By Theo Baker '22
I was given one day and 1000 words to write about a topic deeply impactful to me, so I’ll try to make it as impactful for you.
I’m currently sitting in my mother’s childhood home, looking at a framed black and white photo, searching for answers. This photo (the very one seen above) is of my family—of my great-great-great grandfather and his happy, healthy clan. Can you guess what happened to them? Every single one, with the exception of the young lady in the first row dressed in white, was lined up and shot to death. Every child, every woman, even the 90-year-old Moishe in the center of the center row. Every single one of them was seized from their homes in Poland and shot because they were Jewish. Please, please tell me what kind of a God can let six million of His devoted followers—of His creations—be put to work, tortured, and executed, simply because they were of a certain denomination.
The Holocaust was a barbarious act construed by the very dregs of humanity and yet supported by so many. It was a genocide of horrific proportions and one which eliminated whole families with potential future Nobel winners and activists and humanitarian aid workers and which left those remaining with scars they would never be able to shake off. Even if the claim is that these poor, tortured souls were immediately given their restitution in heaven, what about the effect this had on the people who suffered in the camps watching their relatives die but surviving themselves only to spend the rest of their lives haunted by this?
When I think of the pain and horror of the Holocaust, and even putting aside my philosophical and rational objections to religion, I just can’t reconcile the idea of an omnipotent being of pure love creating us in His image, knowing full well what our actions would be, and even so choosing to unleash us upon each other without bothering to ensure a semblance of safety and happiness. Were the deaths of six million so forgettable to God that he couldn’t lift a metaphorical/metaphysical finger to aid us? Was it so much more important to free the people of Israel from their benevolent Roman rulers than to prevent the slaughter of millions only 1500 year later that He sent His very own son to deal with the first and did nothing for the second? I simply can’t buy that.
And if the argument is that God loved us so much that he set us free to enact our own free will… well… it’s safe to say I disagree with that.
To my mind, there is no free will; there is no spirit to guide us. Instead, we are highly evolved animals, to whom the development of a consciousness was essential to compete with stronger, faster predators. Instead of a magic, immortal, preternatural soul, we have physical processes that control our actions. We have personalities, morals, ethics, and emotions built on our intake of information and the connections our neurons make whenever we take in new information. What makes us special is the 100 trillion synapses of the brain, not some ghost in the machine running the tv show of our lives. This is plainly apparent because, when you change someone’s brain, they become an entirely different person.
That isn’t the whole story though, because you could still argue for free will even in the absence of a soul. The whole story has to do with what our brain actually is, and, according to the most prominent of scientists (take Stanford neuroscientist David Eagelman), most of what happens in our brain is not what we think it is. We take it for granted that the choices we make are our own—that we spontaneously came up with them. But the thing is, our conscious minds are only responsible for the most minute of details. The main driver of the brain and, indeed, our lives, is the unconscious, which throws up ideas and emotions to the conscious, creating the illusion of free will. It seems like we have a choice because we have our secondary layer of processing (the slow-moving conscious, used for dilemenas outside the scope of typical challenges), but most of our decisions (and especially our most consequential ones) are made by the biological hardwiring of our unconscious coupled with the experiences we’ve had up until the point of the decision. For example, if I spontaneously think, “I want an iced chai tea latte,” factors such as low humidity, tiredness, my prior sensory experiences with chai lattes, and innumerable things besides that are the actual decision-makers—not me. That’s not to say all human behavior should be excused because it was preordained, but it does mean that we have to analyze the true roots of our ideas to understand anything.
Humanity has always searched for purpose in life, and religion has—for a long time—fulfilled that need. But that’s changing as more and more people realize that religion is merely a placeholder for things we don’t fully understand, a cop out for questioning that essentially says: ‘you’ll never know because it’s divine; trust that God has your interests at heart as your maker.’
I’ve experienced this first hand. I lived in the “holiest city on earth,” and was thrust headfirst into the religious fervor of times past. When I lived in Jerusalem, I witnessed acts of terrific horrific-ness carried out in the name of a God and responded to in turn by worshippers of another religion. Day after day would be a stabbing, a shooting, a bombing, or a rape case, and day after day after day I saw the strife that religion brought, and the justification it provided for all the very clear sins of objectively bad people. I saw that these people blindly followed what they believed to be the truth without questioning their raison-d'etre in the slightest, bowling ahead in their foolishness with all the might of the rockets and bombs they carried. Religion provided them an excuse for their actions and an excuse for not examining the truth because it is an inherently human concept of vanity, carrying all the flaws of humanity and our ego with it. By the way, these bouts of violence stem in part from the Holocaust, so not only did God not stop a monstruous genocide, but He also enabled a continuous war of brutality (not for the first time; see: the Inquisition, Crusades, etc).
We’re one planet out of an infinite number that was blessed with perfect conditions for carbon-based life, and that’s a miracle—but not a divine one. Our lives have no greater purpose than the ones we make for ourselves, because life is fleeting and it’s all we have. Once your neurons and synapses—the very things that make you, you—fade, you’re gone forever, regardless of what you’ve done on earth, and it’s important for the progression of society that we acknowledge that the only meaning we have is the one we make. I believe that religion will die out in its spiritual form, replaced by the sense of community that already serves as one of its most appealing factors. The next era of human evolution is human-based, and, to advance our own societies and experience more with our paltry lives, we have to acknowledge the true causes behind everything and address them to suit our needs.
By Liam Warin '20
Sexual education is an incredibly divisive issue. To start, many people believe sex-ed shouldn’t be offered in schools. These people believe there’s value in the mystery and hands-on learning of maturing experiences like sexual encounters. They argue that this learning can’t be taught in a classroom by a teacher who likely lacks a personal relationship with a student and strips the emotion from a sexual encounter by providing a dry description of it. Whether you support sex-ed or not, the issue of co-curricular sex-ed versus single-sex sex-ed brings up even more questions surrounding a highly contested topic.
Some on the close suggest a required coordinate sex-ed class during Freshman or Sophomore year; this class would detail not only the traditional birds and the bees, but also issues of consent, respectful treatment in a physical and emotional relationship and biological properties of each sex. The class would not necessarily be graded and—while based mainly on a central lecture or focus to lead the class—would include lots of discussion and talk. In such a class, a healthy spread of ideas would occur; opinions from both St. Albans students and National Cathedral students would cross the close and better educate the respective schools. Furthermore, a class with students from each school would encourage healthy relationships and give a place for students to clear up misconceptions and questions in a non-judging environment.
This method isn’t all roses and daisies, though. Students could worry about a judgemental environment and could therefore close up and not be as open as they would be if it were only a male or female class. Along the same line, some of the intimacy and trust that is assumed when in a class with their classmates of the previous four years. Furthermore, some experiences could be drastically different purely because of the different sexes and the separate experiences that each sex has in sexual encounters. In a single-sex classroom, there is less tension and awkwardness and people feel substantially more comfortable sharing their views.
Personally, I am against co-ed sex-ed purely because of the lack of openness that would occur in a co-ed classroom. People are less likely to express their true opinions due to a fear of being judged when around people they do not trust as much as they trust their classmates; in a co-ed sex-ed class, such openness is needed to truly utilize and take advantage of a co-ed classroom and grasp the complexities of an uncomfortable, yet extraordinarily important, subject. Unfortunately, that cannot occur because of the lack of familiarity (at least in freshman or sophomore year) between the two classes across the close.
By Exchanged Staff
Please Note: Due to technical challenges, this week’s briefing is outdated by approximately one week.
Johnston Jumps Ship
Mrs. Erin Johnston (Former Head of College Guidance at NCS) joined Georgetown Prep as a College Counselor after departing last year. A letter addressed to the NCS community had previously stated that Johnston was “excited to explore new career opportunities.”
NCS Tussles with Teen Sexters
In a recent update to the Student Handbook, NCS explicitly laid out guidelines around sexting, stating that “students are prohibited from engaging in sexting, whether over the School’s systems or using their own electronic devices regardless of where the student was when the sexting occurred. Any student receiving such a photo must immediately report the situation to an Administrator. Even seemingly joking or flirtatious sexting behavior is wrong and will not only lead to disciplinary action but could lead to a report to child abuse authorities or law enforcement. The School will comply with all state and local laws regarding sexting.” Some students raised privacy concerns over the far-reaching implications of the policy.
Bert Joins Bulldogs; “Ernie” Yet To Be Found
As announced at the first upper school assembly, St. Albans has a new therapy dog on campus named “Bert,” who joins the Close from HeroDogs. Staying with school psychologist Dr. Carrie Friend, administrators hope that Bert will be a calming presence on the hectic close for the remainder of the year.
National Merit Semifinalists
6 STA and 5 NCS students were announced as Semifinalists for the National Merit Scholarship Program. Qualification as a Semifinalist is dependent upon junior year PSAT score. The are:
Danny Hultzen Debuts
From St. Albans School Facebook: “Congratulations to Danny Hultzen ’08, who made his Major League debut with the Cubs Sunday night [9/8/19]. Coming in as a relief pitcher in the seventh inning, Hultzen struck out the side. … Hultzen is only the second STA athlete in the Major Leagues. (The first was his STA teammate Matt Bowman ’09, now pitching for the Cincinnati Reds.)”
Last Tuesday debuted the first of many TurtleNeck Tuesdays. Though seen as a disappointment by BEEF head William Carnahan—who called it a “four” out of ten—proponents hope that this Tuesday will mark a redemption, as students are encouraged to bring out the very best of their turtleneck collections and their matching “drip”.
Bulldogs impress in second home game
The Bulldogs started their season off with a stunning 8-0 home rout over Capital Charter School, a game in which six different players scored at least one goal. They play again at home against Potomac on Tuesday and request that all of the boys “get out to that.”
The Office Hour Returns for Third Straight Year
Headed by Kyle Davies, The Office Hour Podcast will return for a third consecutive year. Other than Kyle, only William O’Brien—resident numbers guy—is returning to the podcast. New members include Rob Murphy and Miles Harmon. The podcast will be posted (ideally) once every two weeks, and will be found on The Exchanged website, The Exchanged Soundcloud account, and The Exchanged Youtube channel.
Harmon Delivers First Student Homily of New Year
STA Head Prefect Will Harmon kicked off a year of student homilies last Tuesday in the Little Sanctuary. He touched on the community values that bind the school together and the importance of friendships and family. Rev. Brooks Hundley followed later in the week.
STA Prefects Give Opening Remarks
In their opening remarks to the school, the Senior Prefects emphasized the importance of diversity and transparency along with more traditional school values. Senior Vice-President Brandon Torng also announced the Diversity Forum (for ”Diversity Day” is no longer kosher) theme: allyship. The theme gives good leeway to create a meaningful event, for a dictionary.com search for “allyship” turned up empty—a testament, proponents argue, to its potential.
Carnahan BEEFs Up
Praised by faculty, students, and past BEEF presidents, William Carnahan ‘20 has taken the helm of BEEF Club with gusto, his near-daily lunch announcements effecting raucousness and good cheer. Under his stewardship, student support at early season games has proven most robust.
By Ilyas Talwar '20
Thursday’s Democratic debate in Houston was the most anticipated debate thus far. Everyone was waiting for the Biden-Warren showdown, and now that the dust has settled, everyone is still waiting for the Biden-Warren showdown. This debate didn’t have the same intense takedowns of the first two debates, but it was the most substantive. Although no one won this debate, a couple of people definitely lost it.
After two lackluster debate performances, Biden came out strong on Thursday. The first thirty minutes of the debate were his best of any of the past three. He sparred with Sanders and Warren on healthcare, getting more heated with the former. He successfully advocated for his healthcare plan while taking a jab at Medicare for all with a few good soundbites such as, “[Sanders], for a socialist you have a lot more faith in corporate America than I do.” However, Biden’s performance faltered as the debate went on. He delivered rambling answers to foreign policy questions and avoided the issue of climate change—tendencies that many Democrats point as an example of his inability to be president. His worst moment of the night was when he responded to a question about slavery by saying that parents should play records for their kids at night. The record player may actually have been a net positive as the media coverage surrounding it drowned out the rest of his answer which was not good. Overall, his performance was better than the first debate, and it showed a vitality that we hadn’t seen in the past, but it still left a lot to be desired.
Sanders did not have a good night. He sparred with Biden on healthcare and came out on the losing side of that exchange. Sanders didn’t talk much for the rest of the debate, and he seemed to be dealing with a throat issue. His performance overall was worse than it usually is, but it wasn’t disastrous by any means. The spotlight wasn’t on him in the run-up to this debate, so his mediocre performance can be easily overlooked.
Warren is the candidate of the hour. She’s been steadily gaining in the polls but is still a ways off Biden. Her performance was strong but not extraordinary. Warren has proven herself to be an effective debater, and she often tries to rise above inter-candidate fighting in these debates and pivot back to her plans and the issues facing Americans. She wasn’t really able to do that this debate, but she delivered a strong and effective performance that won her some new supporters.
Buttigieg’s performance was overall solid. A few moments that stuck out were his story about coming out as a gay man and his comment on the debates as a whole. He called the debates “unwatchable”—a viewpoint many agree with. This comment earned him an attack from Castro who responded with “that’s called a democratic primary.” Buttigieg was strong, consistent, and avoided any costly errors.
Kamala had a strange night. She started strong with an opening statement that was directed at Donald Trump. This admittedly loses some of its charm when one realizes that Trump was delivering a speech at the exact same time, but I digress. However, she struggled to find a debating style that worked. Her answers were overall fine, but she slipped into strange laughter at one moment. She tried to attack Biden with Obama’s famous “yes we can!”...but fell flat in the most awkward way. Overall, she did poorly.
Booker had a good night. He was able to avoid getting into any serious arguments with other candidates and, as a result, was able to push his campaign message. His passionate speaking style only served to score him extra points.
Yang did not have such a good night. He unveiled a plan to give 10 families UBI which sounded a bit gimmicky, then he too was attacked by Castro. The rest of his performance was overshadowed and not extraordinary. Overall, if he wants to gain more support he’ll have to do better than that.
Klobuchar had a decent night. She, like Booker, avoided any major fights and was able to push her message as more of a moderate democrat. Although she may not be as captivating as Booker, she is definitely more well-known than she once was. Her performance wasn’t amazing, but it didn’t need to be considering how many people knew very little about her.
O’Rourke had a solid night. He excelled when it came to gun reform and many other candidates applauded him for his calls for gun reform following the horrific mass shooting in El Paso. His quote of “Hell yes, we are going to take your AR-15!” garnered lots of applause, but such talk coming from a democrat is sure to incur the wrath of many Republicans and Libertarians alike.
Now the big one—Castro. No one won this debate, but Castro definitely lost it. No one remembers how he did on any of the questions, all they remember is how he went after Biden for his age. He attacked Biden’s healthcare plan saying that it would force the poor to buy-in. When Biden denied this, Castro claimed that Biden had forgotten what he had said. This was a thinly veiled assault on Biden’s age. Castro came off as mean-spirited from this exchange, and, after the debate, it was revealed that he, not Biden, was wrong about the Vice-President’s healthcare proposal. Since the debate, Castro has lost the endorsement of one of the three Texas congressmen who endorsed him. Dark days may lie ahead for the Castro campaign.
A few closing thoughts: the real loser of this debate was the economy. Despite being vital to any nation's success, the economy was the subject of approximately 0% of the questions asked. Ten candidates on one stage is still too many. It is looking like the October debate will be over two nights with around six candidates each. This should allow the candidates to focus more on policy issues than on getting quick soundbites. That being said, I’m not sure who at the DNC thought twelve debates was a good idea because the prospect of enduring eight more of these makes me feel anything but excited.
By Will Howe '21
Recently, there has been a lot of buzz around Youtube and other social media platforms regarding their censorship of speech and opinions, including de-platforming. De-platforming is when a platform bans a user from their site, essentially removing their ability to speak on their platform. Some would even go as far as to say that by de-platforming, you remove one’s ability to speak.
Right now, much of the argument around social media censorship stems from whether they are a publisher—and subsequently are responsible for what gets published on their site—or a speech platform. If they were a publisher, they would be subject to legal consequences if someone posted “Go kill Trump”. However, social media platforms are, as the name suggests, speech platforms, meaning that individuals are responsible for what they post. This protects these platforms from constant legal action, thus allowing them to exist. These protections only apply if the platform allows for “forum[s] for a true diversity of political discourse”, which arguably many of the social media giants do not. Therefore, these social media companies should either be treated as publishers or cease their biased censorship and de-platforming.
One of the most famous examples of de-platforming occured when Alex Jones, a conservative podcast host and conspiracy theory aficionado, was simultaneously banned from Youtube, Facebook, LinkedIn, Spotify, and Twitter among other platforms. The timing suggests coordination—but that is a conspiracy theory for another time. The point is that Jones’ “hate speech” violations of the terms of service of these platforms was applied unfairly, as people like Louis Farakhan remain on the platform in light of Jones being banned (Farakhan is the leader of The Nation of Islam, and has ties with many congressional democrats). Farakhan’s ties with the DNC and his subsequent immunity to deplatforming suggest a political bias. In addition, the hate speech clauses in the terms of service of many of the companies who deplatformed Jones include “misgendering” as a bannable offense. Misgendering is subjective, as some right-wingers would argue that a man who transitions to becoming a woman is misgendered when they are called “she”. The misgendering fits with a leftist worldview, and is inherently politically biased. There are countless more examples of the platform bias against conservatives, many of which are simply bans of conservatives from the platform, but one can only fit so much into 500 words.
The conclusion to be reached from the political bias and censorship of the platforms, contrasted with the principles of what constitutes a platform vs a publisher, is that social media platforms with biased terms of service and de-platforming policies should be treated as publishers, unless they allow for “forum[s] for a true diversity of political discourse”, as stated in Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which they arguably do not.
Well, you may ask, what do you propose we do about these companies then? Well realistically nothing except create new platforms without these biases, and even then this solution would only further divide the country, creating echo-chambers of regurgitated opinions circling around like a lazy-river, with little to no advancement of opinion or reasoning as result of rationalization of one’s views. Lawsuits have proven ineffective at changing the companies to foster an environment that values freedom of speech above all else, as should be the goal of a speech platform. The truth is there is no good solution for those who want open discussion so far, but hopefully big tech companies will see people becoming fed up with their censorship, and move towards maintaining platforms that value diversity of opinion.
By Kate Robinson '21
The planet is melting. Any survivable future will surely include the end of air travel, non-electric cars, hamburgers, and ice cream. In short, all the luxuries that make life worth living will be gone. Ladies, gentlemen, and friends beyond the binary, this is the tyrannical future of the disgusting, socialist Green New Deal. Right? Well, not really. But let’s talk about it.
What is the Green New Deal? Well, the New Deal was a policy vision enacted by FDR in response to the Great Depression. The core idea was that we had managed to seriously mess up the economy, and that to deal with that state of emergency, we needed radical, courageous change. Supporters of the Green New Deal, myself included, say that the world is in a similar place today with the climate crisis. Action on the scale needed would involve reorganizing the economy by providing support for people in a time of mass job transition to low-carbon work, investing heavily in clean infrastructure and urban design, and working to provide all people, no matter their income, with clean water, air, and medicine. It’s more of an aspirational concept for the future than a set of specific policies, so when you hear someone say that the Green New Deal would eliminate all hamburgers, don’t worry.
Now, I know someone reading this is muttering about how this is equivalent to Maoism. So, let’s answer the socialism question. The Overton Window, which is political science jargon for whatever is considered normal, is very different in America than it is in the rest of the world. Globally, the idea that everyone should have access to basic housing and healthcare is not considered some leftist plot to overthrow the free market, while in America, who knows. The Green New Deal does operate under the mostly uncontroversial idea that our current version of capitalism is flawed because it has resulted in pollution, record inequality, and people working multiple full-time minimum wage jobs just to stay afloat. If that means socialism to you, then the Green New Deal is socialist.
But does it even matter? We don’t live in the Cold War era anymore, and socialism isn’t some dirty monster taking over in distant lands and destroying basic freedoms. Socialism in 2019 is the democratic socialism of Scandinavia, not Maoist China. I can’t speak for everyone, but if becoming a little more like Finland is the heaviest cost of saving the environment, then I think I’d be okay with that. But chances are, you care less about debating what is technically socialism, and more about what concrete policies we need to enact, so let’s jump in.
If you think that we need to take sweeping action to begin a general reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, you’re in luck! Right now, it’s basically free to pollute the air. When you litter, you pay a fine, so why shouldn’t pollution be the same? Pricing carbon is very effective. In the UK, since adopting carbon pricing, emissions have fallen to 1890 levels. You can price carbon different ways, but I’m a fan of cap-and-trade, which sets a cap on the quantity of pollution in a year. Emissions permits are granted to polluting companies, covering a given unit of the total quantity of pollution. Firms can then trade with one another for permits, since some industries can switch far more easily to less environmentally detrimental technologies.
This is a little less straightforward than a tax, but it gives companies a lot more autonomy in how much they want to invest in reducing emissions. For example, it is a lot easier for manufacturers to switch from fossil fuels to renewable energy than it is for an airline to replace every plane with a slightly more carbon efficient model. It might be easier for that airline to invest in long-term technology development, but in the meanwhile buy up the manufacturer’s emissions permit. And that’s where cap-and-trade is cool. For all of you still foaming at the mouth about socialism, rather than just increasing the price of pollution, cap-and-trade uses the dynamics of the free market to increase the price of pollution in a more flexible--but potentially even more effective--way, as it assures we will not exceed a certain maximum of pollution.
But let’s return to the question on everyone’s mind. What about the hamburgers? Prepare yourselves, because I’m about to propose something very unpopular: a meat tax. I hear your gasps, so let me explain. American meat consumption is out of control. Even though a meat based diet is more expensive than a vegetarian one, in 2018, the USDA projected that the average American would eat 222.2 lbs. of red meat and poultry, breaking records. That number is staggering, but here is why it’s crazy. Nutritionists recommend about half that amount. Aside from the public health cost, the environmental impact is even worse. 52.8 gallons are used to produce one quarter pound hamburger, and 74.5 square feet of land. Now add methane emissions, and the deforestation to produce grazing land. We tax alcohol and tobacco just because they are bad for public health. If meat is not only bad for public health, but also terrible for the environment, why not tax meat too?
No, I’m not going to come take your hamburgers. But radical change means entertaining radical ideas, and that includes critically examining some democratic socialist policies, and some price on the impact of the meat industry. This Friday is a global strike to demand more serious action on climate change. We’re organizing NCS students to walkout and march to Capitol Hill. You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to come join the revolution!
An Interview of Anaya Rodgers '20 by Addie Sears '20
Thanks to the leadership of Anaya Rodgers ‘20 and trusty Athletics Board President Kate Neuchterlein ‘20, fall sports just got that much better with the introduction of the new NCS Athletics booster club, “CASH.” Anaya, who will serve as CASH’s first President, answers a few questions for us to give CASH a warm welcome to students and faculty on the Close. (CASH stands for "Cathedral Athletes Stay Hype".)
Addie Sears: What makes fans so important at games and what are your hopes for CASH’s impact on fan attendance at games this year?
Anaya Rodgers: In sports, the point of having a team is to support each other. It’s important to celebrate when times are good, but even more crucial to hold each other up when things go awry. Fans embody that unyielding encouragement that is present no matter the outcome of the game. With CASH, my hope is that players and teams feel supported in their pursuit to victory without consideration of the final score. That teams can build off of the momentum of their supporters and finish with a result they can be proud of.
AS: Is there anything that you’ve been doing to try and make the community excited about CASH, and will there be merch?
AR: Katie Ambrose ‘20 and I collaborated on the creation of homecoming shirts that we sold for profit in fundraising for CASH. There will be a lot more projects like these in hopes to gain some cash for CASH. Stay tuned.
AS: What makes CASH different than and or better than STA’s beef club?
AR: Since this is our first booster club, we will use a lot of help and guidance from STA and their Beef Club to see what works and what doesn’t. But, my hope is that CASH will be more deliberate and organized. We will have modes of transportation so that anyone can and is welcome to attend games. And, unlike what we’ve seen from Beef, we will support our brother school in their sports endeavors. I/We are excited to collaborate!
AS: Any additional information you want the public to know:
AR: It’s going to be a great year. I’m very confident that we can turn CASH into the school’s first successful booster club, and nourish our competitive natures beyond the classroom into a healthy outsource. But, in order to do so, WE NEED YOUR HELP! It starts with you. So GOTT (get out to that).
“I don’t believe in it, but [the teacher] does and I’m trying to get an A.”
On many occasions, I’ve heard people say this while scrambling to write an essay. Every time, I sigh, frustrated as my classmates feed what I jokingly refer to as the NCS propaganda machine. Time and time again, I struggle with the assumption that a student will receive a better grade by turning in an essay that reflects their teacher’s beliefs. However, I think that this assumption speaks to the failure to celebrate diversity of opinion at NCS.
It is no secret that both the NCS faculty and student body are left-leaning; any upper schooler will attest to that. This in and of itself is not a problem. However, as I’ve gotten older and perhaps more critical of my NCS education, I’ve realized the many ways in which my teacher’s liberal bias has prevented me from receiving a balanced and complete education. Looking back at my eight years on the close, I can pinpoint instances in which my teachers failed to acknowledge the sound reasoning behind many conservative perspectives, teaching me to instinctively equate being progressive with being educated and being conservative with being both unintelligent and, in extreme cases, immoral.
In most of these cases, the evidence of teacher bias was subtle: snide comments about Trump under their breath, failing to include conservative writers in the curriculum, or simply body language during a discussion. However, these subtleties are important. I’ll admit that I glorify my teachers and am far more impressionable than I’d like to admit. Respecting their intelligence to the nth degree, I hang onto their every word, something that doesn’t become a problem until their words, attitudes, or manipulation of the material equate my justified beliefs with bigotry. In those instances—I’ll be honest—I fear speaking up, afraid that they will think of me as less intelligent or an immoral person because I don’t agree. The fact that I’ve chosen to publish this anonymously highlights the extent of that fear.
I see Diversity Day as a clear example of this reality. I’ve always felt like it celebrates various reiterations of the same liberal values rather than actually welcoming new opinions. Whenever I express this concern to my woke classmates, they say, “Well, just talk.” I never know how to explain to them that I fear that the teachers, not the students, in the room will think less of me if I do. It’s even harder to articulate my actual fear that my grades will suffer if they see me as holding uneducated opinions. This fear may be unfounded, but the fact that I have it speaks for itself.
Political dissent at NCS is celebrated as long as it is the right type of dissent. Condemning the patriarchy? That’s great! Protesting for gun reform? You’re golden! Expressing a pro-life argument? How dare you say that? How can you even call yourself a woman? While the students are certainly to blame for perpetuating this attitude, I’d argue that the faculty doesn’t do enough to protect those with unpopular opinions; I’ve seen faculty members openly dismiss girls’ opinions. It doesn’t seem like a huge leap to say that this sort of behavior is rooted in the faculty’s own bias against conservative beliefs.
So, what do we do? How do we create genuinely open dialogue?
It’s naïve to propose that teachers stop being biased. It is human to be biased. However, I think the first step is for the adults in our community to name their bias. I understand the reasoning behind trying to hide one’s political bias, the idea that teachers should attempt to be approachable to all in an effort to avoid ostracizing the students who hold opposing beliefs. Yet, while this approach is well-intentioned, I think that it has the opposite of its intended effect. I honestly believe I would feel less awkward if we could just openly disagree, rather than having to keep my dissent bottled inside and question if I’m smart or a good person because of it. If adults don’t lead by example and name their bias, it simply becomes an elephant (or should I say donkey) in the room.
So, teachers, please remind us that, while your beliefs will become apparent and will influence the way you teach, you are open to hearing the other side and welcome respectful debate. Remind us that there is a difference between your opinion and fact. Empower us to call you out when your political bias is driving the conversation away from the material.
The first step to change is acknowledging the problem.
By Charlie Cooper '20
Despite being an Episcopalian school and requiring students to take religion and study under the looming shadow of the Cathedral, most students would agree that NCS is not a very religious school. While this is generally considered a good thing, it means that there is very little talk about faith outside of the classroom setting. Some students have expressed that there needs to be more religious inclusion, while others feel that regardless of the school's affiliation, chapel and cathedral should not be mandatory. There need to be more opportunities to discuss these issues in an environment where peoples’ voices are being heard and change can take place.
In January, a group of NCS students attended the DMV Interfaith Summit at the American University to learn how to initiate dialogue within their institutions. Courses ranged from how to navigate conflicting opinions to how faith affects different communities in DC. At the end of the summit, the Interfaith Council announced that they would be giving grants to institutions to host their own events. Seniors Noor Saleem, Charlie Cooper, Sophia McNicholas, and Sophia Charles are pleased to announce that NCS was one of the 20 institutions selected to host a conference. The date is yet to be set, but an email will be sent out shortly with more information. Guest speaker Faysal Al-Kibbi (WIS ‘20) and Noor will be giving a case-study presentation of Islam with a focus on gender roles and stereotypes. The follow-up discussion will give students the opportunity to talk about how people’s perceptions of their faith affect them, particularly at NCS. There will be a focus on how the school can make students feel more comfortable and included. Everyone is encouraged to attend regardless of your religious affiliation (or lack thereof), and there will be free food! Hopefully, this will be the first of many conferences and be a step on the path to making NCS an inclusive learning environment.
By Gabi Liebeler '20
In my freshman year, one ensembles period per cycle was dedicated to seminar. For 9th graders, this “seminar” block is actually health class. In a time where I would have much rather been spending money on overpriced bagels at Open City—a habit I thankfully grew out of—I was instead taught the importance of ideas like healthy versus unhealthy relationships, reproductive health, and consent. Seminar typically takes the form of lecture, discussion, and interactive role-playing activities. At times, seminar was awkward, but in retrospect, it provided me with a solid understanding of what relationships between individuals should and shouldn’t look like.
In most, if not all, aspects, seminar is completely useful and effective. I’ve learned valuable lessons concerning “red flags” that can point to an emotionally or physically abusive relationship; I’ve been told how to interpret and ask for consent to make sure it’s present in a sexual encounter; I know how and when to spot reclusive behaviors in peers so that I not only know how to help myself, but also how to help others. One area in which I think the NCS health curriculum could improve, however, is in the biological aspect of sex-ed. I learned female and male anatomy in biology, and I learned about STD’s and birth control in elementary and middle school. In seminar, though, I mainly took away lessons about productive social interactions. We may have brushed over the biological subjects, but the fact that I can’t remember whether we did or did not should signify that they could be reinforced, given that they are just as important.
What I’m most thankful for is that NCS began sex-ed early. Sexual encounters can occur anytime, and I think that as young women, it’s priceless to understand healthy relationships and consent—especially in today’s ever-changing hookup culture which is plagued with scrutiny over what constitutes sexual assault.
In terms of sex-ed across the close, we often hear that St. Albans doesn’t have a structured form of sex-ed. NCS students usually interpret that as a fact that St. Albans doesn’t have sex-ed. That’s almost always taken out of context though; after asking around, I discovered that St. Albans sex-ed is taught primarily through mandatory speaker sessions. To my knowledge, St. Albans students learn about consent—the moral and legal sides of it—and they participate in certain co-educational activities like the One Love seminar that we all attend as juniors. While it may not be part of the curriculum, the boys certainly seem to have more of an understanding of sex-ed than some often think. After all, I think that healthy relationships and consent, as I’ve said, are two of the most integral parts of sex education.
What I think the close lacks in sex-ed is consistency. Whether we like it or not, STA and NCS are inseparable communities, and it’s important to learn the same things as one another—especially at the same age. However, STA doesn’t begin the sex-ed process freshman year like NCS does. One should enter high school with a solid understanding of what good relationships look like, and one should leave with that understanding reinforced. Sex education is crucial for boys and girls alike, and I think that two institutions that go above and beyond in every other aspect of education could do the same in sex-ed by synthesizing their curriculum.