Fulfilling the Liberal Arts Promise

Our school takes great pride in two core elements of the Lawrenceville experience: House and Harkness, which, all in all, represent the values of our liberal arts education.

Our school takes great pride in two core elements of the Lawrenceville experience: House and Harkness, which, all in all, represent the values of our liberal arts education. Generally speaking, such an education combines natural sciences with the humanities in order to produce a body of knowledgeable, respectful, and creative students. However, what gives a liberal arts education its unique value goes beyond just academics: our Harkness method, our history and English programs, our science and math programs, as well as our interdisciplinary, religion, and art programs, all help us develop a foundation of knowledge so that we can interact with the world at large. The most important element of a liberal arts education is to create a student body of thoughtful people who are aware of their responsibilities as citizens of a greater community and have the ability to use the resources they are provided to create change. In that regard, the way that we approach community service is insufficient to meet this goal, something that has become increasingly apparent throughout the Covid-19 pandemic.

By making community service a three-part component to meet the graduation requirement that is also separate from the academic experience in the classroom, Lawrenceville makes service feel far too similar to completing chores on a checklist. Thus, many students participate in these activities with the mindset of “getting it over with,” which does not set up for eager and committed engagement with the surrounding community. With the pandemic upon us, and community service requirements suspended, far fewer people partook in service during the spring and the fall. Granted, with LCAP programs returning, albeit without opportunities to work physically with the surrounding community, service activity will only increase because people are trying to meet the graduation requirement. Moreover, because no lower level classes incorporate an aspect of community service, our curriculum does not successfully stress service as an integral part of the Lawrenceville experience; thus, when the requirement was removed, most students dropped their obligation to service, and did not openly look for more opportunities to engage with the local community.

Hence, in order to truly live up to our liberal arts mission, our community service requirements should be changed to an offering more similar to the independent study format, where students are given the opportunity to spend one term conducting research and doing service in a local community. Right now, only high-level electives such as Poverty IN513 and Urban Education in America IN584 integrate service with course material. This type of experience can be extended to religion classes that study ethics or philosophy in a student center or art classes that segue into students participating in local community centers. Such offerings should begin in the II Form year so that the importance of community service as a part of the Lawrenceville education itself is stressed from the get go. These classes would allow all students to interact with communities in need while also understanding the reasons behind the service, making the experience more meaningful and informative. Moreover, by allowing students to receive a term-long community service credit along the way, these classes will be well-received. Finally, by preserving the 4-2 athletic schedule for at least the non-varsity sports, we can properly encourage students to actively find ways of using the resources and time that Lawrenceville provides in order to benefit the surrounding area. Service will feel less like a burden and more like the fulfilling experience it should be.

Rather than restoring the same system for community service after the pandemic ends and normal classes resume, our administration should reconsider the way that the community service itself is integrated into our Lawrenceville experience. If service itself is incorporated into far more classes, and we are given a less packed sports schedule that provides us with more time to engage in service, most of us will not sit around. We will use the valuable time and resources that Lawrenceville provides to serve others and matriculate as more responsible citizens.

This editorial represents the majority view of The Lawrence, Vol CXL.

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