By Aambar Agarwal and Divya Bhardwaj
Disclaimer: all answers have been edited for length and clarity.
Mr. Habig is one of our favorite teachers at HB, so we decided to talk with him about the current state of society and HB. Here’s what he said:
- How will debate start out this year amid the pandemic?
All the tournaments will be online, at least until the end of January. At any given time only half of the Upper School will be here.
- Will the topics address issues be related to the recent Civil Rights Movement?
To be honest, the process to pick debate topics started a while ago, so it may be too current to be in there. A part of policy debate is debating criminal justice reform this year, so that will undoubtedly touch on issues of police violence and Black Lives Matter. Hopefully the other forms of debate will talk about it as well.
- How prevalent are issues of racism and sexism in debate?
They are pretty prevalent. There’s a lot of research and documentation saying that the judges, who are just parents without much experience, have implicit bias, like most people do, and that affects the way they view speeches and debates. As an organization, we’ve done a lot to try and address that, but it’s far from perfect. We keep finding ways to address it; in fact, students have been making videos about implicit bias that we’re showing to judges at tournaments, so hopefully that helps. We also had an equity office at the online national tournament this year, so if there was an equity issue, it could be reported. So it’s still a huge problem, but we’re making some strides.
- Do you feel that HB did a good job designing their return to campus amid the pandemic?
I don’t know very much about what the Upper School is doing, so I can’t really speak about that. I feel like for the eighth grade, the school really went into a lot of detail to try and get things right. It’s been a lot to manage, and it’s been really hectic, but everybody seems happy with how it’s going, so I think HB overall did a very good job.
- Do you feel that HB is doing a good job addressing racism (Black at HB account)?
Again, I don’t know much about that. I know that in the time I’ve been here, the school has made some attempts to diversify the curriculum. I can talk about that, specifically in middle school history, because we talk about it in all of our meetings and try to add in new topics. Also, the whole faculty is doing a Racial Healing Handbook group read this year, and I think that’s going to be very helpful as well. So I don’t think it’s really new that HB is making strides to try and address the issue, and obviously we all could be working on it more.
- Do you feel that it’s contradictory that HB claims to empower women, yet they have such a strict uniform in the middle school and dress code in the Upper School?
It doesn’t seem like the dress code in the Upper School is that strict. I don’t work in the upper school, but that is just how it seems based on my observations when I walk through the halls. With the Middle School, I don’t think it’s a contradiction because in middle school specifically, there’s a lot of comparison around issues of class. I know that there are many different factors that we have to think about when dealing with these issues, and having a uniform to try to eliminate socioeconomic status comparisons around clothing is probably particularly powerful with middle schoolers. I think that is largely the intent behind having a uniform in the Middle School. I get that it feels stifling sometimes, but it’s an attempt to address an issue of socioeconomic inequality that is prevalent in the school, so I think it’s a good thing.
- What do you like most about teaching at a girls’ school, as opposed to teaching at a co-ed or boys’ school?
I don’t have a huge frame of reference for that. I only did my student teaching and a semester of teaching at a co-ed school. I went to an all-boys school and coached debate at an all boys’ school, but I have never taught at one. For the most part, teaching at an all-girls school has been my only teaching experience. I do feel like in an all-girls environment, particularly in the Middle School, students are rarely hesitant to be themselves, engage, and ask questions, and they may be more hesitant to do so at a co-ed school. That’s been really great. It’s one of the things I love about teaching at an all-girls school.
- I would say I learn not for school but for life. Would you say you’re a man for others [the motto of Mr. Habig’s alma mater, St. Ignatius]?
I try to be. That is one of the reasons I went into teaching. I would not feel fulfilled if my job did not have societal benefits, and with teaching, you really see the benefit that you’re making. The motto had a big impact on me. I try to do it, I don’t know that I’m perfect, but I do think about it a lot.