Kids can’t win.
We come home from school, too tired to work. We work, too tired to do homework. We are up late doing homework because we were too tired to do it earlier. We go to school, too tired to function correctly. We have to stay after school because we are too tired to function correctly. We stay after so late that we do not have time to work. We squeak by at work, not having enough time to do homework. We are up late because we were at school late. Sleep. Work. Homework. Sleep. School.
I’d feel oppressed, wouldn’t you?
But it isn’t really school itself that I feel oppressed by. Truth be told, I actually enjoy school. There is a certain joy in Calculus and a hidden passion in writing rhetorical analysis essays. There is no nugget of gold humor equivalent in stress, though.
Let’s talk about stress, baby. Let’s talk about you and me. Let’s talk about STRESS.
Stress is pressure put on the student. Stress is what causes the student to lose sleep, forget assignments, come to school bleary-eyed and messy-haired because they worked all night on that biology lab report. What are we, zombies? Kids should not be stressed. Why are you killing the youngest, brightest, most imaginative, energetic, passionate, and beautiful people before they have even reached their prime?
I have a personal answer.
Whenever I sacrifice my most valuable asset it is for my grades. Gotta get those A’s. Gotta maintain that 4.0. I Gotta be the very best, like no one ever was. (I even just had a panic moment – the vacuum that swirls inside my chest, pulling my hope and happiness, me remembering that I should be studying right now because I am floundering in AP Calc and I totally bombed that Latin quiz yesterday and and and...) But the primary reason I care about my grades is that they are my key to scholarships. If they were not so important, not crucial and not a summation of my value as a student(!), I would be taking different classes. I would be trying newer things. I would be the river that, when the floodgates open, courses through the valley and leaps and rushes as it naturally should. I and countless other students would learn better without that constant pressure. Grades no longer ‘keep the student in check’, they oppress the student, crush them, weigh them down with significance and value and heaviness even though they are only one little letter on one piece of paper.
If I don’t get good grades, I won’t get scholarships. If I don’t get scholarships, I cannot follow my dreams. I would love to be an artist. But I also want to be an artist that lives in a house and gets to eat food regularly. Currently, I am shackled by the oppression of the stress of trying to get good grades. I do not want to be shackled by the oppression of massive student loans, storm clouds overhead which block out the warm glow of financial freedom.
Do you see why kids can’t win?
Everything academic the assiduous student does from the moment they enter high school is for colleges. Do you think I spend hours doing ACT prep for fun? (Though arguably, I did actually really like taking the SAT. It brought back pleasant memories of the PSAT. So for a while there on that Saturday morning, I was actually smiling while figuring formulas and grammar. Giggle, endorphins.)
But I am an anomaly. School – LIFE – should not be this way. A student’s value may be in their GPA, but a human being’s should not. I wish my friends could be recognized for their empathy and kindness and not their test scores. (And I make my point: Sometimes these admirable qualities do get you awards and medals and stuff. But by nature, the most benevolent actions go unseen. And nobody has ever gotten that heavenly Full Ride for their ‘happy helper’ award.) And I know this sounds terrible, but no high-school student spends their Saturday at the homeless shelter simply because that is what they like to do. “Yes! I will volunteer nine hours today! I could be catching up on sleep or doing homework or studying but I love helping the homeless with all my heart so that is where I will invest my time.”
I will probably be chopped and quartered and disemboweled for this absurd statement, but can anyone honestly deny it? Perhaps they do love the homeless with all their hearts. But they also love Presidential service awards and National Honor Society memberships, too. Do you see what I mean? I sound cruel and satirical, but it really has gotten to the point where students like me can’t do all of what they love anymore because society holds them to such a high, impossible standard. We all strive to be that Perfect Student, the one who makes colleges drool and financial aid officers throw money like it is an academic strip club. I’ve come to the realization that I will never be that person. Success is intoxicating: Now that I am a National Merit Scholar, I am at the top of my class! Now I have won the Scholastic Art competition, I am what ‘they’ want! But the high does not last long, for there is always someone better, someone smarter. At first this realization made me feel weak and inadequate. My latent competitive streak has led me to always be one of the highest achievers. The feeling that there are people who are better than me even after I’ve given it my all is kind of a smack to the face, if you can relate.
On my college Odyssey, the oracles have told me that if I do what I love, I’ll have success.
I have come to terms with myself. Since I’ll never be the best – never be that perfect muffin – why shouldn’t I just give up? But I cannot picture myself ever giving up, because what I love is a challenge, a fight, a code to crack. It makes me learn, and oh, how I love to learn. I dance in it and bask in it and learn to love it even if it is tough and tasteless as month-old hardtack. The trick to not dying of stress and boredom in school, I have learned, is training yourself to enjoy the difficulties. I’ve got that down (again, says the girl who enjoyed taking the SAT.) But you can’t really learn to love stress. It kind of kills. Do you love what ends your life prematurely? (Well, barbecue and birthday cake, yes...) Now, If only I could get scholarships for reading a 1,100-page book in three days. Or getting to level 15 in Tetris. For learning calligraphy, just for kicks. For taking Latin, even though I do not want to study classics, sed quod pulchram historiamque literam scire cupidio. That would fry the stress leviathan in its tracks.
I wonder if colleges know what kind of person they are letting in. Someone who thinks. Down with the system! Someone who is conscious of their relevance in society. Well, actually, um, that system is going to be educating me and helping me to learn more. Someone who wants to change the world. What kind of hypocrite am I? Using my own argument against colleges to be accepted into one. Someone who is not afraid to be themself. I’ll infiltrate them... from the inside.
Well, you’ve been warned.