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Examining Prospect High School’s Class System

By Andrew Barr

On June 16, 1858, Abraham Lincoln, expressing his belief that the United States could not exist so vehemently at odds on the issue of slavery, observed that “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” Indeed, Mr. Lincoln’s words have echoed throughout history and have been proved true time and time again. But his words raise a question: can a lack of division hurt society? With some analysis, the answer, at least when it comes to social, economic, and political division, is a resounding “yes.”

The United States has never existed without classes. There has always been the rich, the poor, and those in-between. There have always been Liberals and Conservatives. This taxonomy of American society has endured since the creation of our great nation. The continued success of the American system owes much to the acceptance of these social strata. For example, much of the civil unrest that so often plagues underdeveloped and uncivilized nations is brought about by a lack/disorganization of traditional class roles or a sudden drive toward complete egalitarianism.

When the nation of India came under the rule of the British Raj, the English inserted themselves at the top of the already existing caste system. From 1858 until 1947, the continuation of this class system afforded India a period of great prosperity. Among the benefits made possible by the British connection were major capital investments in infrastructure, in railways, canals and irrigation systems, shipping and mining, creating suitable conditions for the growth of manufacturing and independent enterprise; and the amalgamation of India into the global economic scene.

However, after the Sepoy Rebellion of 1857 and other consequent insurgencies against colonial rule, the British began to slowly adopt a “hands off” approach to governance, effectually removing themselves from the class system (or elevating themselves to a position that had no effect on the other classes). This created a power vacuum of sorts, blurring class lines, encouraging dissention to the system and decreasing the overall efficiency and living standard of the society at large.

With the British system all but gone, the populace turned to other demographics for stability. This identity crisis was one of the main reasons for the demarcation of India into modern day India and Pakistan. The creation of what today is a very volatile region of the world, was responsible for the deaths of anywhere between 250,000 and 500,000 people on both sides of the new borders. The fragmentation of the caste system was a principle cause for their deaths.

It is the same dilution of classes in our school, seen recently through the administratively urged de-emphasis of class competition at “Knightgames” and other Homecoming events that invokes feelings of consternation in some of the more tradition-minded members of the student body. To what extent should we, as a school, truly unify?

To be sure, a certain level of respect comes from the class system at Prospect, a respect that has been declining with the devaluing of class pride and the emphasis on “U Knight-ing” the school.

Recently in gym class, fellow senior Mike Uhlarik and I were enjoying a friendly game of pickleball when a freshmen (participating in a neighboring game of flicker-ball) unapologetically ran onto our court and disrupted our game. Several minutes later, our ball made its way into the flicker-ball area. We requested assistance in the retrieval of our ball from the freshman’s class but were answered with a cry of “get it yourselves!”

These verbal and physical transgressions of the traditional levels of respect for members of the senior class are inadmissible. When Mr. Uhlarik and I were freshmen, the emphasis was on respecting one’s elders – no freshmen dared to speak to unfamiliar seniors unless spoken to. When we as freshmen traversed through the first floor “senior hallway,” we averted our eyes out of respect and awe, for seniors had much to teach us, and showing them respect was our way of thanking them. The emphasis on uniting the school has blurred the lines between classes, and those who used to benefit from the counsel and advice of upperclassmen now find it acceptable to mouth off to them. But aside from the respect issue, what else does the “U Knight-ing” of Prospect mean?

As in every aspect of society, there are factions in our school. But some of these factions are very different than the broader Freshmen-Senior classes in the system that students find themselves automatically pushed into as they walk through Prospect’s hallowed halls for the first time. The students who take honors classes are a specific type of faction: an ability based one. Those who take regular classes, special education classes, members of the football team and those in the marching band are all part of this aptitudinal nomenclature. So, whether it is taking the derivative of a logarithmic function or running a 26/47 halfback pass, these groups already present much to our school in terms of diversity within themselves.

Does the “unification” of our school mean that activities and classes that exclude students from participation will be “equalized,” as they essentially advocate for a segregation of ability? Will an equal opportunity situation become the norm at Prospect High School?

Let us hope not, for the moment that we allow an equal opportunity situation to manifest itself in our clubs and teams is the moment that our efficiency and performance becomes akin that of the Department of Motor Vehicles, FEMA, or even the Carter White House. Let’s not let THAT happen.