It's Not a Crisis of Confidence

John Gross

In 1979, President Jimmy Carter delivered the Malaise Speech. The events of the 60’s and 70’s—the assassination of John F Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, and Martin Luther King Jr., the Vietnam War, the Civil Rights Movement, and Nixon’s infamous Watergate Scandal—had already created a nation of unrest, one that was divided by ethnicity, political allegiance, gender, and socio-economic status. But, in his speech, Carter called upon yet another crisis, the energy crisis, and blamed it on the American mentality, calling it a “Crisis of Confidence.”

“The threat is nearly invisible in ordinary ways. It is a crisis of confidence. It is a crisis that strikes at the very heart and soul and spirit of our national will. We can see this crisis in the growing doubt about the meaning of our own lives and in the loss of a unity of purpose for our nation…

In a nation that was proud of hard work, strong families, close-knit communities, and our faith in God, too many of us now tend to worship self-indulgence and consumption. Human identity is no longer defined by what one does, but by what one owns.”

Last week in history class, we were discussing the significance of Carter’s speech, and why it got such a negative response, how the charismatic Ronald Reagan was able to use it to bolster his campaign. Classmates argued that “pointing fingers” was no real way to affect change and that the country needed to stay unified, needed to own its mistakes and champion its successes. They argued that in times of unrest, the nation needed to focus on the good things, to rally around what makes the United States the best country in the world.

And I was sitting in my seat in the back, thinking, processing, ultimately shocked at how familiar this sounded, how applicable this was to our community. If one were to sub in the word “Latin” for “nation,” “country,” or “United States” it would be the perfect prescription for our school.

As of late, we have been a hub for finger-pointing. Around issues of diversity and politics at Latin especially, it has become an issue of “us” vs. “them.”

“The school is too diverse because of them.”

“The school is not diverse enough because of them.”

“They are ruining our school.”

“They are ruining our school.”

It is always someone’s fault, instead of a collective struggle. The actions of a couple people become applied to the entire community. And while issues of diversity and inclusion are important and need to be addressed, they cannot allow us to forget, especially as the year comes to a close, that we are so lucky to go to Latin.

At times it may not feel that way. When social cliques dominate the hallways, library, weekend events. When your character is judged and scrutinized. When you feel suffocated by the school’s seemingly exclusive political agenda, or you feel marginalized and disrespected.

But think about Latin with some perspective. We have teachers who, for the most part, care about us, think about us as people who have something to say, instead of just subordinates. They are qualified, intellectual role models who want to teach, which, unfortunately, is not always the case in education.

In fact, a recent Chicago Tribune investigation found that Illinois school districts have employed “hundreds of educators to teach everything from science to special education even though they lacked proper credentials in those subjects.”

Our education is not limited to the classroom. We are provided countless extracurricular opportunities that range from writing for the school newspaper to community service to participating in state-bound sports teams. We are immersed and involved in the city of Chicago, not just a high school that happens to be there.

Most often overlooked, though, is at Latin, we are safe and protected. We have an effective security system and security guards whose jobs are to make sure that our community is protected. There are countless high schools in the city of Chicago who cannot say the same. In the same vein, unlike many, we have excellent facilities and educational resources and a food service that prepares tasty, nutritional meals. With constant complaints about Flik, many don’t realize how many high schools can’t provide their students and faculty with a proper meal.

The list goes on.

At how many schools do students have free periods designed specifically to meet (and often chat) with teachers about confusing concepts, or even grab lunch with them?

At how many schools are students celebrated for their hard work and curiosity and encouraged to share their ideas with others?

At how many schools are students encouraged to employ critical thinking, to actually question what the teacher says instead of blindly accepting it?

When was the last time there was a physical brawl in the halls? Punches thrown? Black-eyes dealt?

In the final days of the year, it is important to celebrate our school, not leave it with a bitter taste in our mouths.

We are at a unique place.

But the reality is, what sets Latin apart from other schools more than anything else is who we have calling the shots. Mr. Dunn is no Jimmy Carter. He does not cast blame on his community, but works with each member to improve. He cares about Latin and its reputation and the way the school impacts people’s lives. And more importantly he cares about each individual student and faculty member.

Be proud of Latin. And hopeful for its future.

Every school and community has issues, but as long as we have a leader like Mr. Dunn, and faculty like him, we will address them, and we’ll be in good hands.]]>