First, an update from the Pingry Student Technology Committee (STC) and its subsidiary projects. Starting this February, the Code Team, in which students program solutions to Pingry issues, is running a weekly workshop on different fundamental tools, from GitHub version control to Python-Flask web design. Moreover, the Apple Certified Mac Technician (ACMT) training group has started their comprehensive regimen on laptop repairs. After the ACMTs pass their final exams from Apple, they will be able to diagnose and repair Apple computers owned by the School and members of the Pingry community. STC team meetings have lately been occupied with weekly presentations from different project groups, including the 3D Printing Team, the Communications Team, and the Tech-Ed Team. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, STC Help Desk has been open for some time now! Now that we have a regular schedule of in-person school, the friendly, qualified STC Team Members who staff each flex and CP Helpdesk shift are here to assist you with any of your tech needs. Whether it’s a new application, like Zoom, or an old “friend” like the printer or Google Docs, STC Help Desk in the Tech Office is the place to go to receive quick tips and pointers. Be sure to stop by if you need anything tech-related!
From January 11 to 14, the 2021 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) was in full swing. Traditionally an in-person event, CES pivoted to a fully virtual setup this year to accommodate for the pandemic. LG hinted at the impending launch of their rollable phone. Unlike folding phones (which are on the market if you’re willing to pay the princely price tags), LG’s device would not suffer from the durability and practical difficulties of opening and closing a massive phone like a book. Instead, according to patent information, it could simply extend one edge of the device and unfurl a wider display in the process. As usual, several PC makers including HP and Acer revealed new updates to their laptop lineups. Finally there were a few one-off products, like the tech-enabled N95 masks from gaming hardware-maker Razer. These clear masks feature active ventilation. LED lights, and self-sanitization functionality. Adding on to products that nobody asked for but seem pretty cool, Cadillac hinted at an electric air taxi drone-car mashup, Samsung invented a robot butler, and the Infinity Game Table converted classic board games into a tabletop touchscreen.
Finally, let’s turn to the issue of social media. There has been renewed scrutiny into social media networks as a result of misinformation and plans for violence in recent months. Platforms have been banning and suspending the accounts of individuals with dangerous or objectionable content. In an age where seemingly everything happens on social media, lawmakers have been grappling with whether privately-owned social media platforms can be defined as public fora with free speech protections. Furthermore, laws that provide digital platforms with immunity from hosted content, such as Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996, have come under scrutiny for a variety of reasons. Interestingly, print media publications do not afford those same protections. More important than the individual details is the glaring need for tech literacy in American society and policy. Congressional lawmakers have oftentimes demonstrated a woefully limited understanding of the internet and its platforms, so it’s important that the public involvement of the next generation of Americans is well-informed.
Thanks for dropping by on this Tech Column! Hopefully the weather will be a tad warmer when we return for the next issue.
For the latest issue of the Record, the Tech Column returns to cover all of the important tech updates that you should know!
First, what’s going on in the Student Technology Committee (STC), Pingry’s student-run organization for the promotion of technology? STC is excited to welcome a new class of members once the application review is completed. Meanwhile, innovative STC projects are hitting the ground running, with detailed plans for the new school year. The teams this year include 3D Printing, Code Team, Communications, Help Desk, and others. Especially given remote learning considerations, STC’s techxpertise will have an increased relevance this year in classrooms.
In the broader world of tech news, one of the most notable releases has been the iPhone 12. Apple likes to come up with puns and taglines for each product generation, and the iPhone 12’s is, “It’s a leap year.” Aside from the fact that 2020 is almost over and 2021 is not a leap year, the iPhone 12, iPhone 12 Pro, and the iPhone 12 Pro Max all attempt to hit the same wow that the iPhone X did when it launched. Physically, all three phones now have a boxy and more rectangular shape, some interesting colorways, and a new, more durable glass. The bezels (area surrounding the screen) have been reduced, bringing the design more in line with other full-screen smartphones; however, the famous notch from the X still remains. Arguably the most important feature is the inclusion of 5G, the next-generation cellular technology network. Several other smartphones, including direct competitors from Samsung, already had 5G capabilities; Apple is a little bit late to the party here, but it seems that this is the headlining feature of the new device. Other goodies include Apple’s ever-impressive chips (A14 Bionic in this iteration) and a lot of new photo technology: a LiDAR scanner (for augmented reality, a field that Apple still seems to be building out), better High Dynamic Range, some major improvements to night photography, and significant technical improvements in video.
In non-Apple news, the Department of Justice has sued Google for alleged monopolistic practices. Working with eleven state Attorneys General, the suit is strikingly similar to the Microsoft antitrust case in the 1990s. Both concern forced product placement on company-owned platforms; in this case, its Google’s search engine on Google-owned Android and the deals with manufacturers surrounding these placements. This is the first major antitrust suit in the modern Big Tech era; Apple, Amazon, Facebook, and Twitter have all been probed and attacked for alleged monopolistic practices in much smaller cases. If the Google suit is legally sound, it could have serious repercussions for these companies and how their different product ecosystems interact.
Game consoles have also been a major theme this summer––specifically, the competing Xbox Series X and the Playstation PS5. The former is Microsoft’s offering, and it distinguishes itself by offering more than just a gaming experience. It streams, shops, and plays games, demonstrating a trend in the tech industry of addressing numerous aspects of the user’s online life in one bundle. The PS5 is very similar, just with a new and different controller, as well as some small potential boosts to performance. Importantly, both consoles could feasibly compete with high-performance gaming computers, as both feature comparable processing, graphics, storage, and output. We have to wonder if the computer or the console will become obsolete first.
That’s all for this issue! As technology has an increased importance nowadays, remember to get your screen breaks and do non-tech-related things every so often.
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.
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.
In late May, the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minnesota policemen triggered a mass movement across the nation (and eventually the world) in support of Black Lives Matter.
The Record previously detailed some of the earlier impacts that this multifaceted movement has had on the Pingry community. Pingry’s leadership has affirmed its support of Black Lives Matter and of minority students. Furthermore, Pingry students have taken action by petitioning, protesting, and consistently spreading awareness.
The focus on our nation’s problems has also thrown issues surrounding race and identity within the Pingry community into sharp relief. To this end, an anonymous account known as Black at Pingry (@blackatpingry) was created. Modeled after similar accounts at other private preparatory schools (including Dalton, Lawrenceville, Exeter, Andover, Choate, and Newark Academy, among many others), this Instagram account provided an outlet for Black students to anonymously expose some of the discrimination and issues they’ve face. Within several days, the platform began highlighting instances of racism and unfairness towards other people of color, and has since expanded to include all minorities (religious and racial).
The first post on the account appeared on June 11, 2020, a week after Pingry’s Finals Week concluded. Posts are added regularly; as of June 27, just over two weeks after the first post, there are 80 explanations, descriptions, and expressions of frustration. The account has 1,776 followers, and it has achieved widespread recognition among Pingry students, parents and alumni on Instagram.
We at The Record encourage readers to view the extent to which both ignorance and prejudice has penetrated the Pingry community by viewing the posts on the @blackatpingry page. Incidents include use of the n-word both inside and outside of class by teachers and students; ignorance about non-European civilizations, cultures, and history; various microaggressions, including unsavory remarks about wealth, intelligence, and cleanliness; and taunting behaviors based on cruel stereotypes of racial and religious groups. These pervade through speech and action (in some cases, inaction is the most poignant) and demonstrate that Pingry’s commitment to true diversity and inclusion has not fully succeeded in correcting some of the troubling behaviors.
Regarding the account, one student said: “@blackatpingry opened my eyes to a side of Pingry that, before, I only vaguely knew from second-hand information. It was jarring to learn the specifics, but I think it’s precisely the kind of wake-up call that our community needs.”
In response to these powerful posts, the school released a brief letter from Head of School Mr. Matt Levinson. Some students expressed disappointment that it had taken so long for the Pingry administration to respond to the emotional strength required to tell the stories on the @blackatpingry page. Once again, we encourage readers to view the full statement on Pingry’s social media channels (Instagram: @thepingryschool). Mr. Levinson exhorted the community to read the @blackatpingry page, and said that “unless and until we are willing to acknowledge these experiences, take responsibility for our past and present, and commit to the work of creating a better Pingry for our students of color, the stories of pain will never end.” Mr. Levinson ended his message by expressing a school commitment to active anti-racism and an effort to decrease the burden on the backs of students of color at Pingry, especially Black students.
After this public commitment, Mr. Levinson sent out an email to the Pingry community on June 24 to announce two events, both called “BECAUSE WE CARE.” The first, on Thursday, June 25, was for students who identified as Black; the second, on Friday, June 26, was for the caregivers of those students. These discussions were intended to foster “ongoing, honest, and open dialogue” and begin a continuous conversation about diversity and inclusion. On June 26, Mr. Levinson released an action plan for treating the ills of discrimination and racism in the Pingry community, and explained that incoming Director of Diversity and Inclusion Mr. Gilberto Olvera would be the point person for these initiatives. The plan calls for an anti-racism task force, engagement of the school community, a more inclusive and multicultural curriculum, faculty and staff training, better human resource management, and a progress check.
The Pingry community will anxiously await the administration’s more concrete actions on such issues, and some members have expressed concern over certain directives. According to one student of color, “I find it concerning that Mr. Levinson makes diversity sound like it only includes one perspective, the general ‘people of color.’ Within people of color, there are so many nuanced interactions that Mr. Levinson has made quite clear he is unaware of, and has no interest in learning about, given the exclusive wording of his emails.”
Another student of color voiced a different opinion on the decisions: “It’s a little bit disappointing, but expected given previous actions, that Mr. Levinson only chose to address racism directed towards [black members] as opposed to the racism which affects various other groups at Pingry. At the same time, I understand his position of leadership is a very difficult one to be in, and no matter how he responds, it is inevitable that people will pick out the flaws in his response based on their own perspectives and interests. Nonetheless, the detail that he provides in his email reflects a promising and focused commitment to anti-racism, and I hope we can see these plans manifest into measurable change.”
The @blackatpingry Instagram account has had an outsized impact in bringing to greater light the issues that people of color and minorities face at Pingry. The Pingry community ought to look forward to an equitable future for all; we will see how administrative and community decisions work towards such a future.
A few weeks ago, I got to participate in my first Pingry Career Day; I found it to be just what I expected. The alumni were engaging, knowledgeable, and insightful, and my only complaint was that I didn’t get to spend enough time with them. Overall, it was a great experience.
But, as I left each room, I thought about the speakers’ thoughts on college education and the value of Pingry. Most said they did not learn the knowledge they use on a daily basis in college or at Pingry, but instead entirely on the job. To these speakers, their college education was more of a logic exercise than a specific skill-set.
Of course, this heavily depends on the line of work one goes into. Somebody interested in researching computer science would obviously find it beneficial to study computer science in college, while somebody planning to work in an oil field would find a chemical engineering major useful as well. Though, in the panels I attended—entrepreneurship, medicine, and management consulting—only a few of the speakers had degrees that specifically related to their fields.
The skills that were oft-cited by my speakers were logic, communication, and problem solving. While a college education can help develop these skills, they are learned through practice rather than lectures.
This made me think about the value of Pingry’s curriculum in a modern workforce from a student’s perspective. The number of fields that rely on technology to do the bulk of the work and calculations is already high and constantly increasing. The understanding of a process has become more important than simply memorizing the result. So, is the typical Pingry class supportive of that goal?
The answer is complicated and depends on who you ask. The College Board would probably wax and wane on how useful its AP Exams are, but given its insistence that the SAT is a meaningful predictor of student competence, I take it with a grain of salt. I took the AP World History exam last year, and I found that simply memorizing all the events and dates is much more helpful for the exam than understanding why something happened. If I had never taken World History 9 or 10, I would probably have an exceedingly shallow knowledge of World History based on the exam. My AP Calculus BC exam featured problems about counting the number of plankton in water; if a real ecologist was studying those organisms, I would hope they weren’t using vague estimation methods like the ones the AP asked me to use.
But does this formulaic learning extend to Pingry’s AP courses themselves? Some, perhaps, more than others. While AP Calculus BC is definitely a well-taught and engaging class, the curriculum is tied to the AP course schedule, which means the course can’t go into as much depth as I might have liked. In AP Physics this year, we glossed over some in-depth analyses of topics like rotation and air resistance because of the number of topics that need to be covered for the AP Mechanics exam. This is in no way the fault of the teachers; it’s just that the AP tends to reward specific application of knowledge (that often has little real-world significance) rather than sound logic, good communication, and problem solving skills that one might actually use in a job.
Pingry’s courses are meant to prepare students for specializing in college, but I often feel as if those courses ought to be more organic and less tied down.
Here’s a radical solution: get rid of AP-designation courses. Numerous independent schools have eliminated AP courses entirely, and I don’t think it’s too revolutionary for Pingry to follow suit. Pingry prides itself on letting teachers develop their own curriculum. Non-AP classes, such as Biology II Honors, tend to include case studies and real-world projects, while AP United States History has to speed through Reconstruction to get to the 1920s by March.
Pingry teachers could have much more control over their lesson plans and replace tests with papers, essays, and projects (as I discussed in my last opinion here). Pingry can still host AP exams for students who want to demonstrate their aptitude for colleges; it just shouldn’t have to teach to the test.
I don’t expect Pingry to drop all AP courses tomorrow and replace them with totally faculty-and student-driven ideas. However, I hope that Pingry takes note of the changing world and skillsets and ultimately realizes that the College Board’s outdated conceptions might not be sufficient anymore.