Commentary

The Philosophy of Andover

I am a member of the class of 2014. I joined the faculty in the fall of 2010, the same time that the four-year Seniors began their Andover careers. I too remember the Blue Keys cheering from the corner of Main Street and Chapel Avenue, the blaring of car horns and the waves of pure, joyous noise. My son, Josiah, was a Freshman and I was a teacher, but I was probably more apprehensive than he. “What is this place?” I thought. “What have I gotten myself into?”

Four years on, I have no simple answer. I imagine that critics and detractors have relatively clear notions of what they think is wrong with Andover, but I doubt that anyone who loves this place can say easily what it is and what it means.

We faculty members do not only teach our students; we also live with them. We ride the same buses, stand on the same rainy practice fields and wait in the same stir-fry lines. We too live the academic life: chafing at bureaucratic rules, juggling busy schedules and feeling, every now and then, the exquisite pleasure of new ideas. At the end of the day, though, we retire to the same dorms and feel the same fatigue. Being a faculty member at Andover is not an experience to be judged; it is a life to be lived.

But what does this life add up to? Veterans of my “Views of Human Nature” class will recall two ways of thinking about it. The first is Confucian. It assumes that the typical student comes to Andover relatively unformed. He or she is integrated into a large and dynamic whole structured by social “bonds”: teacher-student, coach-player, friend-friend, etc. If the student lives up to the responsibilities inherent in these relationships and finds an appropriate place in the Andover bubble, then the customs and rigors of the place will eventually grind away rough edges and polish the young person to a high sheen: a shiny blue gem.

The other comes from Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. It compares the state of the unenlightened person to that of a prisoner who lives in darkness and illusion, knowing only the shallow joys of shadow games played with fellow prisoners. One prisoner, though, is dragged up to a rough and steep ascent to the surface, where he sees the world as it really is, in all of its depth, clarity and vividness.

Certainly, life at Andover feels like a steep climb, and teachers must act at times like draggers. But the idea is that rigorous dialogue and a sense of intellectual adventure will help students arrive at a clear view of what is real and ultimate. They will, we hope, make progress in the pursuit of knowledge and goodness, which are symbolized Platonically on the school seal by a shining sun inscribed with “NON SIBI.”

There is truth in both models. Both are useful, equivocal ways of describing a single complex reality. At times the goal is to find your place in society and inhabit it well (Confucius). At other times, one must leave behind what is comfortable, familiar and self-serving in order to pursue nobler goods and higher truths (Plato). Confucius for the good times; Plato for the tough times. Both visions, though, make it clear that what is at stake in education is not the acquisition of skills or information but rather the transformation of one’s character, intellect and heart.

Today, my son becomes an Andover alumnus. I will be forever grateful for the person that Andover has helped him become. Ms. Ma and Ms. Shimazu helped him discover new talents and a love for language. Mr. Hodgson and Dr. Kane taught him that good thinking is costly but shoddy thinking costlier still. Ms. Yao and Mr. Schneider brought him into deep waters, where he learned to swim. Mr. Gurry stood before him as the embodiment of an Andover man: tough, wise, funny and impatient with puffery.

His coaches — Travierso, Bernieri, Chamberas, Gorham, Rex, Modeste — inspired him to personal excellence and team loyalty. Ms. Russell encouraged him, kept him grounded and understood him. Clyfe and Mr. Hurley made him laugh. And, at a tender stage in his career, Ms. Hawthorne put the fear of God in him (his fellow English 100 students will understand).

I too am leaving Andover at the close of my fourth year. My own Andover education has been as rich as my son’s. At journey’s end I am thankful but also wistful. When the Blue Keys take up their positions again in September, I will be far away, on a very different campus. But like a true Phillipian, I will be seeking my place, toiling toward the light and straining to hear sounds of joy drifting down and away from Andover Hill.

_Dr. Michael Legaspi is an Instructor and the Interim Chair in Philosophy and Religious Studies._