Latin's Social Contract

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Danielle Martin and Maddie Cohen Co-Editors-in-Chief It was my first day of high school, and although my brother was a senior when I was a freshman, I was still a nervous-wreck getting ready for school that morning. I didn’t want to be labeled as the taboo freshman and I interrogated my brother to clue me into all of the “unspoken” school rules at Latin. As I exited my car that morning, I asked my brother if there was anything else I should know before entering the building. “Oh, yeah. There is one more thing,” he warned. “Don’t sit on the bottom level of the cafeteria. That’s reserved for juniors and seniors.” Most of us don’t question why this unspoken rule exists, but it does nonetheless thanks to a set group of rules, some explicitly stated and others not: Latin’s social contract. Philosopher Jean-Jaques Rousseau writes that a social contract exists to “defend and protect the person and goods of each associate with the full common force.” In more common terms, a social contract simply asks individuals to sacrifice personal freedoms for the greater good. Society’s social contract asks that you give up your freedom to kill someone so that you won’t be killed. In America there’s a social contract to not steal, and in turn your things won’t be stolen. And at Latin, a social contract dictates, among other things, where we sit at lunch.   But Latin’s social contract extends beyond the cafeteria. Although many Latin students would never explicitly state that one exists, we see the social contract manifest itself in our day-to-day actions. We sacrifice our personal freedom to wear certain clothing so that others do not wear shirts with derogatory or profane terms that we ourselves may find offensive, and we respect other’s opinions in the classroom so that our own aren’t disrespected. Theoretically, we all have the capability to cut the lunch line, vandalize school property, and abuse our privilege of an open campus, yet we don’t so that we can continue to benefit from an organized way to get our lunch, an orderly learning environment, and the freedom of grabbing a coffee from Starbucks during a free period. It’s the same reason why we don’t misbehave on project week: so that we don’t ruin it for everyone else (including ourselves) in the future. And in the case when the social contract is broken, the honor council is there to take disciplinary action to uphold the integrity of the contract and ensure that it is obeyed. Disregarding the honor council’s issues of transparency, the majority of students we interviewed saw its purpose. “Some people need consequences to their actions, and I think it’s nice to have reminders that there are certain ways to do things,” said junior Kurt Edlund. But is this social contract completely binding? Even with an honor council set in place to enforce it, we did find that the two times when the social contract becomes more lenient is either when a) there are little to no repercussions for breaking it or b) the student is an upperclassman. Let’s take receiving a tardy as an example, a consequence for coming late to class that not only encourages the individual to be present for the class in its entirety but also benefits the community by allowing class to start on time. It’s not uncommon for a student to be late to a class, freshmen, sophomores, juniors, and seniors alike. But it’s the response to that tardy that gives a clear indication as to how seriously the social contract and its be-on-time rule are viewed. As a general pattern, freshmen are fairly sensitive to the rule, one freshman girl saying that, “freshmen really only take tardies seriously once you get them. ” Sophomores tend to have only a slightly more varied set of reactions. While some expressed that they completely didn’t care, or that they only did because their parents did, others conveyed real concern. “As my eyes glance onto a tardy, my heart flutters with a sensation of disbelief and disappointment,” said sophomore Max Pizer-Lippitz. Juniors on average care even less, Lauren Zimmerman saying that, “people don’t really care unless they get a detention.” And seniors are the most frank of all, Pamela Velazquez saying that, “seniors honestly don’t care about tardies really at all at that this point. I feel like a big part of the grade checked out the week after midterms.”   These contrasting responses and the notable evolution of thought between freshman and senior year highlight an underclassman’s obedience to the social contract compared to a senior’s (or lack thereof.) Maybe it’s just because seniors are wise enough to recognize that one tardy doesn’t appear on an official transcript, but in many ways, it appears as if the grade has created a social contract of their own, a subcategory and even perhaps a modification of the school’s larger overarching one. There is a shift demonstrating a more inwards focus, changing the social contract to benefit more specifically the individual grade rather than worrying about the whole school collectively. Frequent tardies can be explained as a mutual agreement for seniors to give each other a break and reward themselves for all of the hard work they have put in the last seven semesters, the breakfast or extra minutes of sleep they get in that time justified as working towards the “greater good.” This authority to modify the contract is potentially a result of a senior’s seniority— the years they’ve spent in high school make them deserving, they’ve been through it all, and because of this only a senior would understand what the “greater good” really is at Latin. For this reason, aside from the school and administration, which clearly still hold the greatest amount of power, the senior grade in large part has power to shape our social contract. And that goes to explain the cafeteria’s seating arrangement, by far the most common response when students were asked to discuss Latin’s unspoken rules and social contract and the very thing that my brother had warned me about that first day. So why do the upperclassmen sit on the bottom level and freshman and sophomores on top? It’s a matter of preference: the bottom level is simply viewed as the more desirable seating area. Booths align either wall; there is more space to avoid the awkward squeezing of twelve chairs at an eight-person table; and it’s located closer to the lunch lines, making it more convenient. Anyonegrade 9 through 12 would rather sit on the lower level than take the long trek up the stairs to the upper level, a walk prone to dropping treys and running into classmates. But given the limited space of the cafeteria, some students must be sentenced to this less desirable seating area, so we give up our personal freedom as freshman and sophomores to ensure that we too will get to dine on the lower level once we become upperclassmen. Many rules of Latin’s social contract are based on hierarchy, and seniors tend to reap the rewards more than underclassmen do. However, given that we will all be seniors one day, we sacrifice some of our personal freedoms as freshman and enter the social contract knowing that someday we too will be seniors. Someday, we too will be able to eat on the lower level of the cafeteria without it being considered taboo.]]>