When he took to the podium at All-School Meeting (ASM) yesterday morning, Head of School Dr. Raynard Kington was greeted by a bristling crowd. As he described the institution of weekly ASM as an additional opportunity for community-building, a steady undertow of chatter rolled through Cochran Chapel. Faced with a thousand restless students, Kington attempted to raise his voice. Still, the crowd did not quiet. One thing was clear: in Cochran Chapel yesterday, the dissatisfaction was palpable.
It isn’t difficult to see why. Since the start of the school year, students have expressed frustration with the new changes to ASM. The installation of weekly meetings, instead of the previous years’ biweekly schedule, has caused discontent. On Thursday mornings, students used to have an opportunity to catch up on work, grab a quick toast at Commons, or have an extra hour of their day, in the midst of their already busy schedules, to rest. Now, they are rushed from 3rd period classes to the Chapel to 4th period, stressed and with no bandwidth for focus.
Moreover, measures intended to prevent students from disengaging during ASM have been the cause of alarm and frustration. In the past two ASMs, faculty patrols have been surveilling the aisles, warning distracted students, and, as of yesterday’s ASM, confiscating phones (with BlueCards still attached) for the remainder of the day. Access to balcony seating has been blocked, one stairwell that leads to basement bathrooms has been barricaded, while a faculty member is stationed outside the other, collecting BlueCards from students who need to use restrooms. Students who not only thrive under, but come to Andover for the independence our school affords them, are now returned to the world of middle-school hall passes and juvenile scolding.
While these measures may, superficially, appear to quell student disengagement, they in fact encourage distraction. Students who are committed to checking phones, completing homework, or quietly slipping out through a back door will do so regardless of aisle patrols and tightening measures. The majority of students, who aren’t particularly excited but are keeping an open mind about the speaker, or who genuinely want to engage, are inadvertently harmed by these measures. Aisle patrols are distracting, and having a faculty member lean over you to reprimand someone in your row is far more detrimental to engagement than a student sitting four seats over, quietly on their phone.
Moreover, student surveillance is not condusive to improved focus or information absorption. Any student at Dr. Craig Wilder’s presentation last Friday would not have retained as their key memory Dr. Wilder’s eloquent analysis, nor the relevance of his argument to our own school, but rather, the pall of confusion and anxiety that ran through the crowd as faculty patrols began scanning rows for misbehaviour.
And indeed, it’s hard to focus when you’re on edge. Top-down rule enforcement methods do not lead to improved engagement. Rather, they antagonize students—those who are disciplined will become more resistant to the rules in place, and those who want to engage will be less able to as a result of anxiety driven by patrols and surveillance.
We do not deny that there are students who engage in inappropriate behaviour during ASM, whether that be device-usage, heckling, or other forms of disrespect. These incidents are not uncommon, and they do indeed reflect badly on our community. However, enforcing no-device rules more strictly, aisle patrols, and bathroom monitors do not constitute an effective solution. ASMs are intended to foster community, but these efforts have been achieving the very opposite—they are sowing discontent, increasing disengagement, and fostering resentment.
We acknowledge that student behaviour at ASM is often lacking. But we critique any response that intends to enforce rather than address, that antagonizes rather than invites. Trust goes both ways. If administrators do not trust students to exercise good judgement and learn from their mistakes, students will respond similarly to administration. Andover seeks to educate the next generation of leaders—it cannot if its students, some already adults, are returned to archaic and elementary forms of rule-implementation. We hope that changes will be made in the coming ASMs to regain student trust and combat authoritarian methods of fostering student engagement.
This editorial represents the views of The Phillipian, Vol. CXLV.