Is High School’s “Rat Race” Worth It?

David Collins, Editor-In-Chief

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On the timeline of human existence, the sliver accounting the epoch of compulsory education for adolescents is miniscule. It is a blessing that learning has been prioritized to such an extent that we have been afforded a substantial opportunity. But within this enterprise of education, a phenomena has formed and is boundlessly expanding. School, and high school most specifically, has turned into a rat race- GPA, AP, SAT, especially at or near the top of the class. School is now a contest, a competition among the brightest and best. You can drop out of the contest in the early going, but you can not decide to come back. And once you have committed yourself to the contest, it is increasingly impossible to leave.

School is now all about comparison. What is my grade as opposed to the next guy? How did I do on that test as opposed to the class average? Learning no longer seems to be the paramount priority. Psychologist Adam Grant writes in his New York Times opinion article, “Yes, straight-A students master cramming information and regurgitating it on exams. But career success is rarely about finding the right solution to a problem — it’s more about finding the right problem to solve.” With the immense course loads students are taught to take, this idea of cramming materializes, this endeavoring to fill as little time as possible with as much information as possible so as to pass or do well on a test. The contemporary school system is so vastly dependent upon grades. It isn’t even really about learning. Cramming doesn’t do much of anything in terms of recollection, and is in no way a worthwhile or favorable preparation for what is to come in life. School has really turned into quantity over quality, a far cry from what education should be, and one that bears far too few benefits to justify.

This fiasco can not be blamed on the students though. These expectations are ineluctably imposed on kids when they are subordinated to a number- a grade point average, an SAT score, a percentage on a transcript.

Seeing buddies of mine consuming caffeine pills and frequenting the counseling center for stress and depression is just confounding. There is no chance that the all-nighters riddled with anxiety and exhaustion are worth it in the long run. It is clear that some relish in the opportunity to take an impressive course load. And it is clear that many are more than capable of handling, and thriving within, this course load. But if it means compromising sleep, mental health, extracurricular activities, hobbies, and a chance to capitalize upon these teenage years exploration, confusion, and fun, I can not advocate for that in any capacity.

At the end of the day, there is no way the disparity between being number 10 and number 20 in the class is not as consequential as the heft ascribed to it. Such measures as GPA are on arbitrary and incomparable scales that can not possibly be transcended as to be justifiably comparable. The rat race of high school I believe is not worth pursuing. I had a teacher back in seventh grade who would allow any student to retake any test until they received a grade with which they were happy. Most school systems would render this ineffectual, unfair, but I think it is a better representation of what exactly the original thought of education sought after. Ensuring understanding. Expanding knowledge and the process of thought. Learning.