We at Deerfield are often reminded, by both the administration and by student leaders, of how sheltered we are. This criticism, however, is too often exclusively applied to our lack of knowledge of current events.
Sometimes we forget that we can be just as blind to those things that are happening right outside of our beautiful haven of the Pocumtuck Valley. Sometimes we forget about the immediate differences between life at DA and life for many of our neighbors in Franklin County.
The average cost of a meal in Massachusetts is $3.02, while the national average cost is a paltry $2.67. Both these numbers are in stark contrast to the meals, averaging about $15.00, that Deerfield students enjoy every weekend in Greenfield.
Despite this disparity, however, Map the Meal Gap, a subdivision of the organization Feeding America, reports that 9.4% of the population living in Franklin County is food-insecure. This means that about one in ten people in our immediate vicinity lives in hunger or in fear of starvation.
Dino Schnelle, the coordinator for the Center for Self-Reliance Food Pantry in Greenfield, said, “The pantry in Greenfield and the one in Shelburne Falls serve, on average, 550 households a month. This includes about 1,100 to 1,200 individuals frequenting food pantries.”
Meanwhile, pounds and pounds of barely touched food are placed on the conveyor belt of our Dining Hall every single day.
The fear of not knowing whether one’s family will have enough food to get through this week or the next is inconceivable for the majority, if not all, of Deerfield’s students.
Many of us are also ignorant of just how privileged an education we receive. Though the administration would not release the average Deerfield family income, enough can be gauged from the fact that the per capita yearly income in Franklin County is $28,313, barely half of a year’s worth of tuition to send a child to DA.
One faculty member who wished to remain anonymous said, “My son went to high school in Greenfield. I don’t know if many students at DA know what it’s like not to be able to bring your own copy of a textbook home from school, to have to share one with a number of other kids.” Another unsettling number: 11.9% of Franklin County residents live below the poverty level.
In light of the clear disparity between life at DA and “the real world,” what should Deerfield be teaching its students?
Dr. Baker’s answer has little to do with physics or European history: “Many Deerfield students continue to live in sheltered environments after Deerfield, but for many others, learning the skills and predilections to navigate the challenges of a world that is in less of a bubble is truly important. [Deerfield needs] to be equipping students with a vision of a more equitable world, with a vision of social justice.”
It is, however, understandable for students to be sick of being criticized for their lack of awareness.
Much of it, Dr. Baker points out, is a function of our age as much as our environment: “Adolescence in general is a time that is self-focused developmentally. Furthermore, it’s true that you cannot expect someone to be able to grasp things that are completely beyond their own personal experience.”
But many Deerfield students make efforts to work towards a better understanding of the lives of others through community service.
Ali Barber ’15 reflected, “Since coming to Deerfield, I have slowly realized how hard it is to retain some grasp on the ‘real world’ when I’m here. I find that many of our community service projects allow students to reconnect with the larger Franklin County community… We have so much provided for us simply by coming to Deerfield, and I think it is important to be reminded that not everyone has even close to the same level of opportunities.”
Dr. Baker said of the recent student trip to Laurel Hill Cemetery (across from Eaglebrook) to collect markers placed at the graves of veterans, “There was a very clear and palpable sense of how many hands can make quick work of a task. Everyone [came] away feeling, ‘I did something good.’ It wasn’t about doing something for your GPA or for your resumé for college… These are a small part of who you are. The way you connect with the world around you is a big part of your development.”
Dr. Baker outlined a way that Deerfield and its students might work together towards a better understanding of the world that surrounds them: “What schools should be trying to do is produce good habits of heart and habits of mind… and these habits come from expanding your experiences.”
As the holiday season approaches, let us think and reflect; let us expand our horizons. “Education of the head without education of the heart,” said Dr. Baker, “is at best meaningless and at worst dangerous.”