Prior to providing our response, the Vigornia team would like to thank Ms. Schlesinger for her informative opinion piece on our exploration of the new norms at WA, and for offering another perspective to the conversation at large.
We would also like to address the article and her response as a whole, continuing the discussion in a respectful manner.
While offering a variety of points on relevant school issues, there should be a consideration of the young journalist who brought these issues to light and that the views represented in the article were those of a WA student, who has first-hand experienced the negatives of these norms.
Further, it is imperative to note that there is an inherent power imbalance between a teacher and a student and this is a student-run newspaper.
We would also like to acknowledge the conversation that these articles have generated around campus. The staff at The Vigornia urges the WA community to have respect for Ms. Schlesinger and especially the original author, a student who took the brave step of publishing their opinion.
*Note* We have three authors contributing to this piece, with each section written by multiple members of our Vigornia team. Now, let’s dive in and join us down the rabbit hole of WA’s most pressing issues.
Phones (written by the original author)
While acknowledging my point that phone usage in the classroom is rude, Ms. Schlesinger fails to take into account what was said. It was not that we should be allowed to use them during class, it was that they should not be taken away from us, which is a very big difference. I never denied that scrolling on a phone during a class is disrespectful, but simply suggested easy access to a phone would be beneficial for students. I never suggested there not be consequences for a student using their phone in class. As previously stated, students have the option to either indulge themselves in their private education or choose to disobey the rules and reap the consequences.
I also want to note that the part Ms. Schlesinger claims that I have a “phone addiction” is incorrect. This is not to DSM V-TR criterion (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, for those who are unfamiliar.) Under addictive disorders recognized in the DSM V-TR, gambling disorder is the only addictive disorder included as a diagnosable condition.
In terms of relating phone usage in the classroom to usage in assembly, this correlation is simply invalid; I would like Ms. Schlesinger to provide data on how many students in the Upper School are actively using the phones during assembly. I assure you, it would not be “the majority” of students. Further, advisors and faculty are diligent in enforcing active student listening by taking phones away from those who use their phones during assembly. Also, students don’t choose assembly topics; this is not to say the topics at assemblies don’t matter, as a matter of fact, many of them do; however when someone is talking about the invention of the smile (so softly one can barely hear) for a good 30 minutes, and the AV in the gym is not working correctly, one can understand how a student would be tempted to amuse themselves. While I personally do not take my phone out during this time and agree people should put them away, I can understand the appeal.
She then chose to “sympathize” with me while invalidating my fear. If emergencies at school weren’t of concern, Worcester Academy would not be implementing new safety policies, as well as an Alertus notice for phones and laptops. As of November 17, there have been at least 77 school shootings in the United States so far in 2023 (CNN). One school shooting is too much.
In addition, there are weather conditions or medical emergencies that can impact a student’s safety and well-being on campus. Ms. Schlesinger claims that the cost of allowing students to be on their phones during class outweighs the “infinitesimally small” chance (a dangerous assumption, I may say) that they could need their phone during an emergency without access to it; with that, I STRONGLY disagree. I am disheartened to hear that she believes the (although slight) chance of danger is outweighed by the (however more common) chance that students will use their phones in class.
Not only is it impractical for one to take out their computer (with a big screen for those around them to see) and write their counselor an email about how they are struggling in the middle of class, but it is also not allowed in many cases. Not all teachers allow computers out (written in the syllabus) and even those that do will most likely ask one what they are doing, especially if no one else in the class is on theirs (such as in many STEM classes.) I hope all those reading this understand how this question being asked in front of peers may be detrimental to someone in such a state. Disclosure of medical concerns, mental or physical, is not required of a student and is not at all the teacher’s right to know.
Her ID Cards in Phones rebuttal, I can say I somewhat agree with. Yes, one could just put it in their wallet, but I personally do not own a wallet and that is just one more thing for me to forget since I am (according to Ms. Schlesinger) “forgetful.” She also pointed out I could grab it with my phone in the “presumable” situation I asked the teacher first. That is 100% true, except for the fact that I almost never ask my teacher first. It is a bit hard to “privately ” ask a teacher mid-lecture to go to the counselor’s office. Many of the teachers here use lecture-based teaching, and it would create a sense of awkwardness to leave the classroom in the middle of class. In addition, many do not feel as close with their teacher, especially if that specific teacher is making them feel the way they do. Often, what I do when I am put in said situation is: exit the classroom, email my counselor to make sure they are available, go to their office, and have my counselor communicate with my teacher via email so they are sure I am safe.
As a fellow woman, I would hope Ms. Schlesinger knows that girls (particularly ones around the age of 13-18 years old) are not necessarily on a regular cycle. In a perfect world, I bet we would all love our periods to come at exactly the same time every month, but unfortunately, irregular periods or surprise leaks occur, and when they do, where are the supplies we need? “Setting a timer to bring period products,” I fear, undermines a woman’s struggle with the fact that periods can come when they least expect them. In addition, putting tampons in my bag doesn’t coincide with having them when I am in the bathroom stall and realize I need one. And although I mentioned that I do ask my friends for tampons, one would be surprised how many don’t carry them. It takes me five or more people to find a tampon on many occasions… so I guess this would imply that Ms. Schlesinger is calling many of our women at WA, who have much going on, “forgetful”.
Finally, I would like to mention that her rebuttal argues as though I completely want to repeal the phone policy, which is simply not true. I am arguing that the no-tolerance policy the school recently adopted should be relaxed. Simply being allowed to have one’s phone on their person would be in our best interest.
As Ms. Schlesinger noted, WA survived without DoorDash for 179 years. However, WA relies on modern-day progression to flourish, as seen in our school’s history on the official Worcester Academy website: “In 1974, we resumed the admission of girls after a hiatus of many decades … 1987 saw the opening of the middle school, followed by the addition of sixth grade in 1996 … and it was also during 1996 that the school’s buildings were connected to the Internet, signifying a remarkable boost to the educational opportunities afforded our students.”
According to the logic provided by Ms. Schlesinger, none of these would be necessary for the “survival of the school” as they were not accepted and/or did not exist in 1834, a lack of which we would believe to be outrageous today. Worcester Academy has always been an environment looking to the future and fostering the thinkers of tomorrow, and exploring compromises to allow food to be delivered is surely not out of the school’s purview.
In addition, keep in mind the residential students who consider WA to be their home; from their perspective, “bringing a lunch from home” does not apply. They rely solely on Worcester Academy to provide them meals during the week, and having this option gives them liberties to make them more comfortable on campus. Also, faculty members order food from DoorDash and have to watch their food get thrown out as a result of the strict delivery policy, which not only wastes money, resources, and time but causes an unnecessary amount of chaos over a trivial matter like food delivery.
Gender Neutral? (written by the original author)
If you were to take “boy” and “girl” out of my original argument, it would still stand. Yet, it is important to recognize that while the dress code is gender-neutral on paper it is not in practice. By no means do I believe clothes have a gender; however I do believe that since women are the majority of students wearing skirts and spaghetti straps, it is fair to say that the rules surrounding these garments target women. Ms. Schlesinger adding that the dress code is gender neutral when arguing about spaghetti straps (while true) belittles the fact that the reason this rule was put in place was because of the sexualization of girls’ shoulders. While one would hope that teachers do not still adhere to this idea; they do. I personally have had multiple cases of teachers calling me “promiscuous” and “brave” for wearing clothes that had spaghetti straps.
I would next love to address the point she makes about dress code and its relation to performance in school and how it can and has been disproved. In May, when students take their AP exams, they are allowed to wear essentially whatever they want in order to maximize comfort and create better success. Ms. Schlesinger however argues that dressing more professionally will make it so performance in academics will improve. I can’t say I see the correlation between wearing what she calls “real pants” (which I am assuming means slacks/dress pants) and getting better grades in school. I know I personally took my three AP exams last year in sweatpants and, despite how slovenly I must have looked in my attire, managed to pass each one and, in fact, managed to get a 5 on one.
I must admit that I think this argument could have held some merit if taken in another direction. If she had argued that dressing more professionally would cultivate discipline among students which would then translate into academic discipline and success, I would have understood and quite frankly agreed with her; this is a correlation between dress and academic performance I can get behind. But I don’t love the direction she went with this argument.
Ms. Schlesinger says the dress code is made with the intention of helping students learn and to be prepared for whatever the world brings, but I don’t see how exactly sweatpants get in the way of such learning. In fact, it can be argued that sweatpants would in fact aid learning as they maximize comfort and therefore make it so students can focus on their lesson as opposed to a rigid, uncomfortable outfit. She mentions she used a study to lead her to the conclusion that professional dress helps students learn. Still, I am curious as to whether this study was taken before or after the global pandemic, which made children grow accustomed to wearing only comfortable clothes as they learned. I recognize this argument of mine could easily be refuted if it turns out her source was in fact one from a post-pandemic pool. What is far more relevant to look at–as opposed to studies taken who knows where/who knows when–is the experiences of the students at WA, since the original argument was about a student’s experiences at WA.
College Prep, not Profession
Also, I want to mention that Worcester Academy advertises itself as a college-preparatory school. At most colleges and universities, students are able to dress however they please. I must also point out that the colleges who do in fact monitor the dress codes of their students are ones not exactly well regarded for this from both external opinions of their institution and within (ie. Liberty University in Virginia – those unfamiliar should look up their dress code). In essentially all cases, people can wear sweatpants to college; most do. I don’t see why it is necessary for students to be held to such professional standards. We are not professionals. We are students. Additionally, it is worth noting that since companies now realize the benefit of online work/work from home, the standard work dress code has fallen to the side. Instead, what was once dress slacks and button ups is now replaced with sweatshirts and leggings. Furthermore, the dress code has fallen aside in offices as well, particularly in tech business. According to Fresno Pacific University, the uniformity and obedience that dress codes demand can actually harm students by removing their chance to learn to adapt
Finally, I would like to address Ms. Schlesinger’s thoughts on students wearing pajama bottoms to school. She has grievances when students wear clothes to school they had clearly worn (or at least could have worn) to bed the night before. To this, I respond: she is absolutely correct! PJs are inappropriate for school. I hope we all agree on that.
*Note* The initial argument never made the claim that students should be allowed to wear pajamas to school.
Ms. Schlesinger concludes her piece by saying: “I invite the anonymous writer to respond to my arguments and convince me that students should be allowed to roll into school in their pajamas, scroll through social media all day, order takeout, and maybe occasionally learn something if it fits into their busy schedules,” to which we respond: no thanks. The initial author never claimed that we should be able to wear pajamas as school attire. The initial author never said we should be able to scroll through social media throughout the academic day. We desire to shed light on issues that affect us, the community of Worcester Academy. Most importantly, a point has been missed in discussing these topics: this is a conversation, not a debate. We are seeking to create a discussion in which we are able to understand both sides respectfully. In turn, we strive to achieve the honorable in all aspects of our journalism, keeping in mind our Core Values without restricting our journalistic liberties.