Above Average is the New “Average”

With increased expectations to perform, students are convinced that they need to constantly compete with each other to excel in all forums. Competition is healthy, however society places an abnormal academic burden on children. The incessant need to surpass peers and perfectly perform is exhausting for both children and teachers. Is it rational to expect all children to excel and be a stronger student than the “average” child in schools? Being average is now associated with a negative stigma. Average invokes fear in parents. Average translates to mediocre colleges and mediocre jobs. However, this shouldn’t be the case. It’s imperative that students in schools across the country understand that their academics aren’t what solely define them, and it shouldn’t be.

However, certain education mechanisms prove to perpetuate the increase in standards. Grading has become deeply engrained in American schooling culture. Although I firmly believe that grades hold tremendous value, I would assert that they also have detrimental effects, especially in preadolescent years. Even at a young age I remember my friends and I asking each other what grades we received on tests and assignments. If our scores were less than ideal we’d reply with a snarky comment such as “I’m not telling you” or “it’s not your business.” There was an inherent desire to out perform, and if we didn’t there was a sense of overwhelming embarrassment. Although I can’t see a future where grades aren’t a central component of academics, I do firmly believe that teachers, parents, and society as a whole should place a stronger emphasis of instilling a passion to learn, developing skills, and strengthening relationships. Equilibrium needs to be reached, and we’re far from getting there. Students grow up learning that receiving an “A” is more important than developing skills and passions. The stress and anxiety associated with receiving high grades is also a growing concern. A New York Times article illuminates that the high anxiety and emotional distress associated with testing and grades is simply too much for young students.

In addition to grades, a new set of Common Core initiatives exponentially increases the burden of students. Although every student should have goals and aspirations, the Common Core is now mandating that students be continually introduced to colleges from grades K-12. First graders in a North Carolina schools are filling out mock applications and sixth graders are going on college visits. Students also take aptitude tests to determine which career paths they should take once graduating high school, or college. A guidance counselor at an elementary school stated that, “colleges want AP courses on transcripts, but high schools students can’t just sign up. They must prepare with honors classes in middle school, which means strong work in elementary school.” Shouldn’t children be able to act their age? And not have to constantly worry that what they do, or don’t do, in their elementary or middle school years will bare immense impact on their future.

Grades, college prep, standardized testing, and aptitude tests all serve their purpose, but when do you determine the age level at which they are introduced to students? Are there other ways to encourage performance? Continually placing an emphasis on being better than average creates a polarization amongst students and sets many up for failure. Low school funding, socioeconomic barriers, and other externalities continually fuel the growing polarization. How can we combat this? Lastly, how can we seek a balance between children living their life while simultaneously building up for a bright future?

Gabby

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/10/magazine/why-can-some-kids-handle-pressure-while-others-fall-apart.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/08/education/edlife/is-your-first-grader-college-ready.html

 

 

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2 Responses to Above Average is the New “Average”

  1. jhelms94 says:

    Gabby,
    I really enjoyed reading this post and it truly got me thinking. All throughout high school I was toward the top of my class, making mostly A’s and maybe a couple of B’s. I had been “above average” all throughout grade school. (As all of us Carolina students were) Then, I got to college and started making a few C’s in my classes. I was assured that C’s were average and that was okay. I was devastated that I was being labeled as average – and then I realized average at Carolina is PERFECTLY OKAY. Teachers would give out the average test grade, and as long as I found myself in the average range I would be pleased.
    Competition is overwhelming. It begins in elementary school with AR points and EOG grades, middle school with honors classes, high school with AP classes, GPA, class rank, college acceptance, SAT/ACT scores, and then continues on to college and careers. It’s unfortunate that we must face so much competition on a daily basis, but it is inevitable. However, I wish that children weren’t forced to compete against their peers at such a young age. When I was in elementary school, college was hardly (if ever) mentioned. In middle school we began signing up for CollegeBoard or whatever that website was to explore future career interests, but I never went on college visits or filled out mock applications. In high school, college became the goal for me – but not all of my fellow students. My school wasn’t really a college prep school – but more of a blue collar job career prep kind of school, since most graduates from BHS generally don’t go to large universities.
    However, in college the competition is fierce. Who has the most applicable experience? Connections? GPA? Extra curriculars? Internships? Recommendations? Etc. It’s overwhelming sometimes.
    Anyway, expecting more than average is, in fact, crippling for some students. Competition is fierce and there needs to be a better way to deal with it in schools.

    Like

  2. cerouse2015 says:

    This is a very interesting blog post. Growing up, grades were super important to me and my friends. We also compared grades and would get defensive if we did not score as high as we thought we should have. But we were not only competing against each other, we were competing for the perfect grade. I remember many of us being upset when we got a 98% on a test because we were so close to getting a perfect score. School shouldn’t be that competitive. Everyone cannot always be perfect all of the time. I feel that this rising concept of “average” is hindering students as well. It instills an impossible idea of having a perfect life rather than learning from mistakes and growing. And, as you mentioned, can lead to emotional distress. I am not sure how to combat this issue, especially with pushing their children to this new standard.

    Like

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