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Turning a Blind Eye to Character Education?

Does Deerfield train us to solely focus on the destination, rather than to immerse ourselves in all that the journey has to offer? When students receive bad test grades, rather than asking themselves what they can learn from their mistakes and how they can become better students, their train of thought turns to an unhealthy corner of self-pity, anger, and fear: “OH MY GOD. I got a 76 on my math test. I am never going to get above a 90 in the class, so I’ll never get into Harvard, and then I’ll never find a job, and I’ll turn into a coke-head hobo…” and so on and so forth. This mindset also shapes how we choose to use our time as students at Deerfield Academy.

Rather than immersing ourselves in clubs or organizations that genuinely interest us on campus, many students focus on securing certain leadership positions, participating in advantageous co-curricular activities and maintaining a high GPA, the ultimate goal being an Ivy League School. I am guilty of this—everyone is guilty of this. We must remember, however, that though most of us come to Deerfield so that we have a good shot at the most exclusive colleges in our nation, DA can and should be so much more for us than just a stepping stone.

It’s easy to point fingers at what the cause could be for this decline in commitment to character and citizenship. I’ve heard excuses such as technology, the increased competitiveness of our peers, lower acceptance rates at highly-ranked institutions and the overall Deerfield pace of life. But while just one of these is not enough to fully account for the flaw in our system, it is clear that in recent years, as the demands and pressure on our students have increased, participation in some clubs has decreased.

“It is not surprising that the significant demands made of students require them to prioritize how they allocate their time,” remarked philosophy and religion teacher Neil Jacobs ’69, whose days at the Academy were focused on character-building and individualized education rather than checking off boxes on a To-Do-for-Success list. He added, “This may, in some instances, result in less than robust participation in certain school activities that often make a broader set of perspectives available to our students.”

Needless to say, Deerfield has continued to be an esteemed academic institution in the last 20 years, furthering and maintaining its position as a feeder to some of the top universities in the country. But just in the last four years, I have seen the caliber of student character drop at our school. This year Ivy acceptances dropped in number as well, and although I don’t want to draw any conclusions as to why this may have happened, it might be because our school is failing to teach us how to be interesting and interested citizens of our world.

3 Comments on Turning a Blind Eye to Character Education?

  1. tangyfresh // May 11, 2014 at 12:41 am //

    I understand that this article is trying to promote greater character development at Deerfield, but I don’t think it is right to correlate college admissions with weak character. After two years at college, I still don’t know what particular qualities got me in. I expect that many other college students feel the same way. The college admission process is not at all transparent. The importance of getting into Ivy League schools is even more debatable. When you compare an Ivy League education to education from other top schools, it is difficult if not impossible to distinguish where Ivy League schools are better. Students with strong characters don’t apply to only Ivy League schools, and not all Ivy League students have strong characters. While constructive criticism of the school is always necessary, I don’t agree with any of the arguments regarding the college application process.

  2. I agree with tangyfresh. On top of that, it is natural for students to feel panicked or stressed at the thought of a bad grade—the future is a scary thought, and in the moment, it’s hard not to imagine that everything you do now affects the future. Deerfield is a competitive place, and it’s hard not to compare oneself to everyone else. I don’t think students should be criticized for shooting for leadership positions, and good grades. I truly believe that often times, those students have gained those roles because of their commitment and dedication to their respective interests. Yes, there are exceptions, but we should never generalize.

    Above all, I do not think Deerfield trains us to solely focus on the destination. Over my years at DA, Dr. Curtis had most definitely encouraged us students, to stop, take in the surroundings and enjoy Deerfield. There are so many opportunities and experiences we have, and I don’t think it is fair to blame the school for “failing to teach us how to be interesting and interested citizens of our world.” Character can’t be force-fed. It is built from within. It is built through relationships, and in the little moments we don’t notice. There are wildly interesting students at DA. It is up to you, the students, to embrace the characters you admire, and to build your own from there.

  3. tangyfresh // May 12, 2014 at 4:56 pm //

    Oh shlee, I totes agree with u. It seems like we have a lot in common 😉 #couples

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