By Abbie Neufeld
Last weekend, when Al Gore called the recent “Occupy X” protests a “primal scream of democracy,” I couldn’t help but recall something I heard last Monday night at school. As I emerged from Peer Support, I saw a group of students huddled and heard what I could only describe as a “primal scream.” While I do not know this group’s reason for screaming, I couldn’t help but wonder: what if this energy had actually been directed toward something? What if, like these “occupy” protestors, these students had been attempting to improve our world? While I often hear people complain about their problems at school, I rarely hear anyone venting about the world beyond our gates.
There are school policies in place that attempt to make us informed and involved citizens of the world; news quizzes await underclassmen each week, and all upper school students are required to complete half a day of community service. While these are valid attempts, I cannot help but see them as half-hearted. Does reading a couple of newspapers and volunteering for four hours a year create a person who wants to be informed and involved for life? Rather, they seem to create students who grudgingly read the news and students who see community service as a four hour requirement that they may or may not complete before the deadline.
Not to say that all students are apathetic. Sure, there are a few students who consistently read the news of their own accord, and a few who consistently volunteer for organizations like Teen Line. But how many of these students are one and the same? Being informed and being involved goes hand in hand. Should we act without caring, or care without acting?
A friend recently told me he was taking Adcanved Placement United States Government because he wanted to learn more about the system and the issues, as he would be able to vote in the next election. But what about the rest of the seniors, almost all of whom will also be voting? Will they actually know or care about what they are voting for? Will they even care enough to vote?
And although there is not a quick fix to make people want to be informed and involved, it seems that the policies already in place could be improved. Instead of a half-day community service requirement, couldn’t a system of continual service learning be implemented — a system that requires people to think about what they just did, even through a discussion, as we are already required to volunteer with members of the school community?
Students here are busy, but even a requirement that takes the same amount of hours on more than one occasion would serve a better purpose. Going back to the same volunteer job would show students that the work they did mattered, and would make students more likely to go back again, without being required to. Couldn’t there be some type of required civics program at the Upper School? There could be a project and/or a discussion that would help students care about more than just facts for a quiz. This could even take place bi-monthly in history classes and replace the time spent on weekly news quizzes.
As a school we have achieved and continue to strive for national excellence in many fields. Can’t being informed and involved students be something we strive for excellence in too?