A few weeks ago, during a Morning Meeting announcement, Pingry laid out some preliminary norms for conduct during the election season. The main takeaway might have been the emphasis on civility and respectful discourse, goals to which we can all agree are admirable.
However, more subtly, was the emphasis on debate as such a form of discourse. At first glance, this recommendation to debate civilly fits with Pingry’s ethos: from the Harkness table to lab research, Pingry emphasizes discussion and lively verbal argumentation of ideas. Yet, in this election cycle, I fear that the push to debate civilly will not be carried out in the manner we respect in our classrooms.
Books and biological organisms are, at the end of the day, objects that we extract knowledge from and then discard, metaphorically and physically. When reading, we develop an appreciation for what is being said rather than the exact edition and copy of the book in hand; when performing research, methodical data collection supersedes consideration of the procedures and inputs. The attachment to a story or discovery is more about the concept than the physical means to attain it.
As much as I would like to say that our political discourse can be treated in the same manner – that is, filtering out the substance from the delivery method – the two have become inseparable components of a toxic political rhetoric. We center our debates around candidates and labels rather than political substance, as it is easier to be attached to a person and a motto rather than some technical policy proposal. When we debate verbally, important policies get lost in an emotional connection to a candidate or ideal. Over the past few years, the shared values and proposals of a group have shifted drastically, chasing after demagogues rather than logical consideration.
So, I suggest that we stop debating in person. The oral argument is no longer a useful tool of common political debate until the arguer’s attachment to affiliations and politicians can be removed. Instead, focus on reading fully formed written communication that clearly articulates a vision. Moreover, focus on reading articles that vehemently disagree with one’s point of view.
In essays and articles, there are no interruptions and no need for mute buttons. If there is an insult, it is addressed silently by the reader and not by the other side in a vicious act of reciprocity. Perhaps most importantly, the process of explaining a position on paper forces the author to have a detailed and thorough set of arguments. It is easy to ascertain a good written argument from a poor one because the reader has time to process the link between data and conclusions.
But take this a step further: it’s not enough to simply read political essays and shut the laptop and move on. I have personally gained the most value from reading perspectives I disagree so strongly with that there are hardly any common points between my ideology and the author’s. There is a difference between reading a moderate piece of writing and so-called radical one; I urge the reader to err on the side of the latter. A moderate viewpoint can always concede some points to one’s side; an extreme one cannot concede because it fundamentally disagrees with what one believes. Thus, the aforementioned detailed and thorough arguments are fully expounded upon and crafted to target counterarguments.
It is important here to draw the distinction between extreme written viewpoints and extreme solutions. A compromise need not be a winner-take-all situation, as that defeats the purpose of a consensus agreement. The extreme viewpoint ought to be incorporated into the discussion of such an agreement because it pushes one to defend the most important parts of their ideology; they must acknowledge the points where the other side has the logical advantage – a moderate solution, if you will.
As elections and political events come and go, society can break the habit of increasingly aggressive rhetoric if we step back from the emotional feelings and attachments of arguing; instead, we must lean into thoughtful and peaceful expression of the written word. Reading subdues visceral reactions because the author – the opponent, the adversary, the antagonist, the enemy – cannot hear the reader’s cries of frustrations and desires to erupt. Instead, there is just enough room for a controlled and introspective release of steam.
In a political world characterized by anger, perhaps the time and space provided by written arguments can assuage the wounds driven by verbal ones.
By Eva Schiller (V) When I heard of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s passing, I immediately took to Instagram. My first post was a simple black screen with white letters: “RIP RGB. A legend.” Trust me, I know . . . In my haste, I had instead memorialized “Ruth Gader Binsburg.” Oops. Minutes later, I reposted a Tweet frantically wondering whether President Trump should be allowed to nominate her replacement.
Looking back, it isn’t hard to find the flaws in my actions. After a single pathetic attempt to recognize the value of her life, I dove immediately into the political implications of her death, and I’m not the only one. Of the hundreds of Instagram stories I tapped through that night, the vast majority were about the vacancy she had left. Painfully few gave proper recognition to the incredible space she had filled during her career. Is this woman – who is a feminist icon, who fought relentlessly for a chance to succeed, who gave her entire adult life in service to future generations of Americans – worth so little? Of course not.
I’d prefer to believe that in the sheer panic and emotion of the moment, staring down a loss that could impact our political environment for decades, we were thrown off balance. Our fear-driven self-preservation instincts emerged, and we forgot that it was not only a Justice we had lost, but a human.
While unacceptable, our lackluster response is understandable. Over 200,000 people have died from COVID-19 in the U.S, and the murders of innocent Black people have been shared across social media; Migrants are dying in camps on our borders, and Uyghurs are dying in camps abroad. Justice Ginsburg was a Jewish woman – there was a record high of 2,107 antisemitic hate crimes in 2019 according to the Anti-Defamation League. Each of these causes is crucial and demands our attention, but our increased awareness comes at a cost: when I say I feel myself becoming a bit desensitized to death, I don’t think I’m alone. It feels more comfortable to forget to mourn and instead turn to face problems that affect the living. In the case of RBG, this meant forgetting to celebrate her accomplishments and instead focus on her death’s repercussions.
With all of that said, we do not have to continue this way. We can acknowledge the political changes brought about by Justice Ginsburg’s death but still take the time to honor her life properly. With this in mind, I deleted the ‘Gader Binsburg’ post and the frantic tweet and began thinking of ways I could properly process the death of one of my idols. I admit it’s a difficult task: the “Notorious RBG” deserves more than even the most reverent Instagram reposts. Yet, sitting in my room with only a phone, laptop, and page-long to-do list at my disposal, I have little else to offer.
So, what next? I believe that the best we can do is try to learn from her words and incredible career. I’ll start us off with three examples.
First, on the direction of women’s rights: “Women belong in all places where decisions are being made. It shouldn’t be that women are the exception.” Justice Ginsburg believed that workplace equality stemmed from educational equality and reproductive rights; She argued against excluding pregnant women from the workplace and helped determine that schools funded by taxpayers couldn’t bar women. She has also been a powerful advocate of the Supreme Court Case Roe. v. Wade and equal wages. While her accomplishments for women are incredible, her legacy is in our hands: if we don’t continue pushing for abortion rights and workplace equality, we will quickly lose momentum.
Second, on dissenting: “The greatest dissents do become court opinions, and gradually over time their views become the dominant view. So that’s the dissenter’s hope: that they are writing not for today, but for tomorrow.” In our increasingly divided government, there is significant pressure to fall in line with the party’s ideals and save ‘radical’ ideas for less tumultuous times. As Ginsburg’s message of dissent suggests, I don’t think that ‘settling’ – whether that be for former Vice President Biden or President Trump – means shelving those discussions entirely: we can accept the situation of today, but continue to argue progress for tomorrow.
And third, on nonpartisanship: in her tribute to the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, she says, “We disagreed now and then, but when I wrote for the Court and received a Scalia dissent, the opinion ultimately released was notably better than my initial circulation… It was my great good fortune to have known him as a working colleague and treasured friend.” Ginsburg’s willingness to see the human behind the opposing political opinion is reminiscent of Pingry’s stance on political discussions: that we have much to gain from listening to the other side. I too believe that as long as our political differences do not involve hatred or discrimination, Ginsburg’s friendship with Scalia is a powerful model to follow. By engaging in discourse, we stand to learn about each other’s perspectives and refine our own; after all, democracy cannot exist in an echo chamber.
So yes – write tweets, post Instagram stories (and check for typos!), be vocal about your concerns, and rally for change, but do not forget to look back and appreciate all that trailblazers like RBG have already accomplished. There is much to learn.
By Andrew Wong (V) By the time this article has been published, you will hopefully know who the next President of the United States is––either Joe Biden or Donald Trump. But does that mean months of incessant conflict will finally come to an end?
As America wakes up from this nightmare of an election and picks up the pieces, you, the reader, along with the rest of our nation, will now have the benefit of 20/20 hindsight. Perhaps the candidate you rooted for did not win. Or maybe they did. You may be thrilled at what has occurred, or you might be getting ready for the impending apocalypse. Whatever happened with the presidential election, however, the task at hand is straightforward: we must begin the process of rebuilding the broken ties of a deeply divided nation.
Writing this in October, with less than three weeks to go before the general election, I don’t have that privilege of hindsight to see what will happen after the election. During these closing days, emotions are running high. There’s no doubt that America faces challenges it has never seen before. The global coronavirus pandemic, economic chaos, glaring racial injustice, and crime in our streets have all contributed to a general unease about what lies ahead. Many believe that the future of our republic rests in the outcome of this election, and many believe that, should things go awry, it could quite possibly mean the end of our storied history. A quick scan of recent headlines from media outlets only confirms our nation’s general anxiety over our future: “The Threat to Democracy” from CNN, “I Fear We Are Witnessing the End of American Democracy” from the New York Times, “Can American Democracy Be Saved?” from The Atlantic, and so forth.
While one may attribute these headlines to media sensationalism, the underlying tension and conflict that permeates our society right now cannot be understated. Republicans vs. Democrats, the rich vs. the working-class, urban vs. rural. Divisions are incredibly evident in our modern society. If we are to continue down this road, perhaps the Founding Fathers’ warning that “united we stand, divided we fall” will indeed come to fruition. So how do we stop this slow burn to the end?
In Federalist Paper No. 10, Founding Father James Madison writes of the dangerous yet fundamental nature of division, stating that “a zeal for different opinions concerning religion, concerning government … an attachment to different leaders contending for pre-eminence and power … have divided mankind into parties, inflamed them with mutual animosity, and rendered them more disposed to vex … rather than to cooperate for their common good.” When the Founding Fathers first created our republic, they understood that division and factionalism would be a threat to our nation, but they had a solution.
In enshrining the civic virtue of civil discourse within our very own First Amendment with the right to free speech, the Founding Fathers intended for citizens and government to overcome such division through civil discussion and compromise. Yet, as shown by the chaos in our nation today, we’ve failed to live up to these ideals. We’ve thrown civil discussion out the window in exchange for glorified shouting matches, replaced the debate of ideas with insults, and instead of seeing those on the opposing side as fellow Americans, we treat them like they are our worst enemies. The symptoms of this are everywhere, be it in the First Presidential Debate, TV political panels, social media, or sometimes even within Pingry’s own community.
In spite of these tensions, I implore you, Dear Reader, to keep in mind the ideals of our republic and try to navigate the future after the election with some sense of civility. Rather than turning political debates into melees, as we all have been guilty of at some point, perhaps try to listen to the ideas of the opposition. Maybe change the news or the radio to a different source and listen for a bit. Attend a Pingry Politics Club meeting, and listen to your peers discuss various political topics in a safe environment. Or engage in some casual conversation with peers who have opposite views on certain issues and try to find common ground. Who knows? Maybe you will realize that your ideas were a bit flawed, or maybe come up with better counterarguments to the opposition by learning from them.
Such things cannot occur, however, if we continue to regard our opposition as personal adversaries. At the end of the day, we all are Americans. We all salute the same flag and enjoy a common set of freedoms and liberties. As we set about rebuilding a fractured nation, let’s push forth past our differences and halt America’s downward spiral into faction.
With my face shield in one hand and mask in the other, I stared at the campus in awe on the first day of school. I wondered how Pingry would be able to pull off full days with almost all the students, faculty, and staff in person. Everyone had witnessed the results of COVID-19 and seen how other schools wouldn’t dare to invite their students in for full days. However, as I entered the school, I was able to see how Pingry beat the odds and was capable of staying open. Seating areas were taken away, tents were put up outside, and not a single plexiglass divider was out of place. Countless meetings and emails were set up informing students about the importance of wearing our masks; we learned about every precaution the school was taking to prevent the spread of COVID-19, as Pingry sought to keep their students healthy. Pingry has been finding innovative ways to ensure its students’ safety, including a weekly coronavirus test and required face shields or goggles in hallways. We have been reminded of social distancing, and the repercussions if we don’t follow guidelines; within a few weeks, the freshman tent closed, the junior area was taken away, and the decision to have study halls during flex seems inevitable.
However, even with these extreme rules in place, Pingry is continuing the one thing that will diminish all the rest of the school’s efforts: athletics. As a member of the girl’s tennis team, I have experienced the risk of athletics firsthand: while all coaches are making an effort to enforce social distancing, it doesn’t prevent the contact on the field or court. Groups of kids still run together or touch the same ball, and it makes me question why specific protocols need to be followed during the school day if, from 3:45-5:15, everyone will be together without masks.
For some students, face shields impair learning, but it has been made clear that the whole student body will be punished if we do not wear them. Students are reprimanded for sitting together outside during lunch if they are not far enough apart. Yet, when they run six inches from each other during athletics, there is no consequence. If there are no repercussions for breaking social distancing rules during athletics, these exceptions should also be enforced during the day. So, if all students get tested for coronavirus each week and are allowed to interact during athletics, why are we not allowed to have three people at a table outside?
The problem goes behind just athletics at Pingry, but also outside of school. All athletic teams, including contact sports, continue to participate in games with other schools, who may have less strict COVID guidelines. While I am not making the case for lifted regulations, I believe Pingry needs to reassess its priorities. It can be as simple as keeping athletics within Pingry, instead of risking students’ safety by coming into contact with other schools. As the winter season draws near, Pingry needs to decide whether it wants to put more of an emphasis on sports or in-person learning.
As much as I have loved returning to tennis, and being with the team, these athletics increase the risk of an outbreak; Pingry is indeed playing with fire. Other schools have closed because of positive tests on athletics teams, and it is only a matter of time before Pingry experiences the same.
By Sydney Stovall (VI) The last time I expected the name “John Adams” to pose any relevance to my life was at 3:00 PM on May 15th, 2020. As I submitted my AP U.S. History exam, a wave of relief flooded over me. For the time being, the 18th-century terms and events that I had previously drilled into my brain faded away; obsolete words became distant memories in an instant. Flash forward two months, my daily routine is now consumed with virtual conversations, some light reading, and, of course, a whole lot of binge-worthy TV. Unlike Avatar and the infamous Tiger King, my favorite quarantine obsession is not one that many would consider a trending topic. As my summer came to a close, I reverted back to my past self, accumulated the last embers of my burnt-out APUSH mind, and proceeded to watch the John Adams miniseries.
Although the show mainly served as a supplement to my class’s first unit on the American Revolution, it was drastically different from the more traditional history documentaries we often watched in class. Even from the perspective of an APUSH-student, I could tell that the John Adams miniseries had a lot to offer to both a history student and a person who appreciates good television. The acting, the set design, and the cinematography in the show really interested me both as an actress and a performer on stage. It represented history in a way that depicted characters as complex, relatable human beings, not just individuals defined by a textbook.
The show outlines the founding of America through John Adams’ perspective. Viewers observe the fiery nature of John coupled with the calming yet powerful demeanor of his wife, Abigail. Thomas Jefferson maintains his composed charm, while Alexander Hamilton commands the treasury with fierce confidence. The show begins with the Boston Massacre, an event that sparked a series of protests, conventions, and ultimately, a revolution. For many Americans, that night was the culmination of years of British suppression and unequal representation. People of all ages and occupations banded together to demand justice.
The events following the Boston Massacre show stark similarities to our nation’s response to the racial injustices that occurred this past summer. While Black Lives Matter is certainly not a new topic, our nation’s attention to anti-Black sentiments erupted like never before, and much of this surge in social consciousness is attributed to protests. Much like the Boston Massacre, for many Americans, the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery were breaking points after years of injustice.
Perhaps one of the most jarring scenes in the first episode depicts the brutal tar and feathering of tax collector John Malcolm. While there is clearly no justification for the terrorization of an individual, these moments of heightened energy accurately reflect the anger many Americans felt. To be compelled to inflict brutality on an individual clearly conveys one’s urgency and determination to demand justice. We as Americans idolize these figures as true patriots who place freedom and justice over all else, engaging in potentially dangerous actions as a means to implement change. However, changes and often contradicts itself depending on the underlying circumstances. Although the Black Lives Matter protests and the Revolutionary war-era protests are both rooted in the fight for equality, the former is deemed as controversial to many Americans. The rioting and looting exhibited during the BLM protests is deemed unpatriotic, yet the violence committed by the angry civilians of the 18th century is acknowledged as the pinnacle of American’s fight for freedom.
The right to protest is ingrained within our country’s DNA. By giving us the agency to improve our nation, protests allow us to form a more intimate relationship with our surrounding environment. The strength to demand change and place oneself into a cause greater than their own existence gives America its power. Shouldn’t we uphold these same ideals to all individuals? Or will America’s cherished values remain applicable to a select few?
Some time back, I wrote a commentary regarding AP-designation courses at Pingry, and how Pingry ought to consider phasing them out. Given the events of the past few weeks, I would like to update that message: I feel that it is now imprudent for Pingry to offer AP Courses, and I hope that this transition occurs as soon as possible.
This might seem like a bit of a dramatic change––I admit that perhaps my last commentary was less vicious towards the College Board. However, the coronavirus has exposed some of the concerns that before, we could only hypothesize about. Our current situation demonstrates that the College Board is ineffective, unnecessary, and has been abusing its monopolistic status over testing.
Colleges and universities have begun showing the same attitudes towards the College Board’s standardized test products. Almost every school will be test-optional for the upcoming admissions season, if they were not already. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology announced in March that it would refuse to consider SAT Subject Tests outright for future admissions seasons as well. As colleges emphasize “holistic admissions” and considering “the whole person,” it’s clear that traditional exam-based metrics are being relegated to first-round screening of applicants rather than acting as deciding factors.
I agree wholeheartedly with those decisions. I have forgotten much of the material that I crammed for my AP World History exam last year; meanwhile, the information that I learned in Pingry’s World History 9 and 10 classes still stays with me. I have no appreciation for AP exams other than the fact that colleges take them as proof of introductory-level course completion. In fact, I feel animosity towards the College Board for their insistence that the exams demonstrate understanding rather than memorization; I have found that their exams are based around limited interpretations and memorized facts, despite their pretensions.
The coronavirus has only demonstrated how embarrassingly pointless College Board’s exams, particularly the APs, have become. The shortened 45-minute exams include a maximum of two questions, with many exams only having one single essay question. In addition, not only do this year’s exam exclude large chunks of material due to their truncated nature, but the College Board has axed the final few units from the accompanying AP Courses. Classes that strictly follow those courses learn less and still demonstrate only a fraction of that knowledge on the exam.
The College Board insists that they have worked with colleges to consider these new AP Exams as course credit, but I am extremely doubtful of that. Take the AP Physics Mechanics exam: why should any college consider a two-question exam that covers probably half of the learned units, not to mention the complete removal of orbital and simple harmonic motion, as equivalent to a full year of introductory physics? In any case, the normal AP Courses are not at the level of rigor as a college course––how could a truncated version carry any semblance of the same value? The College Board refuses to answer these questions properly or honestly.
Moreover, the College Board has done a less-than-satisfactory job of administering the online exams. Countless students––including many at Pingry––have watched their exams refuse to submit through the AP testing system. Beyond that, the College Board sent out a broken makeup test link; after outrage online, they fixed it, but didn’t bother to update anyone or even apologize. Meanwhile, they’ve been posting tone-deaf Tweets about catching cheaters, while upstanding students are left to wait several weeks just to learn whether they’re eligible for the makeup exam. And, despite the fact that the exam is a quarter of the length that it was before, College Board is charging full price ($94) and will take longer to grade the exams than normal.
All of this stems from the fact that College Board’s AP is essentially unchallenged in the market for class-based, subject-specific standardized tests. Its only competitor is the International Baccalaureate (IB) program. Most schools offer either one or the other; few offer both, meaning that most students don’t have a choice as to which advanced courses they can take. Their quasi-monopoly over such schools has allowed them to offer lower-quality products while remaining unchallenged, as it’s very difficult for a school to suddenly switch from AP to IB. While the IB program has cancelled their exams, the AP system forged ahead in their revolutionary product of mismanagement and terrible user experience.
As a final note, Pingry doesn’t benefit from boasting about the number of AP courses or exams it offers. Pingry’s curriculum highly restricts when and which AP Courses students can take. For example, all students must take the Biology-Chemistry sequence in the first two years, while other schools (including public schools) allow students to take AP Chemistry or AP Biology much earlier. Pingry doesn’t offer AP World History, AP Environmental Science, AP Human Geography, AP Research, or AP Seminar courses; for the latter two, I can’t recall a single Pingry student who has taken those exams. Thus, since Pingry already does not fully conform to the AP program, we should be able to do away with AP Courses with few qualms. If teachers can design curricula that have real-world value, rather than dedicate time to an increasingly obsolete test, all members of the community will benefit. The AP Exams can be offered as independent signups for those students who wish to take them.
The College Board has nothing to lose by remaining aloof and ignorant of students’ and teachers’ frustrations. I hope that Pingry can join other independent schools in abandoning the AP for good.
By Noah Bergam (V), Justin Li (V), and Aneesh Karuppur (V)
June 18, 2020
On the evening of June 11, the Pingry community received an email from Head of School Matt Levinson and the Board of Trustees confirming that Mr. Jake Ross was fired from The Pingry School. A few hours earlier, an apology email which Mr. Ross had sent to the baseball team earlier in the week began to circulate around the student body, and gained more public visibility as a result of an email from Alexandra Weber ‘20 sent to juniors and seniors; in her email, Weber stated that Mr. Ross had been barred by “the administration” from sending his apology to the whole school. The next day, a group of students, backed by over 600 petition signatures, sent an email to the Board of Trustees asking them to reinstate Mr. Ross.
Here is how we interpret the situation, according to the content and rhetoric of the Board’s June 11 termination letter, Mr. Ross’ apology letter, and the students’ June 12 letter to the Board.
On the week of June 8, an Instagram account operated by Pingry parents known as “_bigbluebaseball_” posted a picture of Mr Ross and the seniors on the boys’ baseball team, holding a banner that read “Everything Matters.” Some Pingry students thought the timing of this banner was in bad taste, since it resembled the slogan “All Lives Matter,” which is used as a protest against the Black Lives Matter movement.
If the June 11 letter from the Board answered one thing directly, it was that Mr. Ross was not fired for the Instagram post itself. Rather, he was fired for disrespectful conduct towards “school administrators,” including Mr. Levinson, when they attempted to “engage the community in dialogue” about the post and its impact.
Why was Mr. Ross disrespectful? Rather than providing any direct insight into the context of his frustration, or affirming the confidentiality of such context, the June 11 letter expounds on the idea that the conduct was part of a longer pattern of bad behavior: “This is also not the first instance in which he has demonstrated poor judgment and disrespect. We have learned there have been other instances that have resulted in a demotion of leadership responsibilities.” These words attack Ross’ character in past, possibly unrelated incidents rather than shedding light on the moment that actually caused him to get fired.
Moreover, the vocabulary describing Mr. Ross in this email is much harsher than that used to describe Mr. Graig Peterson in the August 27, 2019 email which announced Peterson’s firing in the wake of his use of “extensive, non-school-related electronic communication with several Upper School students.” In the August 27 email, written by Mr. Levinson and Upper School Director Ms. Chatterji, the only directly negative word used to describe Peterson’s behavior was “inappropriate,” whereas the June 11 email condemns Ross’ behavior with phrases such “unprofessional and inappropriate,” “unacceptable and antithetical to our values,” and “poor judgment and disrespect.” The June 12 petition letter pointed out the “usually strong terms used to characterize this incident,” going so far as to say that “the Dean Ross you described is not the Dean Ross we all know and love.”
The June 11 letter props up the school’s commitment to diversity and inclusion, treating Ross’ termination as a stepping stone towards that goal. The letter begins by quoting Mr. Levinson (or, as the letter colloquially refers to him, “Matt”) about his determination to uphold Pingry’s “inclusivity, honor, respect, and civic engagement” and ends with actions the school will take towards making a more inclusive educational environment. The aforementioned, overtly negative depiction of Ross, bookended by positive descriptions of the inclusive mission of the Board and Mr. Levinson in particular, implies that Mr. Ross personally stood in the way of this mission, and moreover that his termination contributed to the school’s goals of diversity and inclusion: “This letter and the actions below are only the first step.”
In his apology letter, Ross takes on a very different style from the Board; while the June 11 letter is self-promoting and, with 29 authors, profoundly impersonal, Ross’ letter establishes a voice that acknowledges mistakes and commits to personal change: “I clearly missed this one, but I will learn. I will be better.” Ross’ language is perhaps not as professional and self-assured as the Board’s (“The emotional rage and hurt I feel each time I think about what it must be like to be a black person in America, is not something I can convey in an email”) yet it embodies his open, relatable style as a leader, which the June 12 petition letter from students defends as a quality that allowed him, as a dean, to contribute to diversity and inclusion at Pingry with “sensitivity, dignity, and swiftness.”
The June 12 petition letter takes a sharp stance against the rhetoric of the June 11 message, stating that the “vagueness of the statements in the letter we received has also done little to assuage our concerns about the handling of this incident.” It implies that the June 11 email increased the very “deepening polarity” it pointed out and may have broken the Honor Code principle of “confidentiality in disciplinary proceedings” considering how it “so readily and publicly humiliate[d] a colleague.” Ultimately, the letter makes a bold request to the Board: “rectify your mistake by reinstating him.”
As of June 19, The Board of Trustees and Mr. Levinson have yet to respond.
We do not know much about the situation surrounding Mr. Ross’ misconduct: neither its severity nor its source. What we do know is that, between the language that the Board and Mr. Levinson used to describe Ross, and the language used by students and Ross himself, we have two very different pictures of the former dean––one depicting a disrespectful figure who stood in the way of diversity and inclusion, and the other depicting a crucial part of the Pingry community who actively supported the endeavour.
When my parents told my brother that they wanted him to take a gap year before starting school at Trinity College, let’s just say he was less than pleased. To be more precise, he was mortified. Taking a gap year would mean he wouldn’t be in the same grade as his friends. It would mean he wouldn’t have the freedom that college grants. And, worst of all, it would mean he’d have to wait another year before he could join a fraternity. To my brother, taking a gap year was a social death sentence.
My brother wasn’t alone in his eagerness to go to college. The concept of college life, with all its glorious freedom, is one that entices many Pingry students. I myself have been talking about college so much that my father had to buy me college guide books just to get me to shut up about it. But while college is exciting, is it smart to rush into college so quickly?
The concept of the gap year––a year spent between the end of high school and the beginning of college, usually for the sake of travel––was popularized as early as the 1960s. Its original purpose was actually geopolitical, not simply for the enjoyment of the traveling individual but more importantly for two countries to exchange religious and cultural ideas in order to maintain peace between them. Although war is less thought about now than it was then, gap years have only grown in popularity and variety. A number of celebrities, including Steve Jobs, J.K Rowling, and Hugh Jackman, took gap years.
But, what makes a gap year appealing? A 2015 national alumni survey conducted by the American Gap Association asked one hundred students from across the country that very question. The data showed that by taking a gap year not only did students’ communication skills and self-confidence increase, but they were able to learn through hands-on experience about different cultures. The data showed that gap years can also improve students’ academic performance. According to a 2017 study of GPA results by Robert Clagett, gap year students tended to outperform in college by 0.1 to 0.4 on a 4.0 scale, with the positive effects lasting the entire four years. Gap years are so effective, in fact, that certain colleges have gone on to encourage them. These colleges include Tufts and Princeton, both of which have been very popular colleges amung Pingry graduates in past years.
And if traveling isn’t your cup of tea, don’t worry. There are thousands of other things you can do on a gap year. From interning to volunteering locally to enrolling in online courses, the possibilities are endless. A gap year is simply a time to develop as an individual. It’s a time to learn things that you wouldn’t ordinarily learn in a classroom. You choose how and what you want to learn. And that is, perhaps, the most appealing thing about them.
As for Ben, he ended up going on his gap year. He spent five months in Fiji, New Zealand, and Australia, where he did everything from skydiving to volunteering with local youth to scuba diving. When I asked him, he said he couldn’t remember why he didn’t want to go in the first place.
Of course, gap years aren’t for everyone. But it’s comforting to know that there are options for the future. If the conventional timeline doesn’t appeal to you, then there are thousands of other ways to live your life that are both exciting and educational. All you have to do is find the path that works best for you.
In the last year-and-a-half, the departures of teachers such as Mr. Peterson, Ms. Taylor, and Mr. Thompson did not pass without controversy and speculation. Despite the uncertainty clouding most of these departures, it is undeniable that each one these teachers, and every faculty member at Pingry, offers something unique to the community; this year, the absences of these teachers have made us especially aware of this fact. As such, their departures left many of us feeling disappointed, and in many cases confused.
By speaking one-on-one with a few students, I have gleaned that the effect of these recent departures and the broader issue of teacher turnover is a topic students want to discuss. Aneesh Karuppur (V), for example, tells me that he is specifically “concerned regarding the number of departures each year, as it hurts the continuity throughout the years, as well as the solidity of Pingry’s teaching style and curriculum.” He also mentions that “as more and more of the Magistri faculty leave each year, it’s very important to secure replacements who will be able to stay at Pingry for similarly long periods of time.“
The foundation of an effective education, especially at Pingry, is the student-teacher relationship, and the concerns of Aneesh and many others raise important questions about Pingry as an educational institution. However, it is important to examine whether concerns like these are even justifiable. Looking past the particularly conspicuous departures in recent years, is teacher turnover really an issue at Pingry? Is the administration doing enough to make Pingry a place where teachers want to teach, and keep teaching?
To begin my investigation, I took a quantitative approach. In search of a reliable faculty database, I spoke with Dr. Dinkins, who informed me that such a resource was not readily accessible and instead advised me to look through past yearbooks. While yearbooks would not allow me to examine metrics, like average faculty tenure, using them in combination with departing faculty articles in the Record’s annual commencement issues allowed me to generate an annual proportion of departing faculty. This statistic would provide a broad picture of teacher turnover each year, which I could further categorize by department.
At home, I laid out the yearbooks I had accumulated on my bookshelf from 2012 to 2019 and recorded the number of Upper and Middle School faculty in each department each year, as well as the number of Magistri across all three campuses (I chose to exclude administrators since their turnover does not necessarily fit within the scope of my investigation and a large portion of administrators also taught classes in other departments). I added the department totals to obtain a total number of teaching faculty, making an effort to avoid double-counting faculty members who appeared in multiple departments, such as Mr. Lear or Ms. Thuzar.
I found that from 2012 to 2018, the proportion of faculty departures remained relatively consistent. The only notable feature of the graph occurs in 2019, where 9.4% of total teaching faculty departed and the graph indicates a significant upward spike, giving some justification to the recent concern. Nevertheless, I don’t believe that this singular spike, which could very likely be an outlier, indicates any overarching issue with teacher turnover at Pingry. However, it is notable that the number of Magistri has declined rather steadily since 2012, a trend that affirms Aneesh’s concern that fewer and fewer of Pingry’s faculty are holders of this prestigious distinction.
I decided it might also be interesting to see the differences in faculty retention across departments; I observed that the department that seems to retain its faculty the best is the arts department, which sees an average 5.47% of its faculty leave each year since 2012. By my metric, the language department seems to be the worst, with an average percentage at 11.04%, which doubles that of the arts department
While quantitative analysis can be informative, I do not feel it is sufficient to survey an issue as nuanced as teacher turnover solely by the use of statistics. In an effort to humanize my analysis, I spoke with US Director Chatterji, who was familiar with many of the recently departed faculty and could give me a more personal outlook on the issue. We talked first about the measures Pingry takes to incentivize teachers to keep teaching at Pingry. While she pointed out that Pingry has no formal incentivization program, she stressed the importance of “conversation” to faculty retention. She says that “teachers want to teach at Pingry because of its emphasis on human relationships.” She cited the numerous instances in which she had written recommendations for teachers applying for positions at other schools: by speaking about their experience and perhaps making a change to what they’re teaching, their office space, or the number of seasons they coach, these teachers were often happier and chose to continue teaching at Pingry, even with other job offers on the table.
She also made an important distinction between the types of departures, saying that “[Pingry] can’t hold all people. Our goal is not to retain people who are leaving because of retirement, marriage, or other life circumstances.” Instead, she believes that the more important number to look at is how many teachers are moving to other schools in pursuit of something Pingry wasn’t providing. Mr. Karrat or Dr. Chin-Shefi are examples of teachers who could fall into this category. Looking at departures from this lens, there does not seem to be a trend or major issue, with an average of 2.5 faculty moving to different schools each year and the rest leaving for largely unpreventable reasons.
The third category of departures is dismissals. While often the most dramatic and memorable, this is the category over which Pingry has the least control, as the school cannot control the behavior of its faculty. Nonetheless, I chose to look into an area where Pingry can exert at least some influence over the frequency at which they are forced to dismiss teachers: the hiring process. Ms. Chatterji explained that Pingry posts job openings in various locations, including job search websites, as well as on the “Employment” page of pingry.org. Mr. Dinkins, and now Ms. Holmes-Glogwer, in collaboration with department chairs, then sorts through resumes and applications from these various channels to identify qualified candidates. If the number of dismissals is actually an issue, which I don’t have the data to conclude (the Record does not write departing faculty articles for dismissed faculty), perhaps Pingry is losing its ability to attract candidates who, once hired, can continue to uphold the standard that Pingry expects from its faculty. Eva Schiller (V) also mentions that “there seems to be very extreme punishment for certain teachers without widespread preventative measures being made across the board,” and I concur that clearer guidelines for faculty conduct might help reduce the number of necessary dismissals.
Ultimately, though, I believe this investigation indicates that the Pingry administration seems to be doing their best to retain faculty. As the statistics I gathered show, recent concern likely stems from last year’s unusually high departure rate, and while the number of Magistri does seem to be declining, there is no way to say it will not rise again in the near future. At the same time, teacher turnover is an important issue to monitor, and investigations like this one can allow us to hold the school accountable if an abnormal teacher turnover rate begins to more conclusively tarnish the Pingry experience.
A metapoem is a poem about poetry. The poem, somehow, has crossed the fourth wall and recognized itself as a sequence of words and letters. It can then evaluate itself, and even criticize itself. Think of this article as something of a meta-article: an article about articles. Specifically, an article about the credibilityof the Pingry Record. Are we openly and accurately reporting Pingry news, or have we––as my title indicates––gone soft?
Perhaps I should clarify what it means to “go soft.” I define it as ignoring relevant topics for the sole purpose of avoiding controversy and protecting the Pingry ‘brand.’ I should also clarify that the Pingry Record is not, nor has it ever been, an organ of the administration. All content and all editorial decisions come from students and faculty advisors. As Dean Chatterji informed me, “the administration does not provide input into what the Record covers.”
Nonetheless, based on issues from the last fifteen years, the Pingry Record is undeniably more conservative than it used to be. The following are examples of controversial and problematic topics found in old issues, all of which I believe are not appropriate for a 2020 issue.
1. An opinion piece called “The Real Zero Tolerance Policy,” which appears on page three of the January 2003 issue. The article, which is publicly available on the Pingry website, discusses racial issues at Pingry, as well as political correctness and racist politicians. It takes just one quick skim of the article for a modern day reader to spot multiple points of contention. In addition to its subject, the piece includes biting quips about racial inequality, as well as racist statements (written ironically) and uncensored racial slurs. Clearly, this is in no way acceptable for a 2020 issue, nor should it be. However, it certainly demonstrates just how significantly the culture of Pingry, and by extension, the Record, has changed in past years.
In addition to publishing controversial articles, older issues of the Record report a coarser version of Pingry news.
2. The April 2004 issue dedicates a front page headline to the news that “Financial Aid Funds Will Not Meet Students’ Need.” An editorial on page two, and two additional articles on page four further explore the problem and criticize the “moral message… the school [is] sending if qualified applicants cannot attend Pingry due to financial need.”
3. The April 2004 issue also includes a rather harsh letter from former Assistant Headmaster Adam Rohdie, who “…ask[ed] the editors to rethink what is at the core of Pingryʼs Honor Code.”
3. The April 2009 issue includes a student interview featuring expletives and a joke about anorexia (in response to the question: “Mary Kate or Ashley”).
It is important to note that the aforementioned cases are not consistent with every single article and issue published during these years. As Student Body President Brian Li (VI) noted, “the content of the paper ebbs and flows as leadership transitions from year to year.” However, I chose to highlight the most controversial articles because they set the previous limitations of the Pingry Record. Topics that were once considered in bounds are now considered out of bounds, making it difficult to deny that the Record has developed into a “softer” establishment.
This could be due to a number of reasons: cancel culture, increased awareness of diversity and inclusion, and rising political polarity have found their way into Pingry and beyond within the last ten years. As a result, we all have to be more conscious of how our actions affect others, and the Record has come to reflect that. Just this year, the editorial staff took steps to ensure that our opinion remained neutral on difficult topics such as teacher-student relationships. As an editor, I can attest that other hot topics––TikTok Honor Code violations and racial slurs still floating around on campus––are also, by some unspoken rule, not within the bounds of Record material (ironically, in mentioning them, I run the risk of crossing that boundary).
That said, a softer Record is not necessarily a bad thing.
The internet age puts us all in the spotlight, amplifying the impact of small actions that would have gone unnoticed pre-social media. This makes the new decade a difficult time for daring or accusatory articles. A kinder and gentler Record could perhaps indicate that “students are more considerate of the community, and how their words might impact those around them,” Dean Chatterji points out.
Of course, I in no way advocate the curses, racial slurs, and insensitive comments I found in older issues of the Record. However, the candor of the content I cited, despite fostering controversy, did increase its appeal and create a genuine time capsule of the Pingry community. I respect those articles for their openness. At the end of the day, the Record staff has the power to impact the opinions of the Pingry community, and if we can’t discuss hard topics openly, nobody will. Thus, as an editor, I feel it is our responsibility to learn from past articles and recapture their candor, while still retaining a higher level of cultural respect. If we do so tactfully, we could paint a more raw and genuine picture of Pingry.