Guest Blog: This post was written by senior Elizah Jacobs at the end of our Think Tank course. We asked students what advice they had for educational leaders.
I want educational leaders to remember that as adolescents, we crave the small victories in terms of grades. We have been taught to base our feelings of success on other's success or lack of. This has created an ultra-competitive school environment that is continuing to become even more competitive year after year. In my years of schooling, I have never felt true personal success without comparing myself to others.
I experience self comparison at least once a day. Whether it be a track meet where I limit my success because even though I won, I was running against slow people, or a math test where I get a perfect score but so did everyone else; I let my comparing to other people get in the way of feeling proud of my accomplishments. I may be speaking from past and personal experience, but I know that I am not alone; I am part of the majority. The talk among friends in the hall is not about plans for the weekend or how our families are doing, but about "did you hear "Rachel" applied to Cornell? She'll never get in," or "Daniel's SAT scores rose 200 points with his tutor." Internally students are not happy for the success of others because they are comparing how their tutors didn't help them that much. This just leads to a constant sense of anxiety, even during free time.
One of my main motivators in school is to beat someone else or not be looked down upon for a grade in a class or an assignment. This can be a way for me and other people to end up learning more, but at what expense? A Pew survey found that “70 percent of teens say anxiety and depression is a major problem among their peers, an additional 26 percent say it’s a minor problem”. This percentage has steadily risen in the last 25 years and shows no signs of slowing down. The reality is that more and more students are going to college. This adds more competition within high school because they feel like their grades and test scores really matter. Grade point averages and standardized test scores are compared among students as they are applying to schools to try and self determine who will get in over them and who won’t. College is more normalized so students feel that just getting into a school is not any type of success, but the real success is getting into the label of a prestigious one. Buying into the belief that grades are the sole factor that determines success and happiness in life promotes anxiety.
In the future, this can be extremely detrimental when we realize that we won't always have grades to determine our happiness and success. At this time in our life, we may already be struggling with crippling anxiety and depression that hinders any future opportunity of getting over the barrier of self comparison.
I really want educational leaders to genuinely realize this as a huge issue. They could help this destruction to mind and self by continuing to make schools test optional, changing the standards of learning and the grading system to not be so completely outdated, and eliminating the pressure that teachers and parents place on students. State by state, school by school, and teacher by teacher the efforts could lead to a better future. Who knows, that student who just dropped out of college because of their anxiety could have cured cancer. In the world of rising problems, we need bright and excited minds to want to fix it. What good will we be able to contribute to society when we are already damaged from the first 13-17+ years of our education? I want school to be an exciting place for young minds in the future, with the help of students, educators, and the government, we can absolutely make school a place where creativity and happiness can shine.