Turbulent tradition

In this article, Noah Barkan ’24 discusses tradition in LMSD and how it has been accompanied with hateful mindsets.

Graphic by Ilana Zahavy ’24/Staff

Anyone who’s been to the Main Line can observe that it is far from conservative. Voter turnout and election results in Lower Merion Township and surrounding areas have shown that citizens of these areas support modern, progressive, and sustainable policies. Despite this façade, the truth behind the wealthy white suburbs is that they have a lot of work to do. Racism, misogyny, homophobia and many other hateful mindsets can be seen throughout our bubble of a society. These obstructions of modernization and of general human decency can be reflected within the walls of LM. Exclusion and inequality run rampant under the radar of students who have been raised their whole lives to believe it is normal. A huge portion of the normalcy of these long outgrown inequities in the LM community can be attributed to one thing: tradition. 

The importance of tradition at LM hits you like a truck when you join the school district. “Tradition” appears next to words like “Respect” and “Kindness” throughout the halls of LMSD schools. As such, it has been used countless times to justify degrading aspects of the LM community. 

One extremely prominent example of this revolves around football. LM constantly prioritizes the mostly male sport despite its losing streak. However, this fall, LM takes its overt misogyny to another level with its annual Maroon and White game. The game, previously named “Powder Puff,” is an annual tradition at LM. Despite the district’s futile, solely image-based attempt to shield the event from criticism by changing the name, the game still serves as a symbol for the destructive nature of tradition. The Maroon and White game allows any male student, football player or not, to teach female students how to play football. The event fundamentally plays to sexist binary-based stereotypes in which men are the teacher or coach, while even women who may be more experienced in football are forced to learn from their male counterparts. Notably, the all-female sport field hockey won’t have a Maroon and White game. It’s shocking that this event exists, but when questioned, the immediate response seems to be, “we’ve done it for years.”

 The damaging aspects of tradition in LMSD do not start and end in high school. The elementary and middle schools associated with LM also echo similar values. At Bala Cynwyd Middle School, dress codes concerning day-to-day appearance as well as for specific events such as chorus and band concerts are extremely binary. Concert rules, such as “boys can’t wear sneakers” while “girls can’t wear flip flops,” serve as less overt sexist norms. Because many students attend LMSD from elementary school all the way through senior graduation, these values and ideas are grilled into their heads from a young age.

 But why does LMSD focus so much on tradition? I believe it is because of the large number of alumni at LM. Alumni can be found everywhere, from teachers to the Parent Student Association to local residents. Alumni can have a huge impact on systems within the school. Local alumni help support the school and its activities. Board and PSA members help keep our school running and a lot of them have great policies to help student voices be heard. However, in some circumstances, alumni can contribute to the harmful focus on tradition. Several of my peers who have worked with the school board have witnessed groups of alumni protesting necessary changes to move the school forward. 

These values preach the idea that, because something has been done for years, it gets a free pass to continue. They undermine the power of the critical eye and throw out any notion that the past might be wrong. Instead of encouraging students to stick to what’s always been done, LM should focus its energy on innovation and originality that fights against oppression rather than promotes it. As seen repeatedly throughout history, the only way to make any real progress is to focus on the future and not the past.