With classroom capacities bursting at the seams and the exponentially increasing pressure of college admissions, it seems that the definitions of education and success have been altered into the exact opposite of their original roots.
In the past couple of years, I have noticed several friends taking classes just for the GPA boost or for the fact that they “look good” on college applications. Many students have taken up an extracurricular or joined a club they wouldn’t have otherwise. It is now somewhat of a norm to take challenging courses; a hidden stigma underlies the phrase, “I’m taking regular subjects—no honors, no APs.” When you step back and realize what this generation of high school students is experiencing, the quest to be “successful” becomes the biggest bane of our childhood.
The reality is, school has become much too focused on molding its students into perfect models in order to get them into college. Stress levels have rocketed in both students and teachers, who have to cram more information into their lessons as state standards rise. Standardized college entrance tests such as the SAT, ACT, and many more, attempt to quantify students’ full abilities just by the amount of bubbles filled correctly on a scantron. This lowers the acceptance rate for colleges, and cuts futures off for thousands of well-deserving students, leading to a depressing loss in the love of learning. Countless students are taught to memorize 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 being a kid disintegrates. Students are left with no choice but to stick their heads in a book with no time to witness life passing by around them.
We are losing the opportunity to explore subjects we love and forced into classes we hate, all to try to shape ourselves into the cookie cutter mold colleges desire. Is taking an extra AP class worth losing two hours of sleep you know a teenager needs? Is that added extracurricular something you actually enjoy or what the admissions officer wants? Are you understanding what you are learning or letting it go in one ear and out the other?
In the grand scheme of things, what are all the extra stressors really worth?
Students need to realize that it’s okay not to take an advanced class and instead, enroll in one you truly passionate about. 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; it’s cheaper than a UC, has smaller class sizes, and has a two year UC transfer program! We must get rid of this stigma that is slowly asphyxiating our childhood, robbing us of sleep, and burdening 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.
In ten years, no one will really care how many AP classes you took, whether your high school GPA was a 3.4 or a 4.3, or how well you did on your SAT. People care about the kind of person you are, and how you treat him or her and the ones around you. Most importantly, your success revolves around the same factor that people care about: how you implemented the knowledge and experience you’ve gained in life to create a thriving future for the world awaiting you.