The Pitfalls of Orientation

There is an inherent flaw in the way this year’s orientation was structured.

The beginning of the schoolyear is always a tumultuous one. Especially at a school like Lawrenceville, where the school year brings a drastic shift in lifestyle, it can always be jarring to acclimate to this new form of life. In the interest of improving the students’ environment, each year has always offered some type of orientation—a group of activities done to strengthen bonds amongst peers and address conflicts. This year, Lawrentians were introduced to a new system, one filled with quotes on respect and dignity, mechanical recitations of phrases such as “yes, but...” and “yes, and...”, and a categorical breakdown of different forms of listening and advice. Although valuable in its aims, such forms of learning ultimately fail in their approach, attempting to achieve the final result without due process.

Attempting to “teach” our interactions through mechanical phrases and prepared curriculum only makes superficial learning, one that hardly succeeds in translating into action.

There is an inherent flaw in the way this year’s orientation was structured. By and large, Lawrenceville has always preached the concept of learning through experience, learning through rationale at the Harkness table, assuming that learning through experiences builds a true foundation of knowledge for future decisions. However, prepared phrases such as “yes but...” and “yes, and...” fall short of this notion. Attempting to “teach” our interactions through mechanical phrases and prepared curriculum only makes superficial learning, one that hardly succeeds in translating into action. It would be as if one tried to teach the concept of “perseverance.” These qualities, although easily definable, are only achieved through firsthand experience. Our notion of respect comes from the experiences we’ve accumulated over time, not a quote from Rosalind Wiseman.

The same is true for many other concepts touched on in our orientation, such as listening, giving advice, and apologizing. Although these traits are easily definable, the challenge lies in its real-world execution—nearly all are capable of envisioning an ideal resolution from the perspective of a rational third party with no personal stake in an issue. However, the ultimate purpose of these exercises is to help us when we’re facing the problem firsthand. Only through organic forms of learning, personal circumstances which cannot be artificially created, can we truly improve our own problem solving ability. Indeed, these situations do not reliably nor consistently present themselves, but in the long term, their role in our development is evident—most Lawrentians would agree that they’ve progressed significantly through their time at Lawrenceville, despite a lack of preprogrammed curriculum. Instead of devoting the formative moments of the new year to mulling over a hypothetical scenario, Lawrentians could have used the opportunity to catch up with friends, develop relationships, and engage in situations truly relevant to them.

It isn’t as if the concepts taught at orientation are new to students either.

Our notion of respect comes from the experiences we’ve accumulated over time, not a quote from Rosalind Wiseman.

We all certainly have experience with respecting one another, giving advice, and listening. Having spent hours communicating at the Harkness and in the house, our body of knowledge far exceeds that of a preconceived worksheet. If confronted with the reality of a hurting friend, we hardly stop to consider whether we should advise with a factual, empathetic, or confirming tone.

The nuance lies in the indefinable. And while it may be helpful to reflect on these issues, our ability to “improve” these interactions with new information is slim.

Of course, there is still merit to Lawrenceville’s orientation. The freshman class, similar to years before, went through group activities involving introductions and team games. A game of “Koomcha” will never solve an argument, but it is the experience that matters. Lawrenceville’s new orientation was high in its aspirations. “Yes, but ” it falls short in its execution.

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