Character – any student will agree, and any administrator should confirm – is not only an accumulation of integrity, responsibility, decision-making, and other rigid qualities; it encompasses so many other virtues that, in different magnitudes, allow for the unending spectrum of human personality.
And yet it seems that this false message about character has been expounded upon by the administration. At the start of this year, it seemed as if every assembly was used for the sole purpose of promoting our new core values: Respect, responsibility, kindness, integrity, and the courage to act.
These five values, while idyllic, are extremely rigid. If one was to follow them exclusively, there would be little room for laughter, fun and, most worryingly, personality. This is not the sort of environment that the school should be promoting. Quite simply: If learning is more lighthearted, people are more inclined to work hard, and in turn, achieve greater results.
The problem lies in the unoriginality of these words and their creed, and of the bland, overused quality they possess. It is no coincidence that the “courage to act” a phrase that gives students a tangible charge and possesses a unique quality, is one of the values most remembered by students. They don’t depict the true personality of the student body or what the school actually is, but more what the administration wants outsiders to perceive the school as being.
A revision to include more words that revolve around students’ personalities and interests is imperative. Such a revision needs to include room for students to have a real high school experience. Because a core value cannot only be something that the administration believes in, but also something that the whole community believes in.
The “world-changers” the school is seeking to create cannot be the nicest, most responsible people in the world. They can, however, be genuine individuals. We as students can have a fun, interesting high school experience, filled with the events we care about, and the core values must reflect that.
It seems that a value – one that could easily be taken to heart more by the student than the adult – has been overlooked. For learning is only conducive when there is a joy to learn, a desire to learn, and what can make a passion for education more hardy than genuine fun?
Expecting a desire to learn rather than stimulating a desire to learn has become too commonplace, and this error can be so fundamental. Yet such an error is one that is extremely remediable.
In fact, a solution was inadvertently presented when we first selected our core values. Students of the High School were handed a short passage from which we selected keywords that, we believed, defined the essential ASL student. But the pool of words from which we could choose was limited by an overly-defined idea of the model student. Words like honesty, integrity, respect, responsibility, and perseverance were easily found – as they should have been – but words that embrace a more open environment, where experimentation is nurtured, were not to be found. A handful of words that should have been within the passage are fun, lightheartedness, amicability, conviviality, or geniality.
We could all be kind, courageous, responsible, and respectful, but still, perhaps, not look back at high school with any fondness. These words seem detached, and that needs to be changed. What about curiosity and celebration? What about spirit and zeal?
If the student body were to truly tailor the core values to their desire, it wouldn’t be from a pre-selected passage; if the student body were to truly tailor core values to their desire, they would be more pervasive to the entire school. It is a question of allowing the students to craft their own constitution of personality – of who they are, of who we are.
Let us experiment, let us explore; and make sure it is understood in the core values and mission statement on which the ASL community prides itself. Let our education be not a lecture but instead a conversation; let what defines the students be a mixture of what we value and what the faculty value.
In order to draw the community together into a cohesive unit, we need to embrace what makes us a unit and what is distinctive about us with specific values that express ASL’s personality. We need to describe what knits all the individuals and sub-communities together into one school with words that truly resonate with students. And, most importantly, it needs to be us.