Am I Just A Number?

“If you struggle for these 4 years, you will be happy for the rest of your life.” I can’t tell you how many times I have heard those words before, along with, “they are your friends but also the people you need to compete with at the end of the day” and “use this opportunity to get ahead of the game.” Why does it feel like I need to go to school for some sort of validation… like a number on a piece of paper is what I need to focus on the most? As a senior in high school, I feel like my whole experience was dictated by my grades. There were times where I would cram things into my head just so I could regurgitate it on a test, let it all leave my mind, and move onto the next class. Those are the times I wish I could go back and redo the most. I genuinely love school, even if it is online right now. There is something so satisfying about cracking a crazy hard math problem after making a dozen mistakes or finally understanding a complicated biology concept. It’s those moments for me, where everything I have been taught clicks in my head, which makes learning so enjoyable. I want to continue taking my time truly understanding what I’m being taught, but with so many quizzes, tests, and projects, it feels like my whole life is hanging on a piece of string that is attached to my grades — the numbers that will determine my future.

The more I think about it, the sillier it sounds. I followed the instructions… I struggled and worked hard for almost four years in high school, yet I don’t feel any happier. The satisfaction I get from getting a good grade last seconds, but minutes later, I forget everything I learned. However, when I take my time learning things at my own pace, building a map of knowledge in my head, I feel an immense surge of confidence overcome me. No one can take that away from me. What I learn is mine to keep forever.

I’m not saying our education system is completely flawed, but like everything else, it has its pros and cons. Every school environment, student, teacher, and curriculum is completely different. I agree, systems give these differences a sense of organization, but at what cost? People are naturally gifted in different things and enjoy learning using their own methods, but when the education system puts a cookie cutter on top of everyone forcing unique people to think, teach, or learn in a certain way, we all come out of the oven exactly the same.

The worst thing that comes out of such a system, in my opinion, is the school environment. It’s every man for themselves. There are kids forming a social hierarchy from such a young age, bullying, or excluding others who aren’t like them. If we can’t fix that, how are we supposed to solve issues regarding discrimination in the real world? Not to mention the level of toxicity that is formed because people think that they need to be the top of their class in order to have a good future. I’ve heard stories about some students purposefully giving their classmates the wrong information just so that they can get a better grade. That’s terrifying! People say “struggle these 4 years and you will live happily for the rest of your life.” I don’t agree with that at all! What’s the point of sacrificing your physical and mental health, friendships, relationships with family, and confidence in yourself just to be the best? You need these things in order to be happy in the future.

Furthermore, our friends shouldn’t be our competition. If we can’t trust our own classmates, our own friends, how are we going to survive in the real world? Society can function better if we trust each other, but that needs to be developed from a young age, and sometimes, school environments can hinder that development. Not to mention the fact that as students, our identity is tied to our grade. We don’t want to admit when we get a bad score because we don’t want to be excluded from things. We want others to think only good things about us, but there comes a point where that, all on its own, is enough to make someone crack under pressure. People cheat and go to unthinkable extremes to ensure they get good grades, and I understand why, but what if someone genuinely needs help? You might think, the teacher would know. They will reach out to the student and give them guidance, and in some cases that is true. Some. Teachers have dozens, sometimes even hundreds of students they need to look after. Do you know how many students are out there who are too scared to admit they need help with something? A person must have the confidence to ask for help or admit when they make a mistake, whatever the situation may be, but there are children who can’t even privately admit to their teachers that they don’t understand something. This issue can become worse later in life, especially when students go to college and take their first steps as adults. We need to have the ability to trust our classmates, be willing to make mistakes, know how to ask for help, and more … the list goes on and on.

You might be thinking, the real world is like a race; the sooner kids are exposed to it, the better their chances are of surviving. However, I think that it’s important to realize that by modeling a school environment after the real world, students aren’t being prepared to make a positive difference when they are older. Some students enter the real world and only add fuel to the never-ending cycle of a society that struggles to address problems together. Besides, life is about more than just survival. Childhood, a majority of which is spent in school, for most people, is about helping kids find a source of comfort within themselves and their loved ones so that when they do leave home, they can be self-dependent.

Struggling these four years of high school doesn’t guarantee anything; life is way too unpredictable. Certain forms of competition at school can limit students because happiness doesn’t come from seeing other people do worse than us, nor does it come from constantly belittling ourselves for not being at the top. This type of system makes students believe that their future is dependent solely on their grades, but that isn’t true. Here I am, spending my senior year in online school, wishing I had spent more quality time with my friends and family. Doing well in both school and college is very important, but not at the expense of our own or our loved one’s happiness. Real knowledge can come when we as people are willing to truly learn, and that needs to be set straight from childhood.

Written by, Manya Bondada