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?