Opt-out culture at CA

   Other opinion: Opt-out culture at CA

     Little is optional in a high school student’s life. However, this does not apply to the Inclusion Council meetings, centered around discussing social justice issues, that occur during Assembly block. Based on observations, only about 40 people attend these optional educational opportunities while others enjoy a free block. In contrast, all the students have to be present for PAC speeches. It is apparent that people are opting out from lectures about social justice.

     Opt-out culture is a phenomenon in which people choose not to participate in activities about social justice because they don’t see it as a priority.  The vast disparity in attendance between mandatory and non-mandatory meetings suggests just how big an issue opt-out culture is at CA. Certainly, those privileged enough to ignore social justice are the ones that would benefit most from those meetings. Some people think that social justice conversations in all its iterations should be compulsory as part of school policy. Some people recognize the issue of opt-out culture but don’t believe social sensitivity can or should be forced on people against their will.

     “Broadly speaking, I don’t think education of social justice should be optional,” said Laura Twichell, Dean for Community & Equity at Concord Academy. “It is important for every single student to learn about social justice”. Twichell explained that the intention of non-mandatory meetings is to provide a place for people to have further and deeper conversations. Twichell believed that “these meetings are not supposed to be mandatory, but we need more mandatory opportunities”.

     On the other hand, some students are still inattentive even at compulsory lectures or meetings about social justice. If you look around the PAC while speakers are giving lectures, you could still find students who are not paying attention. Some students are distracted by whatever is near them, and some students are too tired to stay concentrated so they gradually fall asleep. Overhearing people complainingabout their unwillingness to attend assemblies is such a common thing on Thursday afternoons. All in all, removing the option to opt-out can only put a student physically in a seat; it cannot make them pay attention. In this way, they are still less likely to be aware of global issues and and make changes.

     Compulsory education about social justice is necessary for CA students to contribute to their own communities, but ideally the lessons should be designed in a more creative way, such as activities, surveys, and interpersonal interactions. For instance, I had attended a Social Justice Leadership Institute meeting at Phillips Academy Andover in November, 2018, where directors used games to indicate the phenomenon and problems behind. During an activity about sexism and racism, people in a big circle were supposed to move one step forward toward the middle if they corresponded with the description announced by the director until the first person reached the center. (A sample description would be “please move forward if you feel comfortable walking alone in a poor neighborhood.”) This creative activity effectively led us to the thinking of sexism and racism in life while intrigued everyone, and activities like this one should be popularized for mandatory lessons.

     When asked about the practical scheme, Twichell replied by saying, “Lessons should be embedded into other materials”. Personally speaking,  faculty members should put efforts into providing students more mandatory opportunities to learn about social justice. Discussions about current events and issues can be included into the English and history curriculum in order to raise students’ awareness and increase their knowledge.  People are held accountable in different ways in the classroom than they are during assemblies and satellite meetings. If social justice becomes essential to the mastery of a core subject that they are already interested in, then even those not directly affected by issues of social justice will be properly incentivized to learn about it.  Furthermore, by seeing how these issues are all interrelated, it might help the students see that social justice does relate to them after all.

     Besides, freshman/sophomore/junior seminars, which had not been used for a place to study social justice so far, could offer students a great place to learn during manageable time periods. Meeting weekly, students in seminar courses are already familiar with each other and might feel more comfortable talking about social issues. Additionally, since students in each seminar group are at the same age and have experienced similar social incidents and phenomenon happened in their own class, it is easier for them to start a topic and come up with ideas and actions. Freshman/sophomore/junior seminar is the ideal time block and ideal place on their schedule to get in touch with social justice, meanwhile unique programs were being offered.

     In order to solve the problem of opt-out culture, offering compulsory lessons during the time of academic courses and freshmen/sophomore/junior seminars with creative activities would be the optimal solution at this moment. Both of them require students’ voluntary engagement and faculty’s efforts to provide CA students quality education.

     Twichell believed, “Good high school education should include critical thinking and raising of students’ social responsibility. Educating every student helps CA become a community that welcomes all of our members.” It takes time and work to make progress and ultimately reach our goal, but the issue of opt-out culture will be alleviated gradually and eventually lead to a more informed and socially-engaged community at CA.