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Kaelin Urges End of APs and More Student Responsibility

Good evening everyone. I would like to take this opportunity to speak about a topic that has been recently nagging at both students and faculty alike. Every year, I feel as if I hear the same story about a different prep school. It usually involves 20 or more students getting kicked out, and following that an alteration of that school’s disciplinary system, typically along the lines of adopting a “one strike policy.”

Luckily, Deerfield has not been placed in this situation. However, it seems as if all prep schools are at a crossroads when thinking about how discipline is handled. Some propose we stick to the “old ways” of allowing kids off the hook with a simple apology, while others argue that students must have their actions watched with near unwavering attention.

As many of our peer institutions have begun to adjust their levels of monitoring and strictness, we too have started to make changes and examine how we operate. There are many directions we could take; however after we set our course, I imagine there will not be as much room for change. Thus, let’s make sure the road we pick now is the right one.

[pullquote_left]“If Deerfield wishes to strengthen the character of the students who pass through here, then allowing fear, rather than some positive force, to influence our choices is a hindrance to that mission.”[/pullquote_left]Last year, in one of the culture forums, David Mwakima questioned how our actions at Deerfield are motivated. He argued, for example, that the AP system was not preparing students for the real world in the same way that some had thought. He said that this system was getting kids to do the right thing, but out of fear, rather than with the correct motives in mind.

In an ideal world, we should never be in doubt that all of us here are choosing to adhere to the rules on and off campus simply out of respect for the other members of this community.

Yet the ever-looming terror of ending up in restrictions or the Dean’s office makes it hard for everyone to discern where motives are truly stemming from.

If Deerfield wishes to strengthen the character of the students who pass through here, then allowing fear, rather than some positive force to influence our choices is a hindrance to that mission.

I am not saying we shouldn’t have any rules. I am not some anarchist, 1950’s-esque little teenager just trying to “stick it to the man.” I am just asking, why not be the school to lead the pack, rather than to continue to follow and expand the rulebook?

We love talking about respect at this school because it gives us the fuzzies inside, but why don’t we put it to the test? Why don’t we try seeing what this school would run like if we remove things like APs?

I can imagine the administration would be nervous about this idea, and understandably so. Maybe they would want the students to first prove that they can get it done with the rules before we take them away. I honestly don’t know what the right first step would be. I am just one person.

Luckily there are many more of you, intelligent people who are capable of coming to an answer through honest dialogue. The only thing I would like the administration to keep in mind is this: at the leadership meeting, the number one thing the students asked of the adults was to let us step up.

I’d venture to bet that if there were no looming threat of fear, people would actually attend more sit-down meals, make it to more school meetings, and resist the urge to cut corners on dress code. Why is this? Ask any teenager who they hate to let down. It’s not the helicopter adult. It is the teacher, the coach, or the role model who puts their faith in them.

I know I have potentially ruffled some feathers here, but just remember: the greatest changes in the course of history were not made because everyone suddenly agreed. Those changes were made possible when the populace had the courage to be bold, take an issue into the light and determine what was truly best moving forward.[pullquote_right]“Ask any teenager who they hate to let down. It’s not the helicopter adult. It is the teacher, the coach, or the role model who puts their faith in them.”[/pullquote_right]

Please do not merely cast all of this aside as a simple thought experiment, as both students and faculty alike that I have talked to agree that they do not want Deerfield to keep adding regulations and codes. They do not want to move down that road to becoming one of those overbearing places. If they could, they’d rather live with a minimalist rule book. They want Deerfield to be that community that can truly run on respect and respect alone.

I think at this point we just need to be reminded that we could do this. We could choose to run in this way. Not for free. If anything, this would be a harder way to handle matters. Each and every person would have to be willing to buy in.

However, we ourselves are the only limiting factor. We are a self-regulating community capable of choosing how we operate. The staff here are of the highest quality. The faculty here are of the highest quality. The kids here are of the highest quality, and we all collectively are more than capable. There is nothing else missing.

Let’s go get it. Let’s be that school. Welcome to Deerfield.

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