Help us catch a break

In the 35 minutes or so of Q&A with the candidates for Senior Head Prefect at class assembly this Monday, I heard a lot of solid speeches. Or, more to the point, I heard a few solid speeches a lot of times. The theme of the day seemed to be a call for the Prefect Council to connect with the students’ needs. Maybe I heard a reference to the merger between Honor Board and student government, or a call for student teacher unity, interspersed with witty remarks and “my personal experience” anecdotes.

These are no doubt relevant topics, but to me there seemed to be a “glossing over” of what has come simply to be known as “The Cheating Scandals.” References to it were thin and discussion of concrete action was virtually nonexistent. I have to admit, I was disappointed.
A few months ago in the midst of the post-expulsion mess, Head of School Jeanne Huybrechts told the student body to “reflect for a short while upon the shamefulness of it all.”

Two months more than covers Huybrechts’ prescribed “short while.” But somehow I don’t think her next step was “and then we sit back and pretend it never happened.” Now more than ever the student body should be thinking about what to do next: the dust has settled and we are on the brink of a new Prefect Council, a new school year – a relatively clean slate. An opportunity like this means doing more than reforming the Honor Code.

The sophomores who stole the midterms have left the school, but their action was not a random blight on our community. Can anyone honestly believe that six sophomores stole a midterm or two on a whim, just to prove they could? Or that a dozen or so more coincidentally had the bad sense to jump on board for a joyride? I can’t. I believe the theft of the midterms is a harsh call to reality about the nature of our community.

A poll conducted by the Josephson Institute of Ethics reported that 80% of honors and AP students have cheated. How many more have thought about it, even once? Just to be clear: nothing justifies what the 18 plus sophomores did. But the majority of our school’s over-burdened and over-achieving student body can understand it even if they don’t agree.

Our school is caught up in an ugly national trend that has transformed the high school experience from self-discovery to resumé building. I understand the limits this places on the school – in general the students here genuinely wanted to “achieve” (matriculate to a prestigious university) and to do that in this day and age is to compete with millions of other students across the country. I’m not calling for a revolution of values, but more pressure does not equal better work, and it is within our power to reduce the cloud of anxiety that surrounds the upper campus.

Which brings me back to the Prefect Council. The way I see it, the Prefect Council’s role next year is not to lessen the work but to create an atmosphere of support. Every time a student is pushed to the edge, every time a student thinks “why can’t I catch a break?” the Prefect Council’s role is to be there providing one. It’s not enough to empower the students to form committees and create theme days; at least in the beginning the Prefect Council needs to take a hands-on role in promoting student support.