The Inbox

Reassessing Tradition

Traditions across our culture are being questioned because of their often problem- atic history. Parker traditions are no excep- tion. This is exactly what should be done. In fact, I believe that this reckoning with tradition is long overdue, and that what is being done is too partial to the past. Many disagree.

On November 17, Senate hosted a conversation discussing Parker traditions. Much to my surprise, many seemed angry that Parker traditions were being cut or changed, especially when it came to things like the Thanksgiving MX or the Cake Walk which were pulled or changed due to racist histories. While I do believe these actions are barely scratching the surface of what needs to be done at Parker regarding race, I believe these traditions, for the most part, are a waste of time that fail to bring Parker closer to its mission.

At the aforementioned Senate, many students voiced their criticism towards the removal of certain traditions, especially the Thanksgiving MX. They talked about how, when they were in lower school, they looked forward to this as a rite of passage. They also talked about other traditions in a similar manner like the Egyptian Museum, different County Fair booths, and bringing a piece of the house up to the stage. I found this to be a different point of view than I had ever considered. Having come to Parker in 6th grade and having taken on the role of a curmudgeon far too young, I found no particular meaning or excitement in these activities.

I found myself thinking about the points that people had made. One student talked about how much fun the Cake Walk was, suggesting that its removal was PC pander- ing, not a legitimate way to confront legacies of racism that exist within carnival activi- ties. The cake walk was removed before my time at Parker, however, from my research, it seems inappropriate for a majority white institution to have an activity meant to deni- grate enslaved Black people during slavery and then after through minstrel demonstra- tions. This argument applies to other activ- ities at the County Fair, such as the dunk tank. Many aren’t aware of the histories of such activities, and using them at County Fair isn’t the most egregious thing Parker does, however, I agree with the admin’s decision once they learnt of the history.

More nuance comes with regards to things like the Thanksgiving MX and Egyp- tian Museum. I am happy the Thanksgiv- ing MX is gone but mostly because I like not having to wake up at 8:10 that morning.

Beyond that, there is a very good argument to cut it when you consider the actions of the British towards the Wampanoag tribe shortly after the first Thanksgiving, which included shooting indiscriminately into the surrounding woods soon after the dinner concluded. This also ignores the geno- cide and colonization of land that would soon follow as a result of these first British settlers. I continue to celebrate Thanksgiv- ing despite this terrible history, however, my celebration centers around family and giving back to the community, and we do our best to remind ourselves that we are eating on stolen land every Thanksgiving. This certainly isn’t perfect, but it is too much to ask of a third grader. They’re simply too young to understand the nuance of the holi- day and effectively communicate that in an MX.

The Egyptian museum raises similar issues. The artifacts being replicated and spoken about mostly lie outside Egypt as a result of British theft of many priceless arti- facts. When talking about these stolen arti- facts, they, in my mind at least, are insep- arable from the legacies of imperialism in Egypt which have led to little but ruin. The burden of figuring out how to reconcile all of these issues with the existing format is immensely difficult but still can and should be done. Unlike with the Thanksgiving MX, I believe it’s something that should be preserved, but it is imperative that teachers use this as an opportunity to expose students to the atrocities committed and the theft of these artifacts.

There are too many similar examples to this that are very contentious, but, to end, I’m going to give suggestions about how to bring Parker closer to its mission, sugges- tions that could eventually become tradi- tions. The emphasis on many traditions is to bring together the whole community, JK-12. Some do this effectively, like County Fair. Most don’t. I believe that we should bring the community together more often and in person-to-person ways. This could be in creating a way for Middle and Upper School students to be involved in Parker PM, creating a reading buddies program to bring students together academically, or just in playing a cross-divisional game on the field. Through fostering personal connec- tions between divisions, we can come closer to the “one body” talked about at Corinthi- ans every year.