By: Will Rende
Inside the walls of Carey Hall, we consume ourselves with English, Calculus, and everything Gilman; however, the most recent presidential election proved that this sometimes comes at the expense of much more pressing national issues. Regardless of our roles in the Gilman community, we are part of something much bigger, and we, as a school, chose to prioritize our academic agendas over the most important election of our lifetime.
Whether you leaned towards Trump, Hillary, or neither, these past two quarters have undoubtedly been marked by an absence of meaningful dialogue and a school-wide sense of discomfort. Yet with so much tension and polarization, both in the world and at Gilman, little effort was made to adjust the academic schedule in response to this election. Specifically, three critical mistakes were made by the administration in handling this year’s election at Gilman: not encouraging teachers to spend class time talking about the results, scheduling a long lunch the following day, and allowing homework to be assigned on election night.
When asked whether or not the administration encouraged teachers to discuss election results in class, Upper School Head Rob Heubeck responded, “We did not give any directive to teachers. We did not say, ‘you must or you have to’. It was up to the teacher.” Consequently, Jack Houley (‘17) explained that his teachers “didn’t talk about the election the day after. We knew that it would just start something. So we didn’t talk about it.” Though it may spark controversy, Gilman classrooms should serve as a platform to discuss relevant national issues. Few classes offer this chance to connect course content to current events. Obviously, it’s nearly impossible to apply the material of math and science classes to an election, but sometimes you have to put course content on hold. Administrative instruction on how to address the topic would have greatly benefitted teachers.
Beyond the classrooms, it was a failure on the part of administration not to address the entire student body the day after the most divisive, controversial election in our lifetime. Shifting the focus from academic life to the real world requires an assembly, or at least an announcement, to shed light on an issue that affects us all. An untimely long lunch stood in the place of this assembly on that day. Had an outsider visited the campus, conversations in the halls would have provided the only evidence that there was even an election the previous night. Without a doubt, the absence of assembly time devoted to the election left a hole in the week. While many across the country believe that schools should close on election day or have a delay the following morning, I’d argue that these hours could be of better use to us in school, as long as they provide an outlet for relevant discourse. On November 9th, Gilman failed to provide this outlet.
Balancing personal lives with school work has always been a struggle for students, regardless of what’s happening in the world. On election night, any student with a shrivel of interest in the future of the country would agree that completing hours of homework becomes nearly impossible when something far more captivating and historic is happening. “Worrying about homework while staying up until twelve at night to see the results felt unfair to me,” said Thomas Booker (‘19). Hap Conover (‘19) added, “It really was impossible to focus on trivial things like math homework when there [was] a national election happening.” A large part of Gilman’s indifference to the election is fueled by an atmosphere of intense academic rigor. As many senior speeches attest to, we too often become caught up in the relentless workload and stress that comes with our education. When we are unwilling to separate ourselves, just for a moment, from this daily trend of constant productivity, we lose an important opportunity to relate what we learn everyday to what is happening in the outside world.
To be fair, Gilman has made consistent efforts to inspire social awareness through meaningful speakers and advisory discussions. A week later, Mr. Henry Smyth delivered an honest and direct talk about the election. Coming from the Headmaster, this message was meaningful and well-received; however, it felt like too little too late. Assemblies and discussions that address relevant issues would be much more impactful if they were planned during the pinnacle of the issue itself. For example, an assembly similar to this year’s All American Boys presentation would have prompted a much more meaningful discussion on the death of Freddie Gray rather than listening to a lawyer’s explanation of the legal perspective of the case.
A week after the election, a tri-school discussion took place between faculty in which the question was raised, what role can/should current events and difficult topics play to supplement course content? Though not all faculty participated, Mr. Brian Ledyard explained, “It's safe to say that our group of approximately 25 folks agreed that we should make ‘space’ for non-academic topics.”
Above all, these mishandlings put Gilman inside of a bubble. When Gilman neglects to acknowledge national events that have a significant impact on our lives, the school misses out on an opportunity to devote community time to a relevant event. These missed opportunities limit Gilman’s educational experience and create a barrier between our community and the outside world. They certainly don’t contribute to the goal of “Building a Better Baltimore,” as stated on the cover of this fall’s Gilman Bulletin. Moving forward, I urge the administration to undertake the more immediate goal of separating Gilman from the bubble of privilege we’ve been put in by embracing these opportunities, rather than hiding from them.