Jake Kornfeld, Jennie Frishtick and Carl Tischbein lead a Council meeting.
By Anne Thompson
Leo Tolstoy, Russian novelist of unparalleled acclaim, is one of the earliest great thinkers accredited with a theory of democratic education. Although his vision concerned the peasant children of Yasnaya Polyana, his country estate, in the late 19th century, the effects of his ingenious idea can be felt to this day. Right here at HHS, at 11:20 a.m. on Fridays, is our very own form of government made up in part by students: Council. Ever since June 14, 1977, Council has acted on numerous school-related issues that are not regulated by the school board, state policy, or administrative regulations. Foremostly, Council exists as the governing body of HHS.
Last Friday I had the opportunity to meet with Council members Jennie Frishtick, Jacob Kornfeld and Carl Tischbein to discuss some of the controversies Council currently faces and its goals for the future.
When Frishtick mentioned that there was support for the continuation of the School Safety/Climate Committee, I asked what the committee did. To me, the word “safety” immediately triggered images of security checks or metal detectors. However, the committee actually has a much more encouraging intent: it is, in fact, concerned with the climate of our school. This is doubtlessly a lofty goal, for although HHS is certainly a comfortable environment, there is room for improvement. It’s commendable that this has been recognized.
I was interested in the fate of March Intensive (MI). The program has faced a board of review each year to determine whether or not it will continue to be offered. From Frishtick I also learned that those in favor of MI are attempting to make it a regular program, with a participation grade given for the week; this was the result of a 2-1 staff vote in favor of continuing MI only if attendance and participation were documented. For those who feel intimidated by such a prospect, who fear that they will need to perform in some specific way to attain a good grade, or that the whole intent of MI—“learning for learning’s sake”—will be jeopardized, fear not. Although a participation grade will appear on one’s transcript, it will be based simply on attendance, and neither letter grades nor the actual content of the MI course will appear. The exclusion of the course’s content is meant to ensure that a student who got his or her last choice will not have to be associated with it, and, similarly, that the lucky few who were able to go to Nicaragua, etc., will not have an unfair “angle” over those who were unable to get into such Intensives.
If MI is made a regular program, it will occur annually without needing to be approved by a board of review, and it will be added to the Program of Studies and the Student Handbook. This motion will be going to the school board soon, and as Frishtick explained, “It’s a make or break situation.” Depending on the outcome, MI will either be made long-term, or ended, at least for the foreseeable future. I just traveled to Germany with the wind ensemble this past MI, and I certainly hope that MI will remain the same amazing experience.
All three readily agreed that “spreading the word” about Council proceedings is a definite goal, and they hope that non-Council involvement will increase in the process. There is talk of improving the technology available for Council, perhaps even adding digital speakers in an attempt to improve public relations. Council is also in search of a community representative whom they hope will increase visible community support.
Their general conviction seemed to be that those who are passionate about certain issues or movements should attend relevant Council meetings, talk to members, or find other ways to make their voices heard. The three expressed their dismay at anti-Council statements suggesting that Council “does nothing” or is “just a lot of talk.” I don’t see how anyone has the audacity to complain about Council without first trying to voice her or his concerns, or even attempting to understand the body’s proceedings.
After all, Council’s job is to share decision making between staff and students. As a Civitas graduate, I can safely say that not expressing one’s stance on a crucial issue would be democratically neglectful. We have a rare instance of “democracy in action” at our own school. To fail to take advantage of the ability to make positive changes to the nature of our
schooling is a betrayal of all the values of democracy that we uphold as Americans. So, if you see something Council could improve on, don’t just complain: let them know, make your voice heard.
All Council members I’ve encountered are personable, positive, and more than willing to discuss current Council issues. Furthermore, they are always open to suggestions or feedback. If they were not legitimately concerned about the state of our school, they would not devote to it the amount of time, energy and effort that they do.
As Kornfeld put it, “Council’s awesome!” Frishtick and Tischbein wholeheartedly agreed. They adamantly hope that in the future, even more of the student body will share this sentiment. Their enthusiasm and belief in the work they accomplish on Council was inspiring. After this interview, I have renewed respect for our Council, and I have been thoroughly convinced that it is, in fact, an important and influential part of HHS. We should all become more aware and involved.