We wish to make one thing clear: The Tavern is a completely student-run publication. We are a thoughtpaper made by students, for students interested learning outside the boundaries of their own institutions. Yes, we are students: everyday we walk into our classrooms, sit around Harkness tables, and engage in exhilarating discussions with not only our peers, but also our teachers. Although students contribute to the heart of the discussions, teachers are still a crucial presence in any classroom. Whether they are sharing their wisdom or serving as mediators in heated debates, teachers foster our knowledge, passion, and humanity—there is always something we can learn from them. For these reasons, starting this issue,The Tavern staff has decided to include teacher interviews.
Panel members conduct "Ten Minute T(ea)" interviews with teachers they deem to be especially beloved and respected by their respective institutions. The interview takes place over a cup of tea in the span of ten minutes. The interview is recorded and later transcribed by the interviewer. We hope that, by reading through these interviews, our readers will be able to gain special insight on intentional ignorance, insight that can only be brewed from experience and age.
Ten Minute T(ea) with Ms. Moira Cahill
Interview conducted by Lora Xie, St. Mark's School
April 26, 2018
Q: You have obviously spent quite some time pondering over the privileges in a boarding school. Can you briefly talk about what has prompted this reflection?
A: I think of being an educator as my way to contribute to the world the best way I can. Therefore, I value teaching morality and the state of being human more than English, though I love teaching English. The first time I thought about privilege ever was in high school. When I met a girl who became a good friend of mine who came from very underprivileged background. And it was reinforced to me by a peer of mine in my grad program. Just talking to me about her own experience made me think about all the things that I took for granted and that I didn’t think about, or didn’t have to think about on a day-to-day basis. I think questioning your bias is challenging, frequently scary, and ultimately very important and empowering.
Q: What do you think are the most prominent privileges boarding school teachers/students have?
A: SM, like many independent schools, is a great school with so many resources available to its community both right now and in the future. It really gives you a leg up in the world, both because of the wonderful education here and also because of its history: its alumni, its prestige. I think that in and of itself that is a privilege that the students both deserve - they are getting a great education here - and, I hope, think about - their responsibility and ability to help out those less fortunate than themselves later on in life. I hope that when a person is challenged to think, taught how to think - not what to think but how to think - many of the questions surrounding privilege, both its existence and impact, would surface automatically. That said, however, this frequently does not happen.
Q: Do you think the teachers and students in our school are aware enough of their privilege?
A: No. There is so much privilege at boarding schools. That said, these boarding schools have this nature of competitiveness or “me” focus. Students frequently think about “my grades,” “my perspective of college,” “my friends.” If we were all completely aware of our privilege from which we have benefited, I don’t think there is a space for that self-centeredness.
Q: What do you think is preventing people from acknowledging their privilege?
A: The divisive world that we are currently in has made some people very uneasy to enter into the conversation regarding privilege. I think there is a way where people think that they must feel guilty about their privilege, so they get defensive. I don’t think I am wrong, or it’s my fault, or I’m to blame, but that’s only because I acknowledge my privilege, I think about how things beyond my work ethic or personal character traits have benefited me, and I am aware that there are so many people who don’t benefit from the same privilege that I benefit from, like the color of one’s skin. So I don’t think people should avoid acknowledging their privilege because they think having privilege is bad. I don’t think it means you are bad if you acknowledge it. Everything that I have in my life I have because I work hard or I’m thoughtful or other traits that deserve merit and also because I was born into an upper-middle class white family, which makes life easier for me. Because I can say that, I don’t think I should feel bad about the family that I am born into. But I also think it’s not right that some people benefit from chance, while other people are at a disadvantage because of chance.
Q: How do you think a boarding teacher/student can make good use of his/her privilege?
A: When there is a forum, a day, or a space, devoted to talking about issues of equity and privilege, privileged people can feel uncomfortable because they don’t necessarily feel like that’s their place to speak. I think a person who feels privileged can also participate enormously on an occasion like by listening. America is like made up for somebody of my race to speak and be heard. So on a day where it’s about minorities and the disadvantaged, that’s wonderful for me to hear perspectives that America has not set an equal value for.