The Cultural Anthropology of Germantown Friends School

The Origin of Student:
The Evolution from 9th Grade Neanderthal to 12th Grade Tribesman

The Upper School students constitute a large body Germantown Friends School civilization.  Yet, within this portion of the civilization there is much diversity. The Upper School Neanderthal can be broken down into four sub-cultures based on grade rank.  However, these sub-cultures (9th, 10th, 11th, and 12th grade) seem to only be inhabited by a set group of people for a period of one year.  After that time, which usually ends in mid-June, the students undertake what archaeologists refer to as the “great migration.”  During this period, all of the cultures seem to mysteriously vanish from the GFS civilization for a period of 3 months and upon their return, all seem to have evolved.  This is seen by the fact that those hominids who previously inhabited the 9th grade tribe, now hunt and gather as the 10th grade tribe, while the 11th grade tribe now assumes its position atop the ladder of hierarchy and sits around a sort of throne known to all as “the senior table.”  It is also important to note that the ninth grade tribe is now constituted by a younger group that has evolved out of the aggressive and war-like middle school culture. However, what seems most disturbing is the fact that, after the “great migration,” the previous members of the senior tribe have vanished all together!  Now that I have explained the theories of upper school evolution, I will go on to give a synopsis of the basic cultural attributes that define each upper school tribe.
The ninth grade tribe, also called the “freshmen,” is at the bottom of the upper school social hierarchy.  This may be explained by the fact that they are newest members of the upper school civilization and must thus, start at the bottom of the social ladder and learn how to climb up (note: this physical ladder has yet to be found in excavation but archaeologists are still looking).  The members of the 9th grade tribe seem to congregate at a building known as the “Student Technology Center.”  One can identify a ninth grader based on a few common physical characteristics: First of all, they are usually much smaller in height than a member of the senior tribe.  Secondly, they lack the possession of a TI-83 graphing calculator, a device that all 10th, 11th and 12th graders seem to always have with them.  Thirdly, they do not have car keys on their person, which also indicates that they do not drive. Last of all, they seem to dress in a more “trendy” unified fashion than seniors and juniors (who both clearly have great diversity from person to person in terms of clothing).
The tenth grade tribe, also known as the “sophomores”, are a unique culture because they are, according to one member of the freshman tribe, “caught in the middle.”  The sophomore tribe has evolved to a point where they find themselves “too cool” to hang out with the freshmen but “not cool enough” to hang out with the junior and senior tribes.  Thus, the 10th graders are the most isolated tribe in the upper school civilization.  They seem to spend most of their free time in the “Student Technology Center”, but they separate themselves from the freshmen tribe (except for a few sophomore males who occasionally leave their camp and go to the neighboring freshmen camp to flirt with freshmen girls).  The sophomore tribe generally inhabits the section of the student lounge where the couches are, while the freshmen tribe seems to congregate around the tables near the snack bar. The 10th grade tribe physically looks much like the freshmen tribe, only a little taller, and sophomore dress is much like that of the freshmen tribe. However, sophomores possess a TI-83 calculator, which separates them from freshmen.  In addition, at the end of the year, a small number of sophomores even possess car keys, indicating that some even drive.
The 11th grade tribe, also known as the “junior” tribe, is at the second highest level of the upper school social hierarchy.  The juniors clearly demonstrate characteristics that their underling tribes (9th and 10th graders) do not.  These characteristics would include, a high level of diversity in dress, identifiable facial hair on males, confidence to interact with seniors, and a high skill level at hacky-sack. One can clearly see these characteristics demonstrated by the tribe in their newfound place of habitat, a place called “the front steps.”  This location, as well as the “front hall” seems to be a place where the 11th and 12th grade civilizations congregate together.  This clearly demonstrates that the social skills of the junior tribe have evolved to a state where they can competently communicate with members of higher-ranking tribes (the senior and faculty tribes).  Members of the junior tribe may be identified based on a few physical attributes: First of all, they carry a TI-83 Calculator, so it is clear they are not freshmen.  Secondly, they are generally taller then most freshmen.  Thirdly, unlike the freshmen and sophomore tribes, the dress of the junior tribe is very diverse.  And lastly, many members of the junior tribe carry car keys.  However, it is important to note that physical attributes do not help in discerning between who is a member of the 11th grade tribe and who is a member of the 12th grade tribe.  However, characteristics separate the two tribes, which will become evident in the description of the senior tribe.
The 12th grade tribe, commonly known as the “seniors.”  Sit at the highest level of hierarchy in the upper school civilization.  The seniors are magnificent creatures and thus are honored by the entire school.  This is demonstrated by the fact that the seniors are the only tribe to have an exclusive place of congregation.  This place is called the “senior table,” and it is located in the public area of the front hall.  Thus, the senior table serves as a sort of throne room, where the members of the 12th grade tribe who sit at the senior table can be admired by all who pass through the front hall.  There is clearly a recognition by the entire upper school civilization for how much the senior civilization has evolved because the faculty tribe recognizes that the 12th grade is responsible enough to be congregate in a place of public.  This is a sign that members of the faculty tribe believe that the social skills of the seniors have evolved to a point where they (the seniors)  can publically assume their position as leaders.  The senior tribe serves as a model of what the other tribes (except the faculty tribe) will evolve into.  The members of the 12th grade tribe physically resemble the members of the 11th grade tribe.  However, in terms of privileges, the seniors are definitely set apart from the juniors.  The seniors are the only tribe that is able to go off campus to hunt and gather.  This means that the seniors do not have to rely on the STC snack bar or the cafeteria as their sole suppliers of nutrition.  Members of the senior tribe also spend much of their year preparing themselves for some other world, often referred to as “college” and (by the parents of the members of the senior tribe) “the real world.”  However, before the seniors leave, they give a gift to the school, and thus leave a legacy of their triumph behind, much like the great Pharaohs of Egypt created the pyramids so that they would be remembered forever.
There is clearly much diversity in the upper school civilization at GFS.  The four distinct tribes of freshmen, sophomores, juniors and seniors, account for one way of organizing this diversity.  Each tribe has its own characteristics and at the same time each member of a specific tribe will forget those characteristics during the “great migration” and evolve into a member of the next highest tribe.  Then the tribesmen will adopt the characteristics of the new tribe; this seems to be a never-ending cycle in Germantown Friends School civilization. What is also interesting and what I leave as my final point, is that even though there are four diverse tribes of upper school students, who look, talk and act differently, they still, for the most part, coexist in harmony.  Every person individually contributes to the overall culture of the Germantown Friends School civilization.


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