On the other side of Germantown Avenue, just thirty feet from the end of Germantown Friend School’s campus, lies NHS Parkside Recovery, a methadone clinic. Even if they have noticed, not many students think about it.
As a rule, GFS is very liberal. The student body is fairly affluent. Almost every family owns one, if not two cars and most live in relatively good-sized houses. Full tuition for the Middle School costs $28,000 to $30,000 per year. The neighborhood of Germantown, on the other hand, has somewhat less. Average household income* is around $37,000, just 23% more than GFS tuition and only 13.1% of the population attends one or more years of college (100% of GFS graduates attend 4-year colleges). With all this, it’s no wonder the idea of a GFS Bubble is so often brought up.
What is the GFS Bubble? Everybody’s definition of it is different. For some, it’s political, for others, economic. Some say it’s about diversity or geographic location. A few don’t even realize that it exists at all (it does). In reality, the GFS Bubble is a combination of all these things. Though diverse in many ways, GFS can at times be homogenous. All these similar opinions, similar economic status (and even at times similar racial backgrounds) are all the more magnified when they are kept in a small, close-knit school community. They can become social norms. What can seem like universal values are simply not the viewpoints of everyone outside of GFS. Quaker private school standards entrench themselves in our collective psyche, and sometimes we forget – or worse, have no idea about – what life’s like outside of the microcosm that is the GFS Bubble.
Take, for instance, gay rights. GFS has strived to create a community that accepts everyone, no matter their sexual orientation. Both teachers and students alike feel comfortable being openly gay. The United States, on the other hand, is less tolerant of anything other than heterosexuality. Same-sex marriage is illegal in 20 states, and was completely banned throughout the entire country just 11 years ago. In 2009, American preachers even helped the Ugandan government to create a bill that made homosexuality punishable by incarceration. The bill, thankfully repealed last August, sparked much controversy. One gay-rights activist was bludgeoned to death with a hammer.
That didn’t penetrate the Bubble.
Neither did the abduction of Carlesha Freeland-Gaither, which happened on the corner of West Coulter and Greene Street, just inches from the southernmost corner of the GFS campus. While international news soon picked up the story, the need for a community-wide discussion was not addressed. Even though the 22-year-old Freeland-Gaither had no connection to GFS, a kidnapping right in our backyard should have raised questions. Every day, students catch the bus directly across the street from where it happened.
This year’s student/faculty teach-in was a rare example of a controversial current event truly breaking the GFS Bubble, at least for a time. Classes were suspended as the school hosted keynote speeches, workshops and discussions focused on recent events in Ferguson, MO. Students shared opinions and supported protests, completely discussing the situation. It was undoubtedly the most important and thought provoking event of the year.
The GFS community can become too inwardly focused and at times we forget that there are people outside of it that don’t hold with our collective values. There are plenty of “good” people in the world, but it is completely naïve to think that all communities are as kind, privileged and accepting as GFS is. It’s important to know that there is a world outside of the Bubble. It would probably be beneficial to many of us to live in it sometime. As the teach-in showed, it can a good thing to let the outside world in. Maybe it would help us appreciate the Bubble we create and curate, the world we weave out of wealth, education, safety and acceptance.
*As of 2011
Photo by Thea Applebaum-Licht
ANSWERS TO CAMPUS CLOSEUPS:
1: Bars in the Nursery Playground
2: Wood slats in back of the Loeb Auditorium
3: Wall of the Field House Gym
4: Sundial in Live Graveyard
5: Plaque on the wall of the Smith Gym
6: Pole in front of the Field House Gym (bird’s eye view)
7: Elephant in the Nursery Playground
8: Colorful Mosaic
9: Window of the Loeb Auditorium
10: Sculpture outside of the Sharpless Building
11: Low Brick Wall outside of the Field House Gym
12: Pavement in the Common
13: Tree stump in the Dead Graveyard
14: Faith Ringgold prints in the Main Building
15: Plaque in the Main Building