Among the newly revised justifications for academy involvement in faculty alcohol and drug use, articulated in the Faculty and Staff Handbook, one concern rings slightly out of tune: “the reputation of the Academy.” The sentiment of conserving an image evokes language from the Bluebook, namely the instruction that “all students, boarding and day, are expected to behave in a manner that does not compromise the good name of Phillips Academy and to follow school rules while on or off campus.” Regardless of the virtue of any rule’s functional objective, justification premised on reputation undermines the capacity of the rulebooks to serve as cultural standards of reasoning.
The Bluebook is, perhaps, the most often dismissed or ignored reading assignment in the history of Andover. Yet, it serves as a critical tool in Andover’s endless crusade of self-invention. As admissions catalogs and the school website represent the school’s vision of itself to prospective students, the Bluebook embodies the school’s self-perception to those already enmeshed here. Beyond professing Andover’s values, the Bluebook offers an opportunity to canonize a style of thinking. It is a community touchstone which should, and with some changes could, not only catalogue the values the school would like to realize but also serve as an example of the type of rigorous critical thinking the school strives to instill.
When the school presents new students each year with a Bluebook tarnished by reasoning that would earn less than an honors grade in the classes they are about to take, it misses an opportunity to instill the importance of aggressive critical thinking. What better way for a teacher to convince one young freshmen, pondering why he should bother to learn how to write a convincing history paper, of the importance of analytical thinking than to point to the Bluebook and say “because analytical thinking is how you build a school, or any good community for that matter.”
Any community demands a social contract of its members, an idea any Upper who managed to stay awake during History 300 might attribute to John Locke. The Bluebook and other school rulebooks define the school community’s social contract, which serves to ensure the quality and continuation of Andover education.
Andover’s anti-drug policy offers a lens into the educationally productive or counterproductive justifications of a rule that few would disagree helps maintain the quality of education at Andover in its functional objective. Alcohol and other drugs are known to diminish focus, judgment and ambition. Considering these effects, drug use is antithetical to the pursuit of an education. This justification draws its power from placing education as the highest purpose of the school, and by doing so practices exactly what the school tries to teach: cogent reasoning. By equating the purpose of school rules such as the prohibition of substance with preserving “the good name of Phillips Academy,” rather than to maintain the quality of its education, it offends the educational capacity of the rulebooks by diminishing their analytical validity.
Andover’s self-generated, self-reflective texts fail to execute the school’s educational mission because they include justifications for certain rules that invoke the assumption the preservation of the reputation of this educational institution is, well, more important than the education. And this fault has two sinister implications.
First, it raises the possibility that sometime in the future, a student or faculty member might follow a corrupt rule out of ingrained obedience, contrary to a skill of aggressive critical thinking supposedly honed here.
Second, it insinuates doubt about the importance of rigorous, analytical thinking into the minds of students. If the school refuses to define itself using this style of thinking, and in fact even refuses to aspire to defining itself in such a way, as self-generated texts such as the Bluebook are more often the reflection of a dream than a reality, then how can its students take the importance of rigorous, analytical thinking seriously? If a successful, prestigious New England prep-school can get along without thinking, why can’t we?
This Editorial represents the views of The Phillipian Editorial Board CXXXIV.