With classroom capacities bursting at the seams, culture-clashing into competition and exponentially increasing pressure of college admissions, it seems that the definition of education and success have been altered into the exact opposite of their original roots.
As a junior in high school, on top of my numerous extra-curriculars, I have this massive shadow that seems to haunt me wherever my thoughts wander: the SAT. That one test practically determines what college I get into, if I will get a good enough education to attain a sustainable job, and ultimately if I will be able to support myself when I’m older.
Not only do I have to make sure I score high on that standardized test, but I have to simultaneously keep my grades up and excel outside of the classroom. Quite frankly, that is a mountain of stress to put on the shoulders of a 16-year-old kid. And I’m definitely not the only one suffering this much.
In the past couple of years, I’ve noticed that several of my friends have started taking classes just for the GPA boost or for the fact that it “looks good” on college applications. Many have taken up an extra curricular or joined a club that they wouldn’t usually glance at otherwise. They don’t do it because they are thoroughly interested in the subject, but because they are trying to embellish their applications in order to get into their dream school.
It’s somewhat of a norm to take challenging courses; a hidden stigma underlies a comment like, “I’m taking a regular subject, no honors, no APs.” No one seems to question this normality, but when you step back and realize what this generation’s students are putting themselves through, quite frankly, the quest to be successful looks like the dementor of our childhood.
The reality is, school has become way too focused on molding its students into perfect models in order to get into college. Stress levels have gone up for students and teachers because they have to cram more information in their year as state standards start rising.
This leads to a depressing loss in the love of learning. Students are taught to read words from a book all day, rather than how to present those words with a coherent understanding to their peers. Social skills are lost, competition increases, and most alarmingly, the simple liveliness of kid evaporates when students are pushed to sit fettered to their studies all day.
The value of education has drastically decreased due to the lack of passion that’s put in by students themselves. With college admissions squeezing the life out of opportunities to actually get in, budget cuts increasing tuitions by the thousands every year, and rising expectations of knowledge in every generation, students are left with no choice but to stick their heads in a book and not have time to look up and witness the life passing by around them.
We are losing the opportunity to explore what we love to learn, and are instead forced into classes we hate, all to try to shape ourselves in the cookie cutter mold that colleges desire.
But is taking that extra AP class going to help you get that extra two hours of sleep you know your body needs? Is that added extra-curricular something you really enjoy, or what the admissions officer would like to see you be involved in? Are you really enjoying what you’re learning, or just whizzing through homework and studying, letting it go in one ear and out the other?
In the grand scheme of things, what is this all really for? The all-nighters that drain the energy out of us until we cannot physically open our eyes anymore, the truckloads of homework piled on from each class, the seemly olympic-sized criteria to get into college? What is its summation, and is it really worth the trouble we face everyday?
Students need to realize that it’s okay not to take an advanced class, and instead enroll in one you truly are interested in. It’s okay to do something because you truly love it and want to go into the field you’re interested in. It’s okay to go to community college – heck, it’s cheaper than a UC!
We must get rid of the stigma that is slowly asphyxiating our childhood, robbing our sleep, and shifting too much stress onto our shoulders. We need to understand how to love learning again, and remember that the meaning of success does not lie in how many points you can accumulate, or the prestige of the school stamped on your diploma, but what you actually do with the knowledge you attain.
I’m no hypocrite to my own advice. I’m not a math or science whiz by any stretch of the imagination, and so instead of suffering through AP Chem or Calculus, I’m taking regular classes where I can breathe and actually understand the material I’m being taught. I’m enrolled in advanced and AP classes in subjects I care about and in which I love to apply myself. That’s something I believe will be beneficial for my own education and health.
In ten years, no one will really care what college you went to, whether your high school GPA was a 3.4 or a 4.3, or how well you did on your SAT. People will care about the kind of person you are, how you treat them and the ones around you, and most importantly, how you’ve used the knowledge and experience you’ve gained in life to create your own thriving future.
With our current state of constant competition, where kids are eating up information and throwing it out the day after a test, the chance to gain those skills and truly love what we learn is completely lost.
It’s up to our generation to turn this around before it gets any worse. Will we stop this cycle of continuous stress and demand for perfection, and cease to tailor ourselves to the mold that others want us to be in? Well, the choice of being yourself really rests in you, and trust me, being yourself is a much easier path than conforming to a distortion of success.