It’s a phrase often thrown around ironically by students who spend their Sundays cramming in as much homework and studying as possible. Large coffees, a line at the library when the doors unlock, stacks of homework and textbooks and notes. A day dedicated to education.
I maintain an unusually high GPA, am a member of the Honor’s College, take challenging course loads, and excel on exams. I had a high ACT score and received a great scholarship to college. I’ve always been the nerd, but that’s okay. While people scoff when they hear my scholastic achievements, they rarely acknowledge the price that it cost me.
This past year I was diagnosed with severe anxiety and depression, which affected me for years and was onset primarily by internal pressures to succeed in school. I took a semester off to focus on regaining my footing, but all the while, I was conscious of the possibility that I was falling behind in school and missing out on opportunities.
This society of high-achievers we’ve created broke me down and convinced me I was a failure. I’ve spent a lot of time trying to piece myself back together. It is no longer enough to be good in school. Now, they want you to have a whole plethora of ‘stuff’ to put on your resume. It isn’t enough to be involved in extracurricular activities, you need to assume leadership positions as well. You can’t just have work experience, you need relevant work experience. When you aren’t leading or working, you better be volunteering. And how dare you let the GPA suffer while you are learning other languages, studying abroad, and engaging in impressive hobbies.
It’s overwhelming, it’s frustrating, it’s competitive, and it’s hard. Before I knew it, the little girl who loved school grew up and became lost in a dark, deep, and scary hole. She had an unrealistic view of what she needed to be. I’m afraid that sometimes, she still does.
Last year, I was required to take another science class, despite any desire to. It was like choosing between the flu and strep. I chose Astronomy. I spent 7-8+ hours per week outside of class studying for it. I stressed and I cursed and I hated it. Less than a year later, I can hardly recall what I “learned.” However, the 13-episode series, Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, had me so intrigued that I watched every episode like a giddy kid watching their favorite movie. I was fascinated. I remember what I learned from Neil DeGrasse Tyson, though. I wasn’t tested, required to watch it, or have hour long homework assignments on each episode.
So what does this say about our education system? It’s obviously a fantastic network of opportunities to learn and grow. I personally want my doctors, accountants, professors, and the person who designed my apartment building to be very well educated in their respected professions.
Not to mention, there is a lot to be said for a well-rounded background. To what extent though? I’ve taken years of English Literature, science, humanities, and history that I barely remember. I’ve spent countless hours trying to interpret a book the way that my teacher would, memorizing how many types of stars there are and their different characteristics, and trying to compare the Ottoman with the Macedonian and Roman empires. I’ve spent time and money on these subjects, but if you held me hostage pending my expression of knowledge in those areas, you might as well get used to my presence because I just don’t remember.
That doesn’t make me unintelligent, it just makes me, well, me. I sacrifice precious hours I could be sleeping to indulge in my most recent novel. I am teaching myself coding, photography, and web design. I’m writing a book. I’m saving money to travel so I can learn firsthand about culture and what this world has to offer. I read the newspaper every morning to learn about world events, business happenings, and the latest breakthroughs in science and technology.
I work hard and I obsess over my school work. I want to become a business woman, so it’s understandable that I practically live with my head in a business textbook. What about the time essentially wasted on other stuff I don’t remember?
I think that the good intentions to provide a well-rounded education has created an adverse reaction to learning. When young and malleable students are placed under the microscope in the school system, they begin to squirm. A rigid grading system lacks wiggle room for those that don’t do well in a traditional setting. It teaches children who are outside that little box of succeeding students that they are not intelligent enough. It sets them back in terms of opportunities.
People argue that grades aren’t everything, and that’s true. They are big, though. Grades open the door for a variety of scholarships, which can further separate the A-students and the C-students. Honors programs, graduate schools, and hiring staff look closely to the GPA as a indication of capability.
As a society, we need to keep education fun. There is so much to learn, and we are all interested in something. We should be exposed to a multitude of educational areas so we can explore these outlets ourselves. We shouldn’t create such a hostile environment that I have mental breakdowns, my roommate panics because she got a C on a quiz in one of her major classes, or my boyfriend struggles with opportunities beyond graduation because his GPA is less than stellar, despite him being one of the smartest people I know. We shouldn’t expect young people to stretch themselves so thin that they have no idea what they are doing or what they want. We shouldn’t hold such a diverse group of people to such a narrow set of standards. We should encourage learning, not reprimand the misinterpretation of a 200 year old poem or forgetting which Chinese leader corresponded with which dynasty.