I would like to preface this article by saying that I am perpetually prepared to call out, or rather call in Andover for anything that I think needs to be changed, no matter how trivial it may seem. I feel it is my responsibility as a student. But today I write to address something different. Today, I write to address the absurd amount of negligence and disrespect that many Andover students—including myself—have shown during All-School Meetings (ASM). Whether it be staff patrolling the aisles or collecting our BlueCards when we use the restroom, it has been the accumulation of our lax behavior during these gatherings that have provoked—no, required—such a response. We should not and cannot be irritated at anyone besides ourselves.
In order to limit the amount of sleeping, screen-scrolling, and chattering present during ASMs, Phillips Academy has taken it upon itself to send various faculty members to patrol the aisles, watching for the glint of a phone screen or listening for the faint whisper of a teenage voice. Yes, it does sound extreme—but can we blame them? Let me set the scene for you: You have just been invited to speak at Phillips Academy, and you are holding your breath in anticipation for the moment you step out in front of the new generation, ready to share your knowledge and experiences. But once you stand on stage and take in reality, not only do you see eyes closed and heads bobbing up and down, you realize that the students are more interested in the lunch menu or a text from a friend they see every day than a speech that you have have worked hard to prepare and only get to present once. I imagine that would be pretty difficult, and frankly, frustrating. No one deserves that. And yes, a lot of times these guest speakers have experience. They’re used to speaking to teenagers, which means that they’re used to dealing with the disrespect—but that doesn’t make it feel any better. And that definitely doesn’t mean we should continue to do it.
It’s hard to blame Andover for creating a harsh relationship between teachers and students through aisle patrols and BlueCard confiscations when most of us don’t even attempt to conduct ourselves properly in such an environment. Let me ask you: When you enter a classroom, is it your first instinct to blatantly dismiss the lesson? Do you normally talk over your teacher or tell yourself that the class is the best opportunity to scroll through social media? I doubt it. But then again, a large portion of your grade depends on you pleasing your teachers, and when surrounded by only about 14 other students, your phone and the sound of your voice are hard to hide. “[Staff] have always asked that everyone give our guests and internal speakers their full attention, as we would in any classroom,” Dr. Esty, Dean of Students and Residential Life, writes in the latest Friday memo. ASM is just like any other class setting, where participants shouldn’t be repeatedly asked to listen and to engage. Though there might not be a grade involved, though there are hundreds of students shielding your actions from view, those practices are still implied and therefore should be followed.
Furthermore, we, as students, are quick to comment on the prison-like environment that Andover is creating and the tension that is being generated between teacher and student. We complain that we are more focused on the teachers walking the aisles than the actual speaker. However, we probably only feel anxious if we are doing something that we are not supposed to be doing. So, the answer seems simple, no? Just pay attention. Dean Esty affirms that “when [teachers and faculty] move, it will be because there is an obvious distraction that may be impacting other people’s experience of ASM.” Previously, I will admit, adults have been walking the halls without a reason to, simply looking for students to make a mistake, to pick up a phone, to breathe incorrectly. However, Dr. Esty’s email addresses this fact, and is making it a point to have adults move only when there is an “obvious distraction.”
The Deans acknowledge that adults could have enacted and enforced this new policy in a better way. There could have been more communication. There could have been more warnings. This is true. But now we know what to expect, and what happens next is on us. We must do better moving forward. We must put away our phones upon arriving in ASM. We must shut our textbooks and cease any side conversations. We must give the speaker our full attention in order to recognize the effort that went into presenting for us.
We cannot blame the faculty and staff for taking such drastic measures when we ourselves do not demonstrate growth and consideration towards the ASM speakers, who simply want to provide us with knowledge that will better us at the end of the day. “Our expectations for ASM have not changed,” notes Dean Esty. We have simply gone too long believing that it is acceptable to ignore these standards.