On Friday, November 8, students at the Basking Ridge campus refreshed their emails to find that the school day was cut short due to a stomach bug spreading throughout the school community. After being dismissed from their classes, confused students and faculty wandered around the school, some waiting for parents or buses to pick them up. All after-school activities were cancelled to allow the cleaning staff time to perform a “deep clean and disinfect the building,” according to an email sent by Associate Director of Operations, Safety, and Strategic Initiatives, Mr. David Fahey.
Perhaps the most shocking result of this announcement was the rescheduling of the Friday night performance of the Fall play, “Our Town,” to Saturday afternoon. To boost attendance, students who bought tickets for the Friday show were given free Saturday matinée tickets. Students could also use the discount code “PLAGUE” to gain free admission to the show.
In the aftermath of the incident, the community began to wonder what caused this local epidemic, dubbed “The Pingry Plague.” Some students theorized that the virus originated among the play cast and then spread throughout the rest of the school. Others assumed that the boys’ and girls’ soccer championship games led students to come to school even if they were sick.
School nurses Mrs. Joyce Livak and Ms. Jennifer DiBiasi provided their insight on the epidemic. According to them, the potent stomach virus was likely spread by someone who had come to school with the virus already in their system; they also theorized the students had contaminated communal surfaces, such as a lunch table, with the virus. The rest is history.
To stop the further spread of the virus, the nurses recommended washing your hands and staying home for at least 24 hours after symptoms have ended. With the cold and flu season upon us, it is vital that Pingry students follow these directions, so that this “Pingry Plague” is the last one.
As the holiday season quickly approaches, the technology world continues to develop and grow. In this issue, let’s take a look at some good gifts and some not-so-good ones.
First off, the topic most relevant to the average Pingry student is Apple’s new 16-inch MacBook Pro. They come with a scissor keyboard that feels deeper than the previous generation’s (2016-2019) butterfly keys. This new model also features a new TouchBar that has a physical Escape key and a fingerprint sensor/power button. The laptop comes with some incremental processor improvements, an (absolutely necessary) 8 terabyte solid-state drive, and a beefier battery. But the main selling point is the larger screen, which one-ups that of the previous 15-inch MacBook Pro. The screen is of a sufficiently high resolution, and the area surrounding the screen (the bezels) has been shrunk so a bigger screen can fit in about the same footprint as the outgoing 15-inch model. As is the case with Apple displays, the color accuracy is objectively unmatched among other laptops. The laptop still sticks with four USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 ports, which means that this can connect to a variety of devices (displays, external storage drives, GPUs, and other equipment) with a single cable. Pingry still recommends a dongle to go along with these relatively new ports, so I will recommend anything other than Apple’s overpriced USB-C dongles. Overall, the laptop is a nice upgrade and starts at the same $2,399 starting price as the old 15-inch model. If you are in the market for a new laptop for photo and video editing or coding and prefer a larger screen and more power options, this laptop is worth a look. An interesting note is that the upgrades for this machine will not be carried over to the 13-inch just yet, which will retain its issue-prone butterfly keyboard and large bezels. If you can hold out a few years for a 13-inch model, it may be worth it.
Another cool piece of tech that warrants discussion is Tesla’s Cybertruck pickup truck. This vehicle is boxy, sharp, and angular, and Tesla is billing it as an all-electric off-roading truck combination. Tesla also highlights features like “unbreakable” windows and a hefty steel structure. Surprisingly, it is not priced outlandishly: it starts at less than $40,000 and goes up from there. I can’t really make a recommendation, but if you want your utilitarian vehicle to stand out from the crowd, this is it.
Going back to Apple for a bit, let’s discuss Apple’s AirPods Pro. The new Pro label here doesn’t signify anything “professional” about these wireless earbuds, but Apple has made some meaningful changes. There are now swappable rubber tips to block noise more effectively, which perfectly ties in with Apple’s active noise cancelling feature. This means that repetitive, droning noises, like those in a subway ride or an airplane cabin, will be filtered out while the user is listening. The new AirPods Pro have some smaller touches, like vents to equalize the air pressure in the listener’s ears, and more actions that can be performed without taking out your phone (play, pause, skip track, etc.). They do come with Apple’s wireless charging case, albeit in a different shape. I think the AirPods Pro is cool, but more of a generous gift rather than a necessity. If you have the AirPods Gen 1 or Gen 2, I wouldn’t really recommend upgrading to these unless you really need noise cancelling in your life. Of course, the price is also higher than regular AirPods, so that is something to consider as well.
And, finally, a little holiday shopping advice––keep an eye out for any potential scams or fraudulent websites. Criminals have been using more sophisticated methods of phishing, like pretending to be the email address of a friend or family member, and it is often very difficult to detect this fraud at a glance. If an email asks you to enter your credit card information, Social Security number, or anything of the like, hover over the email address and search it up to make sure it is a legitimate email address from a major company or service. If a friend seems to be emailing you for money or a suspicious request, call or text the friend before you enter your information. Once the money is sent, it can be difficult to trace, and this is especially true with the advent of digital credit cards and financial services (Apple Card, Venmo, etc.).
If you’re careful and conscious, though, your holiday tech experience should be fun and rewarding. Happy shopping, and stay tuned for the next issue!
Although conspiracy theories have become pervasive in current times, this phenomenon is nothing new. Spanning the course of human history, conspiracy theories have facilitated the social, political, and religious divisions that invade societies. Their dynamic nature allows them to spread quickly and last wherever they take hold. They can explain unanswered questions, rationalize foreign ideas, destabilize powerful people, and undermine widely accepted beliefs, all in a fascinating and overwhelming manner. Often times, the more bizarre and outlandish a theory is, the more accepted it will be.
Think about conspiracy theories that plague our lives today. Whether you believe them or not, these ideas are deeply ingrained in how we understand the events and ideas around us. For example, two common theories– the possibility of extraterrestrial life in Area 51 and the idea that climate change isn’t real– have attracted news headlines, circulated social media, and (in the case of Area 51) served as inspiration for high school dances and Halloween costumes. However, there are countless others which add to the giant network of theories we have access to on a daily basis.
As I researched popular conspiracy theories, I realized that with every headline, I became more and more intrigued. From a lab in Alaska that’s controlling our minds, to 109 Lochness Monster sightings at Flathead Lake, Montana, to the Joplin Tornado of 2011 being created by the military, I realized that there are explanations for virtually every topic you could imagine. Some of these theories were outrageous, but others were quite convincing. I even found myself wondering if some theories could, to some extent, be true.
To find out why conspiracy theories seem so easy to believe, I did some research on the psychology behind them. According to a study done by the Association for Psychological Science, there are three important motives that drive us to believe a theory. The first is an “epistemic” motive: the idea that people need understanding and control over things. Thus, we are inclined to believe a conspiracy theory if it reduces “uncertainty and bewilderment.” The second is an “existential” motive, the idea that people want to have control and security. In order to do this, we use conspiracy theories to “exert control over the environment.” The last motive is social. Humans want to uphold their positive public image; therefore, conspiracies are attractive because they allow “blame for negative outcomes to be attributed to others,” rather than the group or individual (1).
Back to my initial question. Why do we believe in conspiracy theories? They provide us with comfort and control, and they help bridge the gap between what we know and what we don’t. They are consuming because they create a network. The further you dig, the more connections you see, and the more you find yourself accepting the rationale behind them. With these reasons in mind, it’s entertaining to scroll through the “35 Most Popular Conspiracy Theories”, or even to create your own. Then, try to understand why you chose to associate yourself with certain theories over others.
However, while lots of theories are light-hearted and amusing, some are malicious and inherently false. These include claims that 9/11 and the Holocaust didn’t happen. In the internet age, technology offers its users anonymity, as well as readily available information through social media and news platforms. Conspiracy theories have the potential to be much worse than in previous years, and the possibility of being misled or fed false information is increasing.
So, as we move into the future, and as conspiracy theories become more and more compelling, make sure to question not just if a theory is plausible, but also its intentions and impact.
Existentialism has dominated my last few weeks. What does that mean, exactly? What even is existentialism? That question in and of itself, my friends, presents its own existential crisis––and that should tell you something about just how much it has been on my mind lately. According to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, existentialism is the pursuit of what “further set of categories… [are] necessary to grasp human existence.” Let that sink in. Deep, I know. And, of course, we teenagers should all be familiar with the “existential crisis,” a term that is now so ingrained in American culture that it is considered colloquial, dare I say the content of memes. Just to be clear, though, an existential crisis is a moment where we question the meaning of life––or, conversely, contemplate how life has no meaning.
I love to explore different aspects of the Slavic cultures and Russian language. Russian literature offers nothing if not some of the best reading, and many great Russian writers were existentialists. A couple of weeks ago, I was reading Uncle Vanya, one of Anton Chekhov’s plays. There’s a line in there that immediately stopped me in my tracks. Helena remarks, “What a fine day! Not too hot.” And Voitski (Vanya) responds, “A fine day to hang oneself.” If that’s not existentialist, I don’t know what is. Yes, Vanya perhaps takes it too far, but the sentiment is there. In my Russian Literature HIRT, we’re reading Anna Karenina, a great novel by Leo Tolstoy, and a friend of mine recently gave a presentation on Tolstoy’s spiritual crisis. You guessed it: by the end of his life, he was a die-hard existentialist. And, in my American Literature course right now, we’re reading “Bartleby the Scrivener”––perhaps one of the strangest short stories of all time––which presents a perfect case study in absurdism, existentialism, and even nihilism.
For me, all of this inspired a Spotify playlist, which I have lovingly entitled “sediment of existentialism.” In curating this playlist, I had to think about what has had me feeling so existentialist (the literature, obviously, and maybe the crushing amount of work). How could I elicit those same feelings again at a random 2:00 AM, when I really need them?
I came up with two answers. One is slow, melancholy music: “Apocalypse,” “Nothing’s Gonna Hurt You Baby,” “Affection,” and “K.” These are slow-burning gems from the band Cigarettes After Sex, perfect for those late nights after you return from a memorable night out, or even while you type out one last essay before our upcoming break. Lana Del Ray, with her unique voice and powerful lyrics, has some stars too: “Love,” “Brooklyn Baby,” “Off to the Races,” and “Born to Die” (that title has me convinced that she, too, is an existentialist) are some of my favorites. All of these songs showcase raspy, unique, and contemplative voices, and they really get my existentialist gears turning, transporting me to entirely new worlds.
The other mini-genre in my existentialist music consists of songs that I’ve associated with a memory. Now, hang with me, folks, we’re getting deep here. What are those sentimental songs for me? “Supermarket Flowers” by Ed Sheeran is one that immediately comes to mind. I know I may have denounced pop in my last column, and Ed Sheeran would definitely qualify as a pop artist, but this song is exceptional; it’s poignant, and above all it’s beautifully sung. Sheeran wrote it to cope with losing his grandmother, and that loss is simultaneously raw and crystal clear in his voice. As someone who recently lost mine, I can really connect to it. Listening, I remember my dadi, yes, but I also think about death, the meaning of death, and where we go afterwards. Where is the “home” that Sheeran refers to? What quantifies “a life that’s been loved” and lived, as Sheeran sings? How can we measure that?
I have lighter songs, too: the last songs of the night that I’ve danced to (“I Lived” by OneRepublic), a Beatles piece a faraway friend of mine used to play me on his guitar (“Blackbird”), or the favorite song of a sister I never had (“The Monster” by Rihanna). All of these songs––the happy, sad, and in-between––make me contemplate life and its meaning. You could say they elicit those existential crises. My advice for creating your own existentialist playlist? Find those songs that matter to you – the ones that make you reason, reflect, and reminisce. Find those melancholy songs to which you wallow, or the upbeat songs to which you sing along at the top of your lungs, shaking out your hair and smiling ear to ear (“Story of my Life” by One Direction, anyone?). If you need inspiration, give “sediment of existentialism” a listen. Maybe while reading Dostoevsky (another Russian existentialist––sigh) over break, as I will be. You never know what kinds of existential moments you might find yourself in.
I have a very close relationship with my parents. I’m open to them about almost everything, and they encourage and support me. Ever since I can remember, they’ve been drilling the importance of hard work, compassion, and virtue into my head to make me the person I am today.
However, almost every month, we get into the same argument. Tired from a long week of school, I decide to destress a bit over the weekend by taking a couple of extra hours of free time. My parents will notice, and tell me, “You never have time to finish your extracurriculars during the weekdays. Why not catch up now?” They inevitably bring up how friends from other schools are spending six hours a day on homework. “Don’t you think you’re too relaxed?” they ask. “You’re in junior year. You should be working harder than this.”
It’s not just my parents that have this mentality. Sometimes, when I go to bed, I’m tempted to bring my laptop with me and outline that essay due in a couple of weeks. When we get school days off, I finish all my work by mid-afternoon, but end up spending the rest of the day strangely tense. Why do I have so much free time? Was there something assigned in class when I wasn’t paying attention? Is there a project I can plan out? Am I too relaxed?
The thing is, I’m fairly happy with how my junior year is going. When I was little, I was always told to “work hard and play hard,” and I think I’ve found a good balance of both working and playing. I’m managing my time a lot better than I have in the past, and I’m finding it easier to maintain decent grades while keeping up with other parts of my life. Maybe I could put a little more time into clubs, or study a bit harder in a class or two, but overall, I’m satisfied.
Why, then, is being “too relaxed” a bad thing? Is it lazy or irresponsible to take extra time to unwind and just mindlessly lose myself in a movie for a few hours if I’ve finished all my work for the day? I could use that time to start future assignments, but am I obligated to? It’s like there’s a set bar of stress that I must be above; if I’m not stressed enough, no matter how well I’m doing in school, I must work harder.
This mindset is far from uncommon. At Pingry there’s a constant pressure to get ahead. Some of us jokingly compete over who got the least amount of sleep the past night. Some of us take the hardest classes we can, even if we’re not actually interested in them because we’re warned of the drop in rigor on our transcripts. Since when has stress become the determining factor for success?
Theoretically, there isn’t really a limit to how much effort I could put into studying. I could stay up a few hours later into the night reviewing for a test in order to get that perfect score. I could decide to go over my essay a couple more times over the weekend instead of spending time with a friend.
If I did, though, what would be the point? Neglecting my happiness in order to better my chances of getting into a good university might be more “productive,” but personal experience has taught me that I’d end up regretting it. A few years ago, I prioritized school over my happiness and my best friends. During that time, I lost sight of why I was studying in the first place, and I don’t intend on making the same mistake again.
This isn’t to say that we should all stop studying hard. We should, however, be able to set achievable standards for ourselves––somewhere we can stop and say, “good enough.” If we’re all just trying to live a happy and fulfilling life, is throwing away all of our current happiness really worth it? At what point do we stop sacrificing our present for a so-called “better future?”
“What’s even the point of history class? Nothing actually matters now.”
Last year, I took the World History 9 course, a survey of “history from the emergence of civilization in ancient Mesopotamia to the Age of Exploration.” I thought it was a fascinating class, but evidently, at least one other student didn’t share my sentiments. I’ve heard people call it “boring” or “not important” due to the “ancient” part of this ancient history class. Could a change of the time period remedy this issue?
The history curriculum at our school is now undergoing a complete overhaul, which began this school year. The first remake has been for World History 9, which now covers the years 1200-1914. Next year, World History 10 will pick up from the year 1900 and end in 2001. When asked about the reason behind removing ancient history from the curriculum, History Department Chair Dr. Jones said, “more modern history seems to resonate with students more, and we wanted to get students interested in the study of history, while ancient history, especially philosophy, doesn’t have as much resonance with students.”
Ancient history can seem boring or unimportant to some people, as what happened so long ago seems too far away to affect our lives. Written history was scant, leaving historians to search in vain for the next clue to unlock the secrets of an ancient empire. Modern history is much more recent and relevant to the present day because its revolutions and wars have shaped our lives. We can see the effects that specific events have caused, which can cause students to feel that modern history is much more important and pertinent. Students then may be more interested in modern history, increasing the amount of engagement and activity in class.
However, the revised World History 9 and previous World History 10 curriculums overlap significantly this year, with both courses essentially offering the same material as implementing two new courses within the same year is nigh impossible. Ancient history has been removed from the high school history curriculum, leaving students without the foundational knowledge of civilization and how the Western world rose to power.
Modern history is extremely relevant and is crucial to learn, but I believe that we cannot simply push ancient history to the side. The complexity of modern European history is extremely challenging and demands a thorough understanding. Without a foundational knowledge of how the West became the dominant power, students may not fully comprehend Europe’s reign of dominance and the events that occurred during this time.
Another key issue to consider is Eurocentrism, which is a major concern facing both teachers and students. From my experience in the now-defunct World History 9, the class did not overly focus on one specific country or continent; instead, it provided a broad but thorough explanation of early history. Indeed, according to its class description, the course focused on “developments in the Middle East, the ancient Mediterranean, Asia, Africa, pre-Columbian America, and medieval Europe, culminating with the European Renaissance and Reformation and the beginnings of the modern world.” In contrast, my experience in World History 10 so far is one that is primarily centered around Europe or the Western world. The revised World History 9 course now begins with the Mongol civilization, the bridge between the East and West, so freshmen will not be exposed to the many non-European civilizations, such as Mesopotamia, that preceded this era. Therefore, this Eurocentrism, or absence of the history of certain key regions and civilizations, may lead students to believe that Europe was always the dominant continent throughout history.
Fortunately, the History Department is working towards preventing the freshman history course from being too Eurocentric, with an explicit focus on the global aspect of World History.
The revised history curriculum is also beneficial in allowing students to pursue a more specialized education. Speaking on why the ancient history sections were removed, Dr. Jones said, “it’s always a struggle between depth versus breadth; if you cover a ton, can you study anything in-depth? It’s a constant struggle.” By removing ancient history, students will most likely have one more year or semester to take focused courses on specific topics, such as Asian History. This is a tremendous opportunity to learn something in-depth, once again going back to the depth versus breadth conflict. For those of us that truly are passionate about ancient history, an elective course on the topic can be created. This elective would cover the same time period as the old World History 9 course but in much greater detail. Therefore, students that are enthusiastic about this subject will have the chance to learn what they love, further increasing the engagement and involvement in history.
History is a subject that requires active student engagement. Despite my captivation with ancient history, I understand that many other students simply weren’t interested in the old World History 9 course.
Is ancient history necessary? I’m not sure, but I’m willing to put it aside for the benefit of all. Maybe it’s time we focus on the future instead of the past.
When I entered Pingry as a Form III student, I was excited to engage in the team-based, critical-thinking-style learning that Pingry has splashed all over its marketing materials. I bought into the idea of building my foundational knowledge of science and humanities in discussion-based classes. These visions were mostly fulfilled, and I distinctly remember bragging to one of my eighth grade buddies about how different the intellectual discourse was at Pingry.
Experiential learning manifests itself in different ways. From the classroom to research opportunities to global field studies, Pingry has put considerable effort into providing a different type of high school education. However, there is one factor that noticeably lags behind these advancements: tests and assessments. In freshman year, most students had seven final exams. In sophomore year, that number decreased, but remained relatively high (around four to six). Meanwhile, the Pingry Middle School has eliminated finals in favor of Project Week.
Of course, Middle School Project Week isn’t comparable to the capstone assessments needed in the Upper School. However, the concept of a group-based final intrigues me. It led me to think about the nature of tests we have currently at Pingry. While tests may vary by teacher and subject, most contain at least some amount of memorization-based questions. I find these questions, although easier, to be less beneficial to my overall understanding of material than a project or essay. In the internet age, memorization and the ability to recall facts are quickly losing their value. The internet can offer more information at a faster rate than any human can, and with fewer errors.
Because the College Board has completely missed the boat on understanding-based learning, drilling has become necessary in preparation for an AP course or an SAT Subject Test. Nevertheless, Pingry is supposed to be helming that boat, and I wonder what percentage of Pingry tests can be completed with a few Google searches. To better prepare students for the real world, research papers and presentations should replace at least a few tests in each subject.
My first suggestion, the research paper or critical essay, would be beneficial because it serves as a unique application of topics learned in the Pingry classrooms. For example, World History 10 papers are well-respected because topic selection, research, outlining, and writing is done entirely by the student. This allows the teacher to measure a student’s mastery, rather than their ability to regurgitate information. I also believe that the in-class essay ought to be phased out to some extent. Given the tight time constraints, a significant portion of an in-class essay is spent on collating the background facts, leaving much too little time to develop a complex and multifaceted argument. The in-class essay is further hurt by the prohibition of outside research. This forces the entire class to draw from the same bank of information, thus limiting the scope of their arguments.
My second suggestion, the presentation, is a useful tool because it requires brevity and strong communication skills. For example, a teacher could assign groups of students to different days in the homework syllabus, and that group would present the material. This would both demonstrate the students’ understanding and function as a transition into classroom material.
While these changes may seem too drastic to be implemented immediately, I think they should be kept in mind if Pingry wants to keep up its experiential and intellectual style of education. I don’t believe that Pingry’s current assessment system is problematic by any stretch; I simply believe that it is time for the traditional test to step back and let project-based learning have some time in the spotlight.
Last year, my history teacher started the year with a thought experiment. He told our class, “History is irrelevant. If the only reason why we learn history is not to repeat the mistakes of the past, then in today’s world, it is useless and everything you learn in this class is irrelevant. You’re much better off taking useful subjects like science and math.”
I was taken aback by this statement. History has always been one of my favorite subjects, and I have always enjoyed learning about various civilizations and how past events have shaped the world today.
Now, I was told, by a history teacher, that the subject I loved the most was useless. It was being slowly replaced by new cutting edge STEM subjects. In a similar vein, at the beginning of my English class this year, we discussed the waning role of English and other humanities subjects in our modern world, especially as STEM subjects take center stage in schools.
STEM is incredibly important in our world today, and it is crucial that students learn these types of skills in order to have success in our modern world. Pingry has recognized the importance of STEM subjects and has successfully created a comprehensive science curriculum, which teaches students everything from the mechanisms of cancer to advanced physics. Research opportunities also offer Pingry students access to cutting edge science, whether it be through their science classes, the molecular biology research class, or the many IRT projects offered. Pingry’s technology labs are also similarly well equipped, with brand new laser cutters, 3D printers, and VR tech.
Needless to say, Pingry’s investment in STEM has paid off. Pingry was ranked by Newsweek as 150th out of the top 500 STEM schools across America. Although this is great news for Pingry, much of this success has come at the expense of the humanities.
In our STEM driven world, the humanities still play an important role in the development and growth of human society. It was humanities that brought our civilization out of the Dark Ages and into the Renaissance with the re-discovery of Ancient Greek and Roman teachings. Humanities allow us to understand ourselves better and teach individuals how to think creatively and critically. Whether it is poetry or the arts, humanities allow us to learn more about the human condition. That is something STEM cannot do.
Pingry’s efforts to make sure humanities are just as important as STEM subjects have been successful this year. With the expansion of HIRT, humanities at Pingry are being refreshed. HIRT serves as a means for students to apply techniques learned from STEM subjects to humanities, which brings a fresh perspective to humanities at Pingry. New groups this year include Russian Literature, Gentrification in Jersey City, and many more new and exciting projects. As a member of the Children’s Literature HIRT, I have so far enjoyed this new approach to humanities, and together with my group, I have conducted intensive research into altruism in young children using stories collected from lower schoolers at Short Hills.
This new fusion of STEM and Humanities is an excellent model of how humanities can be taught to students effectively in the 21st century. By combining both techniques learned from STEM fields and applying them to humanities, this can be an effective way of teaching students the value of humanities through a new lens.
At the end of my freshman year, we did an exercise in my history class where we again discussed the purpose of studying history and other humanities subjects. My class decided that humanities are important because they enable us to understand other people and cultures through learning about the human condition and people’s experiences. Whether it is reading stories or poems, learning about history, or making art, humanities allow us to learn about what makes us human, and helps us discover the accomplishments of the past, understand the world we live in, and arms us with the tools to build the future. The importance of humanities cannot be forgotten as we move deeper into this century, and I applaud Pingry’s steps to teach humanities to students in a cutting edge and modern way.
When people found out about our plans to start the Asian Student Union, some had asked me why I cared so much or wondered if I only started the group to boost my college application. The truth is, I was upset that the issues I cared about were considered “unimportant.” There was one instance when I reported a student in class who was repeating random offensive syllables and asking me if they meant anything in Mandarin despite me telling them to stop. After my talk with the administration, I never even received an apology from the student.
Another time I felt that issues were cast aside was when the Asian parents at this school felt upset and met with the administration about an inappropriate book that was added to the English curriculum; their concern was mitigated and turned into a social media ploy, an Instagram post showing rows of upset parents on the official school page, captioned happily about how the diversity staff was meeting with the parents of the Chinese-American community. The post was promptly deleted when met with backlash.
Overall, I felt upset with how these issues had been ignored, and no one had tried to reach a true solution.
Unfortunately, ignorance from the administration has been a common theme in Pingry’s history, not with just Asian-American issues, but with issues regarding multiple communities. Instead of working to a solution, I have noticed that Pingry tries to reach “the most politically safe” answer instead. I recently found this trend has been happening for a long time.
About a month ago I stumbled upon a 1990 New York Times article, titled “Private Schools Wrestling With Diversity and Identities,” in which the author talked about diversity-based issues at a number of institutions in our area. A large portion of these issues were about Pingry. The article mentions one instance where the Jewish community at Pingry had wanted to light a menorah next to the yule candle at the annual Winter Festival, and how their request had been met with a “peace candle,” which was supposed to represent the yule candle and the menorah.
Lighting a peace candle didn’t really solve the issue, which was about truly representing the Jewish community at the school during the festival. Instead, this was the most “politically safe” response to the issue. People may ask, why would a politically safe response be bad? It doesn’t hurt anyone and nobody can be offended. While this may be partly true, the most politically safe response doesn’t solve the issue. Instead of figuring out how to make sure that the various groups will feel represented at the school, a politically neutral solution almost seems insulting. It is as if the problem is too insignificant to handle head-on. A neutral solution says, “we aren’t offending anyone, so will everyone get off our case?”
At a school that is as diverse as ours, it is very possible for a student to feel ignored, and their issues can slip through the cracks. Our school is proud that we have the GSA, the Black Student Union, and as of this year, the Asian Student Union. But what about all the identifiers in between? How will a student know where to turn to when they have an issue they want to share with the school that doesn’t fall within these groups? I realize that only a few months ago, this is how I felt at the school. Affinity groups keep the issue within the community, but those topics never get shared outside. Most groups are never covered by the various “diversity workshops” advisories must complete. There is no framework at this school to discuss many important issues that don’t fall within these pre-existing groups.
My co-founders and I started the Asian Student Union because we didn’t want future Asian-American students feeling that there was nothing to support them, as that is how we have previously felt. If Pingry wants to be a genuinely inclusive place, it needs to take its various communities’ issues to heart. For instance, when I reported a very direct act of prejudice, the school should have done its best to appropriately handle the situation instead of letting it go with no consequences. Pingry needs to fully address issues like these––otherwise, the school would not be supporting its students. Additionally, I implore this institution to genuinely solve problems, rather than finding a political “peace candle” solution that, in the end, makes nobody happy. Speak to students who have been affected one-on-one, reach out to the parents to gauge their opinions more often, and act on their feedback. Most importantly, though, encourage dialogue regarding all groups––not just a select few. And to you, reader, who potentially has something to say buried within the depths of your silence, my advice is to say it loud and clear. If there’s no framework here, build it. If it’s never been done here before, do it. Make it known that you will not be ignored and that you are the change we need at this school to truly make this community one that you are a part of.
As a Pingry student, I experience a lot of stress. From essays to tests to presentations to quizzes, the work never seems to stop piling on. However, there is a common theme in the stress that my peers and I experience: poor timing.
Over the past few years, I’ve started to notice that assessments come in big stressful waves, usually lasting a week or so. One week might be pretty uneventful, with a lull in big assessments and stress levels on the decline. Then, before you know it, you have six tests in one week, not to mention a paper due for English class. Looking at my planner, plenty of weeks are completely covered in the red ink that signifies a large test or essay, while others are almost empty of it. This led me to ask myself: why can’t all of this work be divided up evenly between the weeks?
Students at Pingry are constantly caught between two extremes– weeks packed with work followed by others with almost none – at the expense of their mental health, free time, and success in school. During busier weeks, the challenge for dividing one’s time among different assignments becomes greater than ever. Instead of being able to focus on one thing and achieve success in that area, students are forced to ask themselves: “Should I study for my math test or should I finish my English paper?” This conflict can cause students to do poorly on some assignments when in reality, they just didn’t have enough time. Some may argue that time management isn’t all that hard, and that students should just buck up and bear the weight of these stressful weeks. However, we are often given short notice about assignments, and even with proper notice, too many tests can still leave students in sticky situations.
If more consideration was put into the timing of tests, there would be numerous benefits for students and teachers alike. Students could put more attention into individual assignments and perform better, rather than just throwing as much time as possible into a heaping pile of essays and tests. Teachers would then see a more realistic evaluation of a student’s knowledge. Most of all, students’ stress would decrease if their large assessments were divided up more evenly.
To improve assessment timing, I suggest creating new rules similar to the Three-Assessment Rule (if you have three major assessments in one day, you can opt to move one of them). One possible rule could be: if students have more than five assessments in a week, they can opt to move one of them to the next week. Especially leading up to breaks, where students are faced with six or seven assessments in a week, this rule could benefit the community greatly. Another possible addition could be a universal day each week where assessments are prohibited. This would give students a “day off”, allowing them to study up on assessments they have in following days.
With the faculty’s goal for this year being student wellness, poorly timed assessments is a problem that needs to be solved. However, if given enough attention, addressing this issue has the potential to benefit Pingry as a whole. It would certainly be a big step towards improving the mental health and wellness of students.
On November 22nd, the Buttondowns raced down from the top of Hauser Auditorium to begin their annual Buttondowns assembly. This year, the all-boys a capella group is headed by president James Wang (VI), vice-president Charlie Malone (VI), and secretary John Roberston (VI).
As is tradition, the assembly began with the highly anticipated Buttondowns movie. Directed by Wang, this year’s movie was largely influenced by the 2010-2011 movie. He described it as a movie that was “so low budget and horrible production-wise, but very funny.” Wang further elaborated on his plan for the movie. “I wanted to bring the Buttondowns movie back to what it was, just something more casual… a simple concept for every Buttondown.”
After the movie ended, the Buttondowns, dressed in their signature white buttondown shirts, khakis, and no shoes, ran down to the stage to begin their performance. The first song was Stephen Bishop’s “On And On,” with soloists Alex Kaplan (V) and Vared Shmuler (III). Wang defended its role as an opening number, saying that, “It’s the song that we’ve practiced the most. It’s one of our strongest songs but also one that not a lot of people know.” Furthermore, “On And On” incorporated choreography to the crowd’s delight. The Buttondowns constantly moved across the stage, forming lines and semicircles that kept the soloists at the center.
Directly following “On And On,” Nolan Baynes (V) and Justin Li (V) paired up as soloists for “Slide” by Calvin Harris, Frank Ocean, and Migos. Shmuler added to the performance by singing the high-pitched verses at the beginning of the song, receiving great appreciation from the audience. Once again, the group deviated from their traditional semicircle formation in favor of having the members sit down on the floor to give off a more candid and relaxed demeanor.
Ram Doraswamy (IV), John Robertson, and Alex Kaplan starred in the Guardians of the Galaxy medley, a combination of three songs from the Guardians of the Galaxy movies. Comprised of Blue Swede’s “Hooked on a Feeling,” The Five Stairsteps’ “O-o-h Child,” and Redbone’s “Come and Get Your Love,” the medley not only transitioned between the three songs throughout, but included physical transitions with the Buttondowns. Each song featured different configurations and actions, providing viewers with a clear sense of when the songs switched between each other.
The next song was “Slow Dancing In a Burning Room” by John Mayer and was sung by soloists Henry Wood (V), Ore Shote (V), and Charlie Malone with the Buttondowns in a straight line facing the audience.
Lastly, Baynes and Wang capped off an unforgettable performance with Post Malone and Swae Lee’s “Sunflower.” As his final solo and song in front of the entire high school, Wang remarked positively on his experience with “Sunflower.” “I loved [Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse] so Sunflower was a great song to end on… I really enjoyed singing something that puts me in a different mood and takes me to different places.”
What was unique about this year’s assembly was the presence of choreography. Compared to previous years where the group stood in a static semicircle, the Buttondowns enthralled the crowd with their movement, adding another dimension to the performance. When asked about his overall experience in the Buttondowns, Wang said that, “It’s been interesting. Freshmen year was amazing but for the last two years, we got lost in the movie so much that we kind of forgot about the singing. After last year, I decided that we’re going to focus on the singing because it’s a Buttondowns assembly and that’s the core of the group.” Wang was thankful for Dr. Moore for his unwavering support and advice and also thanked the rest of the seniors, Malone, Robertson, Yu, Dispenza, and Bugliari. He was especially grateful for Malone who arranged all of the songs and did “so much work behind the scenes. He deserves as much credit as me and without him, I don’t think the concert would even be close to how it sounds right now.”
The assembly was hugely appreciated by the Upper School as evidenced by the thunderous applause and cheering throughout the entire event. James ended by saying, “I’ve tried to bring the Buttondowns back to their roots and I sincerely appreciate everybody that’s been there for me.”
The world I’m growing up in scares me to death. It seems like everywhere I look there is something to be afraid of. In fact, I’m almost fifteen and I just got permission this summer to ride my bike to my friend’s house. It’s only two blocks away, but I understand why. The world I’m growing up in is scary because it’s dangerous. I can’t tell you that it’s more dangerous than any other period in human history, but I can tell you this: we’re certainly more aware of it. The news flashes every day with new stories of gunmen, arson, murder, and scandal in our very own White House. That shadow in the corner of my eye, that’s danger. The creak on the stairs when I’m home alone, that’s danger. This constant fear bleeds into every single aspect of my life.
In school, we’ve had lockdown drills for as long as I can remember. An announcement is made, so we lock the doors, draw the blinds, huddle in the corner, and stay as silent as possible. For those 4-7 minutes, I examine my best friend’s shoelaces intently. I imagine what I would do, if at that very moment, the drill was real and a shooter barged into the classroom. I count the bricks on the wall. I wonder if this is what it felt like to live during the Cold War, diving under desks to take cover at the prospect of nuclear war. Then, I wonder why people believed that a wooden desk could stop an atomic bomb. Probably, I think, for the same reasons we draw the blinds and lock the doors. Ever since the shooting in Parkland, Florida, though, something has changed. Everything feels more real. The idea of a school shooting used to be almost nonexistent. Something that happened to those poor kids in Sandy Hook, but could never happen to us.
But the national uproar 5,000 miles away brought about changes reaching all the way to Pingry. Now, we have more detailed lockdown procedures. Recently, we had an assembly describing safety procedures, and our newly installed lockdown buttons in case of an emergency. We know what to do during lunch, during time between classes. We know that if there’s an emergency, we are to go into the nearest open classroom, let as many kids in as possible, lock all the doors, and hide. The threat has become omnipresent. It’s not far away and vague anymore, but something that could actually happen to us. Even in the bathroom stalls, the inner doors are plastered with laminated posters explaining what to do if someone is in the bathroom while a lockdown is in progress. It tells me what keywords to listen for to make sure the all-clear is legitimate. The danger of a school shooting stares me in the face while I use the bathroom. It’s an unfading feeling of unease, present even when I’m walking down the hall with a friend, goofing off like an average pair of freshmen. I see the security guards on duty keeping an eye on everything, watching for any signs of suspicious activity. I understand why they are there, of course, but it reminds me that nowhere is safe.
I live in the epitome of suburbia, so it’s strange to have this fear everywhere I go. We have become desensitized to shootings and gun violence, and barely react to the now daily reports of shootings. Everywhere is unsafe: first movie theaters, coffee shops, and retail stores, and now schools. For me, school is a place I look forward to going every day; however, some days, when I step off of that yellow Kensington bus, I feel afraid of the unknown, and I concoct imaginary emergency scenarios in my head. I have my parents on speed dial, as a “just-in-case.” I have a message in the notes section of my phone for my loved ones, should something actually happen to me, though the chances are slim. I really shouldn’t have to worry about this; I’m just your average high school freshman trying not to fail Spanish and science, binging rom-coms and Disney movies in her free time. We shouldn’t have to worry that when we leave our houses in the morning for school, it might be the last time our parents see us alive.
Our government should have stepped up on gun policies and implemented stricter gun laws years ago, right after the incident at Sandy Hook. How many more lives must be lost until our government takes charge? Our nation needs action, and it is long overdue.
A math problem? Of sorts, yes. Except it extends beyond the scope of a simple one-period, ten-problem math test—it is something we deal with at Pingry daily.
Class sizes are one of the most important parts of an educational experience, but we talk about it the least. In fact, I have never heard anybody talk about class size during my two-and-a-half years at Pingry.
Of course, this is mostly justified. Pingry’s class sizes are significantly smaller than those in other schools, both public and private. Our student to faculty ratio is half of what it is in surrounding public schools and one third of the national average.
Smaller class sizes have long been linked to better academic performance and learning capabilities. For the same reason a private tutor is more helpful than a large group lesson, smaller class sizes allow for more individual attention. Pingry bills its class sizes as small enough to foster this connection between the faculty and other students, but not too small as to discourage collaboration and teamwork. Our school prides itself on these class size caps, which are featured prominently in multiple places on pingry.org. They are all centered around the same line: “keeping class sizes to 16 at the Lower School, 14 in the Middle School, and 13 in the Upper School.”
Earlier this year, I noticed that my science class seemed unusually large. This made me realize that not every class is as small as Pingry’s website claims. My science class, for example, has 16 students, which isn’t massive, but the lab always feels full. With more students, it is more difficult to provide attention to each individual student, regardless of how good a teacher is. When 65 minutes have to be divided up among more students than normal, the time per student ostensibly decreases.
I wanted to make sure I wasn’t the only one noticing that class sizes are inching further away from that magic number 13. So, I created a survey that asked for the class size (including the teacher) of English, math, history, science, and language classes. I sent out the survey to various juniors and the entire Record staff. Out of the 17 people I polled, two reported not taking any language classes, so I ignored those two values when analyzing the data.
Based on this data, though, class size doesn’t really seem to be much of a problem. The averages are slightly higher than 13, with the exception of science classes, which are fairly higher. On the other hand, language classes seem particularly small.
This data doesn’t reveal the whole story though. The range of class sizes for each of these categories varies significantly: 10 for English, 12 for math, 9 for history, 5 for science, and 14 for languages.
This inconsistency led me to analyze each of the individual values themselves, shown in the table, which shows the percent of the sample with the class size of each category.
Clearly, a pattern has emerged. Language classes are mostly reasonably sized, besides one large class. History is the next best, with once again one very large class. English classes are in the middle of the pack, but the class size keeps increasing. Math classes are a little bit higher, but one class has a surprisingly large 20 students. Science classes exhibit the largest class sizes.
It’s understandable that not every class can be exactly 13 students, but to have almost three-quarters of science classes have more than 15 students is quite a stretch. In fact, not a single one of the science classes is less than 13 students; Pingry’s Science Department prides itself on its thorough explanation of concepts, but this disproportionate class size distribution hampers that proposition.
Now, I am in no way criticizing the faculty, staff, or administration. My point isn’t to criticize everyone except the students, but rather to note a trend that hurts our collective education.
Another important thing to note is that this is in no way a perfectly scientific survey. It is entirely possible that multiple students in this survey shared classes, which would skew the results. Misreporting could also have been a factor. My study also ignored electives and double subjects in science or math, for example. I definitely believe that further investigation should be done in order to ensure that class sizes are what they are supposed to be.
In this survey, I also asked for an ideal class size. The minimum was seven, and the maximum was 15 students. The average was 10.82 students per class. Obviously, classrooms and teachers don’t appear out of thin air, but some future thought needs to be given to what class size the average student might find beneficial.
Overall, there isn’t really much to panic about—just some intriguing numbers that show class sizes, especially in science, aren’t as low as they should be and that maybe the number 13 itself needs to be rethought a little bit. Perhaps 13 isn’t as magical as we believe.
There are issues that everyone agrees are violations of the Honor Code: bullying, vandalism, racism, sexism, and so on and so forth. If any such disrespectful actions are committed, we unanimously cite the perpetrator’s betrayal of the Honor Code. We have a general consensus in this respect. However, there are some topics of contention among the student body when it comes to breaking the Honor Code, including—but definitely not limited to–– cheating, using Sparknotes, and breaking the dress code. Maybe when we students talk to teachers, administrators, or prospective parents, we have the facade of a united front, but I assure you, we have quite a spectrum of opinions ranging from very conservative to very rebellious.
Last year, I found out about someone cheating on a test. Now, when I say “cheating,” I do not mean “Sparknoting” Jane Eyre or telling someone that the test was easy or hard, but blatantly communicating the exact problems that would be on the test. I was shocked. I knew people looked at siblings’ tests or maybe knew the bonus question, but I was genuinely shocked by this incident. Sometimes we make fun of the Honor Code for being too idealistic or rigid, but was it really so naïve of me to believe that students would not actually cheat on a test? I will acknowledge that I am not a person who breaks a lot of rules, so maybe my shock is simply a consequence of my ignorance. However, I guess I expected that as a student body, we agreed upon, if nothing else, perhaps the most basic principle of the Honor Code: integrity. Then again, I did not report that person, so who am I to talk?
Let’s be completely candid about how many times we break the Honor Code each day, in our personal lives, in our academic lives, and in our extracurriculars. Are we all impeccable Pingry students that have upheld the contract we so earnestly signed on the first Friday of the school year?
No, we are not. I know that I am not. So how can I judge? How can I be so shocked? How can I write this 650-word rant about the Honor Code simply because someone cheated?
I can do this because I cannot pretend to be okay with people cheating. I got some of my lowest grades on the very tests the aforementioned person cheated on. I would study for hours, days before the test, dreading what types of questions were going to be asked. Meanwhile, that student was cruising, already having known the exact questions on the test. I wasn’t just appalled; I was infuriated. The message I’d been left with was this:
“Life’s not fair. Get used to it.”
It is unfortunate, but it could not be more true. Not everyone is going to follow the Honor Code; not in Pingry, not in college, and not in the real world.
I do not have a magical solution. I could end this opinion piece by saying that everyone should try to be good, and that we should try to make life fair by following the Honor Code to the best of our ability, but that would just further breach my integrity. The person who cheated will probably cheat again and get away with it. Pingry can make us sign all of the contracts in the world, have us write the Honor Pledge thousands of times, and have brilliant speakers for the Honor Board’s Speaker series, but the Honor Code at Pingry is, at its root, a suggestion—a highly recommended suggestion—but a suggestion nevertheless.
Follow the Honor Code, or don’t follow the Honor Code; the one truth I can tell you is that it comes down to you and the values you choose to have faith in.
Herr Igor Jasinski is back! This year, he will be teaching a variety of both Upper and Middle School courses: German I, German III and IV for high schoolers, and German IA for the sixth graders. He is also a faculty advisor of the Polyglot magazine, and a Middle School Homework Club proctor.
Herr Jasinski grew up in a small town in Germany outside of Düsseldorf, and later went to the University of Düsseldorf, earning his Grundstudium (bachelor’s) degree in Philosophy and German Literature and Linguistics. From there, he received his Hauptstudium (graduate) degree from the University of Tubingham in Philosophy and Modern German Literature. He then participated in graduate studies, including a Ph.D. program in Philosophy at Stony Brook University in New York, earning an MA in the subject.
Herr Jasinski’s teaching career began at Bergen County Academies, shortly after finishing his Ph.D program. He had never taught before, but he says that even during his interview for the position, he could tell that teaching was something he really loved: “It’s hard to quantify it, but it was interacting with the students that felt great… How you create a community, and the feeling you get when it works and you’ve created a curiosity and openness in a student, I feel like I connected with that.” After Bergen County, Jasinski taught at a variety of schools, both private and public, including William-Cullen Bryant High School and Scotch Plains-Fanwood High School for German and/or Philosophy.
Herr Jasinski began at Pingry in 2009 and taught classes here for five years before deciding to take a sabbatical in 2014; he enrolled in a Montclair-based EdD, or Doctorate of Education, program in Pedagogy and Philosophy. To write his dissertation, he moved to a city on the coast of Mexico, Puerto Escondido. While he was there, he received and accepted his first book offer. Giorgio Agamben: Education without Ends was published at the end of 2018.
After publishing his book, Herr Jasinski decided that it was time to get back to teaching, scouring the U.S. for available jobs. Luckily for us, he was able to come back and teach at Pingry. Though he admits he does not have a lot of free time, Herr Jasinski loves to run, Salsa dance, and do yoga. He is also hoping to start a Philosophy Club here at Pingry this year, and maybe even propose a course on the subject. “Teaching philosophy to young people is a real passion of mine,” he says. We wish him the best of luck this year, and are excited to have him back!