What is the spirit of LM?

Opinions Editor Joy Donovan takes a closer look at some of LM’s traditions.

If you had to ask Lower Merion students about what makes our school a community, nine out of ten would find a way to use the word ‘spirit’ in their answer. As our school population grows exponentially and our district expands to accommodate the thousands of students returning to LMSD each fall, the word community becomes less endearing and more diagnostic. With this comes a new challenge: how do we make something constructive out of the crowding?

 

The answer as Aces seem to have found it lies in this intangible concept of ‘spirit’. Through rolling the LM Rumble and reposting student Instagram accounts, students previously alienated by online schooling and COVID-era safety protocol have increasingly found space for themselves in Aces Nation. 

 

There’s one crucial requirement to being fully christened in the church of Maroon and White, however. You must participate in the school’s spirit days, and you must be featured on your class’s story, or else you can consider yourself excommunicated.

 

Spirit days are something for most students to look forward to. They’re an opportunity to see how far your classmates will go to fit the theme, no matter how potentially embarrassing; and if there’s one thing high schoolers love more than an excuse to wear pajamas or cowboy hats, it’s seeing everyone else do it, too. Two kids with bikinis tied over their everyday clothing can find a sense of solidarity in each other. Sure it’s embarrassing, but at least it’s embarrassing for both of us.

 

This idea makes spirit weeks some of the most energized and participated days of the year, rivaling only those especially anticipatory eves of long weekends and holiday breaks. As with anything generating this much attention, something less exciting has become the topic of discussion: what themes are appropriate?

 

To the more scrutinizing critic, even USA and America themed days can feel problematic. To some, they open the door for a school-sanctioned strain of nationalistic fervor in our classrooms. When we gaze upon the McCarthyist era’s anti-communism education and Islamophobia perpetuated in public schools in the early aughts under the guise of patriotism, things  that have only in recent years truly been acknowledged for their detrimental effects on certain marginalized students, the premise of a day dedicated to demonstrating national pride can seem heavy handed. This theme alone, however, is not where the tangible issue lies. For the majority of students, even the ideologically left-wing, this day is tolerable, if not enjoyable. It’s good-natured fun and an excuse to wear red-white-and-blue outside of Bad Bunny’s Benjamin Franklin Parkway set and fireworks on the Fourth. But when this day comes in conjunction with a theme like, say, Hawai’i Day, a small grievance can gain traction. This is the problem that Harriton’s student council stumbled into. 

The themes for Harriton’s spirit days this September included a camo day for military appreciation and a Hawai’ian day. For anyone who knows anything about Hawai’i’s contentious history of exploitation by the U.S. military, the two seem like a controversial pairing. At best a careless oversight, it’s clear, to anyone paying attention at least, the line that has been drawn. One day represents America; everything that we stand for as a nation, the sacrifices made by our armed forces, and the resilience demonstrated by leadership following the terror attacks on 9/11. It’s a day of respect and remembrance. The other is a day shrouded in caricature of an indigenous population that we have decimated, leaving the relics of their culture for our appropriation. This distinction establishes the vision of two Americas: one of the colonizers, and one of the colonized.

 

“It’s not that big a deal.” I know, I know; it’s fun to wear plastic leis and grass skirts and do the hula on Instagram boomerangs.  But we cannot claim ourselves to be a district dedicated to cultural literacy and appreciation if we cannot acknowledge the faults and malicious histories of even our most lighthearted traditions. It’s not that big of a deal because we choose not to make it one; a feat much easier to accomplish when our school district is only  0.1% Native Hawai’ian/Pacific Islander.

 

The simple remedy, it seems, is to just choose different themes. There’s nothing particularly offensive about pajama pants or the newly instituted “Wacky Wednesday”. It seems that Lower Merion’s student council is doing it right. Hopefully as the year progresses and themed sports games become more frequent, we won’t opt for the easy route and revert to ostracizing themes.

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