By Zara Jacob (V)
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.
By Meghan Durkin (V)
My brother joined me outside, football in hand. The fall wind brushed past our faces as it carried the ball from his hands to mine and back. Our hands grew colder with each toss until we ran inside for warmth. It was the first time we had thrown the football together in years. When we were younger, it was a weekly ritual, and one that brought us sweet memories. Five years later, standing in my backyard as the football flew through the chilling air, I felt the desire to reverse time. I wanted more than to be reminded of what we used to do; I wanted to be back in that time. I wished for my carefree, strong self; I needed my brother to have time to spend with me again.
I felt nostalgic. The feeling was overwhelmingly bittersweet. I envied my former self. The nostalgia consumed me. But I know I’m surely not alone in this feeling. Society has come to seek nostalgia more frequently. The feeling has shaped our media, trends, and fashion. Nostalgia, often a relatively personal feeling, has become global. The connectivity of our world, which has only recently expanded, forces commonalities in experiences that trigger nostalgia. With the rise of technology and social media, we have a greater access to shared thoughts and events, which ultimately allows nostalgia to shape our world as an image of the past.
This newfound sense of global nostalgia is evident in recent fashion trends: platform shoes from the seventies, scrunchies from the eighties, and the denim-on-denim look from the nineties. The popularity of these trends has resurfaced decades later to blend into today’s fashion. While acting as reminders of the past, they serve as evidence of the desire to return to and pull from what was. Nostalgia is also fueling the entertainment industry. In the last six months, Disney has released three live action remakes of their classic films, including Aladdin and The Lion King, which, combined, made over two billion dollars at the box office. These movies attracted people who had watched them as kids, capitalizing on the need for nostalgia. The films allow them to relive a simpler, often more desirable, time in their lives. Furthermore, both the resurfacing of fashion trends and classic movies stress the worldwide nature of nostalgia. It is felt universally by a generation. As distant places and people are connected through technology, that shared nostalgia is more accessible and society is reaching for it.
The accessibility of nostalgia is present in the popularity of Netflix. With the click of a button, people can watch shows and movies from decades ago. These shows, including Friends and The Office, are not only watched by original fans, but by a new generation who wishes to be included in the shows and the collective experience they create. Along with this, the Netflix revivals of shows such as Gilmore Girls and Arrested Development give viewers a greater entrance into the past as it seemingly takes them, in a new way, back to the first time they saw the show. For original viewers, this type of access to their favorite show has only been made possible recently.
While nostalgia allows fond times and experiences in our lives to resurface, it can be dangerous. Nostalgia acts as another form of regret, a form that is often sheltered from the negative connotations. The feeling stops us from letting go; it stops us from being satisfied. With expanding technology and connection, nostalgia is no longer as simple as reminiscing over tossing the football in the backyard; it is a way to expose the discontent with society in the present. People wish to go back to a time in which they believe the world was better off. The rise of global nostalgia signifies a collective need to remove ourselves from the present, and reminisce about the simpler times of our past.
Noah Bergam (V)
In the spring of last year, some friends and I became obsessed with an online game called Diplomacy. In this wonderfully irritating game, each player owns a certain pre-WWI European country, and, move by move, they try to maximize their territory.
Since each player starts out with roughly the same resources, the only way to succeed is to make alliances, to get people to trust you, and, of course, to silently betray that trust at some point to reach the top.
This was perhaps the first time I was introduced to the concept of a zero-sum game––a system where, in order to gain, someone else must lose. I was terrible at it. I didn’t have the confidence to really scare anyone. I couldn’t keep a secret for my life. And worst of all, I couldn’t get anyone to trust me.
The ‘game’ I was most familiar with up to that point was that of school, of direct merit. A system where hard work and quality results are supposed to pay off on an individual basis, and one person’s success doesn’t have to mean another’s failure.
I was especially entrenched in that mindset when my brother went to Pingry. I looked up to his leadership and social abilities, his diplomacy essentially, and realized I could never be like him in that realm––I didn’t have the same sort of outward confidence and social cunning. All I could do was look at his numbers and try my best to one-up them; in my mind, that was the only way for me to prove I wasn’t inferior.
But now that brotherly competition is gone. And I have the leadership I’ve been working toward. And now I’m realizing that, from my current perspective, Pingry’s system of student leadership is not the game of direct merit I thought it was. I wouldn’t go so far to say it’s a bloodbath, zero sum-game, but there’s certainly an element of transaction, and therefore diplomacy, you have to master. Complex transactions of time and energy for club tenure and awards.
It’s really an economy of accolades, where the currency is our effort as students outside the classroom. We involve ourselves in activities and invest our time, of course, to do things we love, but there’s no denying that there’s an incentive to earn a title, a position of leadership that can be translated onto a resumé.
It’s an ugly mindset, but it unfortunately exists. And the ruling principle is merit diplomacy––for the underclassmen, a more merit-oriented rise through application processes and appointments, and for upperclassmen leaders, a need to balance the prerogatives and talents of constituent club members.
That diplomatic end for the student leader is taxing. You have to think in terms of your own defense when people doubt your abilities. You need to make sure people still invest time in what you run. You want respect. Friendship. But sometimes you can’t shake off the guilt of getting that position, because you know the anxious feeling of watching and waiting for that reward.
Now your mistakes are visible. Now you have to know why you have the position you have, and why others should follow you. You need legitimacy to hold on to what you have.
I’m the first junior editor-in-chief of this paper in recent memory. And I know that raises eyebrows to my counterparts who know my brother was editor-in-chief last year. I acknowledge that publicly, because I’m putting the integrity and openness of my job here above my own personal fear of being seen as some privileged sequel. I’m not going to let whispers define my work. I know who I am, and it’s more than just this title. It’s more than a well-spent investment in the economy of accolades. And I’ll prove it.
That’s what the diplomacy side of things teaches you. You come to a watershed moment in high school where you pass the illusion of the merit machine and realize it’s all a matter of communication.
Merit diplomacy can be an ugly and nerve wracking concept; it’s damaging to take it so seriously. It distracts from true passion, and it reinforces the bubble of Pingry life, making us deify our in-school positions and the idea of the accolade rather than the identity of the students themselves.
There are communities and worlds beyond this school. And one might think of Pingry’s economy of accolades as the microcosm of the ‘real world.’ But I think even that gives it too much credit.
It’s practice. It should be a side thought to our passions, not the intense focus of student life. Merit diplomacy is a game––perhaps a high-stakes game––but a game nonetheless.
Justin Li (V)
Traditionally, the process of education has been regarded as the unreciprocated transfer of information to a student, who is treated as an empty container to be filled. Paulo Freire, a 20th-century philosopher on pedagogy, refers to this antiquated model as “banking education,” which he demonstrates as discouraging to critical thinking and creativity.
In recent years, society has begun to progress from its sole reliance on memorization and one-sided lecturing towards what Freire calls a “problem-posing model,” which characterizes education as a mutually beneficial barter of knowledge between teacher and student. Through conversations with students attending high school in different parts of the world, I’ve realized that Pingry is on the cutting edge of this evolution.
In other words, at least at Pingry, students should no longer view their teachers as distant faucets of information. More and more, the student’s relationship with their teachers is becoming an exchange in which both sides participate equally. In the same way that a teacher confers their own knowledge, they encourage the expression of the student’s own ideas, even when they counter their own. However, this model — one in which it is possible for the student to teach the teacher—inherently blurs the roles that their very titles suggest; an effective problem-posing teacher invites this lack of distinction in the classroom.
Any schools which uses the problem posing model must also face the practical implications of a more egalitarian relationship between the teacher and student. Though in abstract, such a relationship should promote an education based on critical thinking, a lack of boundaries can create a potential for abuse of power, conflicts of interest, and other forms of misconduct.
Beyond the relative security that watchful students and teachers provide within the peripheries of the Pingry campus, these issues are compounded. For instance, what can we categorize as appropriate mediums of external communication? Pingry students reach out to faculty through their Pingry email addresses. The formality of typical email conventions, as well as the fact that all correspondence occurs under a “pingry.org” domain, makes this choice the standard. The nature of an alternate method of communication, such as text messaging, is more of a grey area; it elicits the use of abbreviations, emojis, and a relatively informal tone. Text messaging is the primary means of communication for most of the students I know, and likely the same for many teachers. Thus, texting seems more natural a medium of communication for almost all of us, as it feels more like a conversation than a series of inquiries. The topic and frequency of external communication is also important to consider. When a teacher and a student share an interest in the same NBA team, or both enjoy biking as a hobby, is it inappropriate for them to speak about it outside of school occasionally? How about every week? If both teacher and student feel entirely comfortable during the interaction, has a boundary been crossed?
In many cases, I don’t believe so. Whether it be through the tone of the conversation or a common hobby, a certain kind of respect accompanies a student’s ability to relate with his teacher. For example, I don’t believe that the sole act of texting a student is necessarily inappropriate, even about nonacademic subjects. However, it is essential to understand that harmless familiarity can quickly lead to being uncomfortable. Pingry’s administrators should make an effort to more clearly establish the details of this boundary to both faculty and students, and ensure that violations are identifiable, without question. Whether these boundaries align exactly with the ones I’ve presented above is not as important as ensuring their clarity for all members of the community. In practice, a good start to this goal might look like a formal assembly outlining these boundaries, accompanied by an accessible email or document.
In short, I believe that in order to create an environment that is both conducive to learning and comfortable for students, it is the administration’s paramount duty to draw and enforce teacher-student boundaries. At Pingry, violations of these boundaries have been treated with gravity and resolved with exemplary speed. Simultaneously, though at a lesser degree, we must value the educational benefits of an empathetic relationship. We should recognize that students and teachers should not be as detached from each other as they traditionally were. In fact, with strict barriers, we should embrace the fact that teachers and students are more alike than we think.
Brynn Weisholtz (VI)
As I boarded the plane and walked to my seat, I paid little attention to the people surrounding me––I was unaware of who they were, how they looked, and where they were going. I placed my carry-on bag in the compartment above my head, took my seat, secured my seatbelt, inserted my airpods and chose my favorite playlist; I was settled in and ready for a relaxing flight. It’s odd––every individual has their own life, in which they make their own choices, have their own opinions, and live with their own consequences. As such, we rarely think about strangers because we are so consumed with our own existences.
But on this flight, I thought about the person three rows ahead of me en route to our sunny destination.
Listening to my downloaded Spotify playlist, my song was interrupted by a loud disturbance, an escalating conversation between a passenger and a United Airlines representative. I wasn’t sure what the argument was about. Was it a seating issue? Was the passenger on the wrong plane? Did she possess a liquid more than the permitted 1.7 ounces? All I could deduce was that something very serious was going on.
The stranger in row 7 became a topic for most of the passengers on the plane. People were suddenly interested in something other than their magazines and music. What we came to learn is that this woman entered the aircraft as every other paying passenger did, and was asked to leave the plane because of her clothing. Her crime was wearing a tube top. Apparently, exposing one’s midriff on a United Airlines flight is against the company’s dress code and results in removal from the aircraft. How could this be? She wasn’t unclothed. I didn’t find her outfit tasteless, especially since I had, on multiple occasions, boarded a United Airlines flight wearing some variation of that outfit; actually, on that very flight, I, too, donned leggings and a tube top; however my stomach was covered by a zippered sweatshirt, for the sole purpose of staying warm inflight. I was actually shocked that this was an issue, as I had never even heard about a dress code for a flight. After some research, I located the United Airlines Dress Code, which bans attire like swimwear and mini skirts.
While, I understand the necessity for some of these restrictions, whether it be to safeguard people from derogatory words or protect passengers from clothing deemed hazardous by the airline (i.e., open toes shoes or barefoot), I do question the implementation of the airline’s dress code when deciding what makes an outfit fit for travel. This passenger was not offered a complimentary shirt or article of clothing, nor was she provided with a blanket to wrap around her exposed area. Rather, she was forced to forgo her seat and return to the terminal. United Airlines did not care that she would be missing out on her vacation or that she paid for this flight and hotel accommodations. All that seemed to be of importance was that her clothing was out of dress code for the flight.
This inherently begs the question: how can our society, which preaches freedom of expression, dictate what we as people wear when it is not offensive nor harmful? Limiting a person’s clothing choices in a public arena is in opposition to a freedom we hold in high regard in America. And the lack of compassion expressed by the employees for the passenger and the situation was equally as shameful in my opinion. I am confident that the woman did not choose to wear a tube top to blatantly defy the airline’s policy. On the contrary, she likely chose her outfit for the same reasons I chose my outfit that morning….it was comfortable.
By Brynn Weisholtz ’20
Standing in line to see Come From Away at the Schoenfeld Theater in New York City, I found myself wishing I were on a different line waiting for basically any other show. I peered around at the other shows near me. I saw Dear Evan Hansen and sighed; Kinky Boots and smiled; Hamilton and gasped. Indeed, I knew nothing about Come From Away except that my mother had met an older woman at Dear Evan Hansen who raved about it and convinced her to catapult Come From Away to the top of our Broadway wish list.
As the doors opened at 7:30, the line filed into the smallest theater I had ever been in. My family took our seats and, as I looked around, I noticed that the average age of the audience was somewhere between the ages of my parents and my grandparents. Suddenly, I heard a woman explaining that she and her husband had flown into New York City from Newfoundland this very morning to see the play. As the lights began to dim, my curiosity was piqued by her story; she had, in fact, lived through some of the events that were to be featured in the musical.
I knew Come From Away centered around the small town of Gander in Newfoundland, Canada, where an intimate community rallied to help strangers following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. However, I did not have any concept of how the tragic events of the day forever changed the lives of the selfless people of Gander. With air traffic halted and planes unable to land in the United States, 38 planes were diverted to Gander Airport, and Gander, with a population of only 9,000, welcomed over 7,000 strangers from across the world with open arms. At a moment’s notice, cots were set up in schools, supplies were retrieved from local stores, food was prepared, and no questions were asked except, “What else can I do?”
I was truly in awe of all the people who opened their hearts and homes to complete strangers. The residents of Gander welcomed citizens from all walks of life and were not deterred by language or cultural barriers; instead, they bonded, embraced one another, celebrated life, and mourned the world’s tragedy alongside strangers, some of whom would become lifelong friends.Throughout the 100-minute musical, I was entranced by the story depicted on stage, one that brought both laughter and tears to my fellow onlookers and myself. While the majority of the audience appeared to vividly remember the events of 9/11, I only know of that day through second hand stories, as I was not yet born. Growing up in a post-9/11 world, I cannot fully comprehend how different life used to be, but the musical brought me to a better understanding of how radically the world around me has changed. Although I was not alive that fateful September morning, the tears I shed at the performance of Come From Away connected me with the people in that theater just as the people of Gander connected with their visitors. The show I regretted leaving my house for opened my eyes to see how selfless humans can truly be.
By Ethan Malzberg ’19
I grew up with a life-size band-aid covering wounds it never healed.
Though the expanse of years has erased much from my memory, I’ve never forgotten any of the comments on my gay voice. The first was in fifth grade. I beat him in a game of War, to which he responded, “At least I don’t have a gay voice!” It was a word still foreign to me, only heard on commercials for Modern Family, but it has altered the way I view myself even to this day. In a term I learned from Dr. Rodney Glasgow at the Student Diversity Leadership Conference, it was cognitive dissonance — an “identity bump” — with one comment completely changing my own perception of my identity in a way I had never considered before.
I ran home to my mom that day, impatient to tell her what that boy said. After a brief pause, she delivered the normal parental recourse for when your kid is bullied: “You’re not gay, he’s just trying to insult you because he’s jealous. Don’t let him bring you down!” It was a relief to hear this from my mother at the time: I was not the unfamiliar word with which he described my voice because my mom said so. It was a little band-aid to shield an enormous insecurity that has stalked me since.
It was also a relief to hear my guidance counselor repeat the same sentiment the following day. “You’re not gay, he’s just trying to insult you because he’s jealous. Don’t let him bring you down!” It was the perfect recipe for repression; I could now ignore his comment for the foreseeable future because my mom and guidance counselor said so. That is, of course, until the next “your voice is gay” would come just two months later at camp. Although the band-aid’s effect was fleeting, it was just what I needed at the time.
Years later, I discovered an email chain between my mother and my guidance counselor about the incident. “[Redacted] called Ethan’s voice ‘gay’ today,” my mother explained to the guidance counselor. “Of course, Ethan is not gay, but he was very hurt,” she finished. As I observe that exchange today, I gawk at how the situation was handled. “You’re not gay”: not then, but now I am. “He’s just trying to insult you”: how is it an insult? “Don’t let him bring you down”: you just did! The truth is my voice is higher pitched than the average male. It always has been and it always will be; I recognize there is nothing wrong with this but my lasting insecurity tells me otherwise.
Instead of addressing reality, adults put a band-aid of denial over this wound. People commented on my voice throughout the entirety of my childhood — even the rabbi at my own Bar Mitzvah joked that it was “angelic” and “womanly” during his sermon, and the panacea has always been, “That’s not true! Your voice is normal.” Every time a band-aid was put on me, it was promptly ripped off, reapplied, ripped off, reapplied. An interminable cycle that all but begged the wound to fester.
I don’t blame my mom or my guidance counselor at all — or any adult for that matter, since the same situation arose more times than I can count and touched all areas of my being. Shifting societal attitudes over the past eight years have changed the conversation on how to raise LGBTQ+ kids and I believe that email exchange would have been very different today. Regardless, every adult who recoursed the bullying I endured had the best intentions to make me feel better.
This Band-Aid Culture extends much further than my situation. It reminds me of the trophy debate: should every kid on every team be awarded a trophy? We subliminally tell the youth that everyone is the best even if they aren’t. In principle, this guards children from an unwarranted inferiority complex. In reality, we raise children to believe that the sole point of a game is to win. We prescribe trophies as band-aids to the losers, telling them “you are not a loser” instead of “it’s okay to lose, there is a greater purpose to the game than winning.” Though not a perfect analogy to my situation, like trophies, adults slapped on a band-aid to my troubles, telling me “you are not gay” instead of “love yourself no matter who you are.” Using band-aids, we shield kids from pain at the expense of growth. The wound never heals; instead, it festers until it reaches its nadir, and eventually, it must be treated properly. We need to eliminate the band-aids and start handling issues at the onset.
By Martha Lewand ’20
It may be hard to believe, but I recently had an interesting revelation when I took the ACT. Of course, most students consider the test both stressful and painful – it is a quintuple whammy of English, math, reading, science, and the essay. By the time I started to write that essay, I was thinking more about completing it than having a profound insight. But something about the essay got me thinking. Among other things, the prompt asked me to consider the perspective that we should block out as much bad news as we can, because too much negativity can lead people to believe that they can never solve the world’s problems. While that idea was initially appealing – after all, who wants to listen to bad news – I eventually concluded that bad news should be heard, not so we can wallow in depression and self-pity, but because hearing bad news is the first and most necessary step towards making the world a better place. As disturbing as bad news can be, it often is the impetus for positive change. Bad news may leave people frustrated, dispirited, and helpless, but when bad news inspires us to make a difference, it has the effect of bringing out the best in the human spirit, allowing us to find the solutions to the problems that plague us. To make ourselves better, we need bad news.
For example, take the Parkland school shooting in February 2018. In the aftermath, many people struggled to understand how such a thing could have happened. When I first heard about the incident, I was shocked, struggling to comprehend and grasp what had occurred. A few days later, however, I came across an article that detailed the biographies of the seventeen victims. As I scrolled down the list, tears began to stream down my face. I saw profiles that reminded me of students I knew and I also saw a profile that reminded me of myself. It described a seventeen-year-old boy named Nicholas Dworet. Nicholas was tall with blonde hair and blue eyes, like me; not only was Nicholas a swimmer, like me, but he was committed to swim at the University of Indianapolis next fall. Yet, he would never get to fulfill his dreams of attending college and pursuing the sport he loved.
Gradually, my sadness and heartbreak transformed into fiery frustration. I was tired of senseless gun violence in our schools; I was tired of hearing “thoughts and prayers” instead of demands for change. I had finally had enough.
Soon after, I heard about the March for Our Lives movement, the student-led demonstration that would take place in Washington D.C. I had never attended any sort of march before, but I knew this was a chance to use my voice along with hundreds of thousands of activists and demand change. On March 24, 2018, I woke up at 3:45 AM and made my way to our capital to march with my friend. We stood with our signs, marched on Pennsylvania Avenue with fellow students, and made our voices heard. I had never felt so empowered.
What came out of the Parkland shooting for me and many others was a newfound passion for political activism and the resolve to fight for better laws to prevent gun violence. I learned how important it is that young people stand up and fight for what we believe in. Finally, I understood that exposure to bad news is necessary because it can turn tragedy into something good, something that can inspire us to make change for the better.
Of course, no one wishes for bad news. That ACT essay perspective I mentioned made a good point: If we hear too much bad news, our hope for a brighter future may be crushed. In the face of catastrophe, we may just want to give up and stop trying. I felt that way after the Parkland shooting. However, out of our darkest fears and deepest despairs must come the resolve to make things better. To paraphrase, Edmund Burke once famously wrote that evil triumphs when good people stand by and do nothing. We have to be the force for positive social change. To become that force, we must confront the evil around us. When we learn of bad news, a school shooting, a race riot, or the murder of a journalist, we must resist the temptation to flip the channel or turn the page. As tough as it may be, we have to see the bad news as a chance to do something about it.
Recently, the US Congress banned bump stocks, which will keep someone from converting a legally purchased rifle into an automatic weapon. This will not end gun violence in America, but it is a critically important step toward making our schools, shopping malls, hospitals, and synagogues safer. That ban was passed because people were motivated by the grim reality of mass shootings in America. They accomplished this progress because they had the courage to confront a difficult truth and the conviction to act on their beliefs. We have to stare bad news in the face and work to make sure it doesn’t happen again. Only then will we build the country we want.
By Ketaki Tavan ’19
This past Friday’s LeBow Oratorical competition reminded me of what now feels like a distant high school memory: my 5-person, trimester-long Public Speaking class that I opted to take instead of Driver’s Ed. Every time I’m asked about my favorite class I’ve taken at Pingry or course recommendations from classmates, I unfailingly circle back to Public Speaking.
I initially gravitated towards the course due to an interest in improving my speech writing and delivery skills. We worked on these skills every day through observation, discussion, and practice. Class flowed freely and in accordance with what was happening around us — if there was a major speech at Pingry or in the wider world that week, we’d make it a point to discuss what worked and what didn’t, what we’d do differently and how we’d emulate the high points.
The practical speech writing and delivery skills (like cold-reading, for example) I took away from the course should not be overlooked — they’ve stuck with me to this day, and thanks to my experience with them I’ve pushed myself to give speeches to various circles in my community several times since the course ended. But personally, what made the course so special weren’t these takeaways that I anticipated when signing up, but rather the takeaways that I truly didn’t see coming.
Because of the nature of speech writing itself and the frequency with which we did it in the class, Public Speaking became a vehicle through which I was able to really process my ideas and feelings. I came out of the course having reflected on some of my own experiences and views on the world as well as some of the most effective ways to share them. I left with a portfolio full of these reflections that will not only inspire future pieces but also serve as a unique form of a diary documenting the ideas I grappled with throughout the course.
Not only did Public Speaking allow me to learn more about myself, but it also allowed me to learn more about my classmates. Because of the vulnerable and personal nature of speech writing, when I listened to the speeches my peers brought to class each day, I learned so much about their personalities, views, and how they contributed to a truly diverse Pingry community. Speeches often sparked political, social, and academic discussions where we learned about each of our viewpoints and, in terms of speech writing, how to strengthen them rhetorically. We learned to debate thoughtfully and intelligently with each other because it was the way we were taught to craft arguments through our speeches.
My class became a mini-community of friends who came in to each meeting excited to hear what the others had to share. We learned from each other and grew closer because of what each of us shared at the podium on any given day. This was a collaborative experience through which we took inspiration and were constantly offered advice by our peers. Each of my pieces became what felt like a group-effort from several people who really cared about the final product.
While Public Speaking may not catch most students’ eyes when searching for courses, I encourage my classmates to consider the hidden treasures that the class holds. An opportunity to learn skills that will universally serve you well in the future, as well as engage with the diversity of thought and personality within yourself and your community, Public Speaking truly is worth a trimester from each and every student.
By Rashida Mohammed ’19
The widely-known novel Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain has recently been eliminated from Pingry’s American Literature curriculum. Additionally, Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad, which was on the book list for World Literature sent out this past summer, was not taught in any of the World Literature periods. This is following what seems to be a rising trend in the United States of removing books from English classrooms. Many complaints about the appropriateness of these texts or those similar often come from black parents (such was the case in The Duluth school district in Minnesota), black students (like those in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania), or the NAACP, which has labeled Huckleberry Finn’s use of the n-word over 200 times as offensive, a stance they’ve held since the 1950s.
In trying to understand these complaints, I thought perhaps that people felt uncomfortable with students reading what they considered to be a problematic piece of literature or were uncomfortable with students and teachers reading derogatory terms in a classroom setting. After some thought, I think that there is a common theme related to all these qualms about reading such books: the inability to embrace discomfort. This idea became better fleshed out after reading an interview with Jocelyn A. Chadwick, President of the National Council of Teachers of English, in which she said, “[Huckleberry Finn] goes where Americans really don’t want to go. We talk about race and racism and acceptance and inclusivity and equity…but we don’t really listen and engage in a real substantive conversation.”
In the past few years Pingry has seen progress on topics of race relations in the form of its affinity groups and Black Student Union. Between these groups and our many advisory meetings, SDLC-hosted events, and leadership trainings, several conversation norms have been impressed onto us as important skills in school and in life. One of these norms is to lean into discomfort. Regardless of why Pingry made the decision to alter the curriculum, I hope that leaning into discomfort doesn’t leave the English classrooms as a skill. I cannot emphasize enough that it is not okay to feel unsafe in a learning environment, but the ability to disagree with and analyze multiple perspectives, even if it’s one that you may find offensive, is vital. I hope every school that removes books like Huckleberry Finn from their curriculum considers this opinion.
Arguing that other works like The Secret Life of Bees and The Lord of the Flies could replace these novels and convey the same sentiment is valid, but we need to be careful with where we draw the line. Living in such a vocally polarized country, we are more grounded in this debate about race now more than ever. So, why not let the discussion start in the classroom?