I often listen to students’ and parents’ worries about high school grades that are any other letter but an A. The A grade has become synonymous with “smart”, “the key to college acceptances” and “bragging rights”. But, in the quest to “achieve”, often the confidence in knowing oneself and one’s strengths, so as to boldly walk into adulthood with a sense of one’s purpose has been sacrificed. As the Class of 2016 Valedictorian at Granite Bay High School so eloquently stated, “High school academics are a game that the players must learn to beat in order to climb the leaderboards of class rank.” What happened to those enthusiastic, wide-eyed Pre-K’ers who incessantly asked, “Why?” When did “learning” transform into sport?
Too often I hear about the almost brutal nature of high school academic competition. Students report actively discouraging other students from asking questions during class, as well as lying about having finished a study guide so as not to share ideas with others before a test, in the endeavor to artificially keep the grade “curve” low. In such “social isolation” as the valedictorian validates, the lack of trust amongst students naturally diminishes learning. Thus, how can we expect that the younger generation will work together and resolve the complex economic, social, political and environmental issues they inherit? As the valedictorian says, “School has instilled the same spirit of competition within its participants, diminishing its original purpose to educate citizens for the future.”
Lastly, as the valedictorian states: “…the system separated education from true academic achievement, where one can be accomplished without the other…” Parents have often jokingly shared stories of their Straight A children calling them in California from college in the Midwest, asking how to buy soap or other similarly 4.0+GPA people who call emergency services on campus for directions to use the laundry machines. So, who’s the smart ones in these situations? And, if a student can’t function, what does all that high school academic achievement really mean?
Defining “to be educated” is the call to action the valedictorian’s story inspires. For the individual, first, I’d recommend recognizing how the valedictorian’s words may apply to their own experience and purposefully setting aside time for reflection to understand their inherent ability and interest. And, as a community, we have the responsibility to separate “education” from “school”, and understand why more school work seems to equate with learning. Because if as the old adage states, “Our actions speak louder than words”, how we as a society collectively imagine and create educational opportunities is imperative for our youngest generation to become “learned”.