Editorial: Pressures of perfection

Students pay price of flawed education system


Valerie Benzinger

Graded papers sit on a desk.

GPA. Class rank. SAT/ACT/PSAT scores. Scholarships. Extracurriculars. Resumes.

It’s too overbearing.

The intense pressure competitive academics puts on high schoolers is a large part of why teens today have stress levels that, according to the American Psychological Association, rival the stress adults face while living in the “real world.” Exceedingly high pressures to excel at everything, have a well-rounded resume, have the top grades and be a star athlete all at once weigh down on students. Achieving all of these is an unrealistic expectation which can be damaging to students’ mental health. Teens interested in competitive academics tend put their entire self-worth into whether or not they achieve all A’s instead of valuing their character.

For example, in a 2015 study by NYUCN researchers, a poll found 49 percent of high school students experience “moderate” to “a great deal” of stress on a daily basis. The source of this stress was mainly cited as school, homework and preparing for college. That level of stress at such a young age is alarming because without proper coping mechanisms, it can evolve into various mental health issues, including depression.

This isn’t too say any level of academic competition is only negative; when done properly, it’s healthy and motivates students to work harder for the grades they desire. It becomes an issue when students are stressed to an unnecessarily high level and belittle themselves purely because they aren’t in the top 10 or they aren’t president of a club they love. When students place all of their self-value in academics, they are at risk to form unhealthy studying habits and feel disappointed in themselves and their academic achievements.

Scholars, such as Eliot Eisner, advocate against standardized testing in schools. It is widely believed teaching “to the test” is an ineffective method that causes students to learn only what they need to pass a test, rather than to become interested in the subject and enjoy the class and its material. If teachers weren’t restricted by the requirements for standardized testing, such as AP tests and the STAAR tests, they could have the freedom to make lesson plans enjoyable and make homework less overbearing on students.

Students often not only put up with the stresses of school, but also work on a daily basis. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, nearly one in four students add on the responsibility of a full-or-part-time job on top of attending school for eight hours per day, five days per week, plus extra time outside of school to do homework. Reasons for having a job vary from simply wanting extra money to go out with friends to needing the money to help his or her parents pay the bills. Students with jobs have even less time for homework and studying than their unemployed peers, thus facing extra pressure to be great despite their circumstances.

Administration should take action to help reduce the negative effects of advanced academics. Students deserve recognition and credit for their achievements, beyond the rewards already given for being top 10 in class. If schools were to celebrate students who work hard and do great things, it would motivate students to work harder, as well as boost the confidence of those who have made those achievements. Celebrating the excellent, rather than punishing the mediocre, would be a highly effective way of promoting academic excellence and dedication to schoolwork.