youth from every quarter.”

At this moment, the school is at the zenith of a period of transition, not only because a Head of School elect and President of the Board of Trustees elect have been chosen, but because the academy has accomplished most of the goals on its last strategic plan, executed under Barbara Chase, 14th Head of School, such as the transition to need-blind admission. This moment of simultaneous achievement and flux presents an opportunity for Andover to affirm its core principles in new ways.

Andover should consider changing its curriculum to more directly instruct “youth from every quarter” that “goodness without knowledge is week…but knowledge without goodness is dangerous.”

Need-blind admissions allows students from various socioeconomic and cultural backgrounds to attend Andover, but does not guarantee they will be comfortable at this school or be able to reach their potential as students and citizens. Learning is partly a social activity, which is why boarding schools provide excellent learning environments, but in order to reap the benefits of being at boarding school, students must feel comfortable in the dorm as well as in the classroom. Andover must instill a friendly, accepting attitude in the Junior class in order to allow “youth from every quarter” to flourish. One way to instill a friendly, accepting attitude in the Junior class that will allow “youth from every quarter” to flourish is to restructure the English 100 and History 100 curricula.

Rather than basing the curriculum on Homer’s “Odyssey” and other books that are part of the canon of western literature, English 100 should require that students read works of authors from different cultures and even translated foreign texts. As the curriculum stands now, the only common required texts for four-year students are “The Odyssey,” “Hamlet,” and one other play by Shakespeare. In addition, most English 300 classes read “Oedipus Rex” by Sophocles awnd “The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Why not shift the emphasis to books like “Things Fall Apart” by Chinua Achebe or “Purple Hibiscus” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie? Many teachers make an individual effort to assign multicultural materials, but a common requirement would show greater commitment to the cause. Assigning texts from a more diverse pool of authors in English 100 would acquaint students with different cultures and value systems and undoubtedly provoke discussion in and out of the classroom, cultivating an open, curious attitude among juniors.

Similarly, History 100 could be reorganized as an in-depth study of three non-Western regions and their social history. A particularly compelling way to organize this course would be to study three examples of social injustice from historical perspective. For example, students might study Partition in India, Apartheid in South Africa and the genocide in Rwanda.

At a boarding school, classroom dynamics play a large role in community life. This quality puts Andover in the position to propel each Junior class towards accepting, helping and seeking help from their fellow classmates simply by studying different cultures and cultural heritages in the classrooms of Bulfinch and Sam Phil.

In addition to teaching Juniors open-mindedness, Andover can and must teach “knowledge and goodness.” The Academy already makes some progress towards this goal by requiring a course in Religion and Philosophy. But why not create a requirement that emphasizes the modern danger of “knowledge without goodness”? Bioethics, a course that the Academy already offers, exemplifies the type of course that emphasizes the subtle but terrifying threats of knowledge misused.

Other courses could be developed to fill this requirement. The Physics department, for example, could develop courses like “The Atom Bomb: What Went Wrong,” investigating where the idea of using Einstein’s discoveries to build and atomic bomb came from, how the bomb evolved, and finally why Truman decided to drop it. History might offer a course to fulfill the requirement called “The Memory of the Civil War” detailing the dangerous ways some Americans misconstrued the Civil War in its aftermath and the implications on race relations.

If Andover wants to instill the idea that “knowledge without goodness is dangerous,” the Academy should require a course instructing why. Andover students are often labeled as future leaders of the world and must learn how to practice scholarship responsibly.

At this moment of transition, Andover must consider how it could better implement its core values. The school has already made invaluable steps towards integrating these values into the community through need-blind admissions and Non Sibi Day, but a more explicit integration of these values into the curriculum is necessary guarantee that “youth from every quarter” is more than statistic and “knowledge and goodness” are truly part of an Andover education.

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