Clanging cowbell demeans freshmen, irritates everybody else

Dec. 16, 2005, midnight | By Shoshi Gurian-Sherman | 14 years, 2 months ago

Patronizing instrument an affront to freshman dignity, ineffective in getting students to class on time

The clanging of a cowbell sounds in the hallway one minute before the official bell. It would make sense if this were a Great Plains cattle ranch, the set of a western movie, a cattle auction, a dairy farm, Damascus or any other place cows are typically found.

But Blair, lacking everyone's favorite lactating, cud-chewing, four-stomached mammals, has turned to what at first seems like the next best thing: freshmen. A closer look, however, reveals that even though the cowbell is well-intentioned, it's not just out of place — it's insulting.

This substitution of freshmen for cattle began last year when teacher Hunter Hogewood decided that the ninth graders in the new freshman wing needed an extra reminder to get to class on time. He came up with the idea of ringing the long, hollow percussion instrument to herd the ninth graders to class.

Although ninth graders are easily tipped over and disoriented, they are not cows, although the cowbell suggests otherwise. It implies that freshmen share some rather unflattering characteristics with cattle: specifically, lack of intelligence and an inability to move in a specified direction without outside prodding.

But the cowbell is more than just a subtle dig at freshman maturity — it is also a dig at freshman humanity. It goes against the notion that people act like adults when treated like adults. A cowbell does not scream "responsible adult." It screams "cow."

Instead of sending the message that freshmen should be respected as emerging members of the adult world, the cowbell suggests that they are incapable of getting to class.

"The cowbell is pretty stupid. Just because we are freshmen doesn't mean we have no sense of how long eight minutes is," says freshman Andrew McGehee.
Ironically, the cowbell has also proven detrimental to freshman time management skills. Social studies teacher Robert Gibb, a former bell ringer, likens the cowbell to Russian scientist Ivan Pavlov's experiment in which he trained dogs to drool at the sound of a bell.

Gibb explains that freshmen began to wander farther off during passing time and relied on the cowbell as a signal to start heading to class. When the teachers forgot to bang the bell, freshmen would use it as an excuse for being late. The cowbell therefore allows ninth graders to avoid shouldering the responsibility of being their own time keepers.

Freshmen are legitimate members of the Blair community and should be treated as such. If a cowbell is inappropriate to use for the entirety of Blair, as it most certainly is, then it is just as degrading and insulting when applied to ninth graders. Cowbells should be left to the cows.

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Shoshi Gurian-Sherman. Shoshi Gurian-Sherman is a CAP junior and a junior staffer for Silver Chips. This is her first time working on a newspaper although she has always liked reading the Washington Post and loved her 10th grade Journalism class. She most enjoys writing feature stories and ... More »

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