One topic that really gets me going is the state of our current educational system. It currently rewards students who follow the rules and guidelines of the system to a T, and does not allow for any freedom to explore true passions. All my life I have felt that I was being pushed forward on a conveyor belt created by those who believe in standardizing the development of knowledge. As if children were ever meant to be standardized.
This conveyor belt stretches all the way from kindergarten to post-secondary education, and heavily conditions the child to seek high grades – or risk failing at life. No scholarships, no prestigious post-secondary education, no financially successful career, no life.
Photo by sean Kong
Now, I am not one to revolt against evaluation. The problem is not evaluation. Without any form of evaluation, it is impossible to gauge where children are at in terms of their knowledge and application levels, and more importantly for the children themselves to gauge where they are at so they can create learning goals for themselves. What I do have a problem with is the grade-centrism. I am not sure how focusing on receiving high grades in today’s system necessarily correlates with one’s aptitude toward any subject, when the children are racing against a factor that should not hinder them: time.
The conveyor belt analogy comes to mind again when we consider that oftentimes, the whole system does not stop for one defective product. It is simply moved along with all the others until someone ‘plucks’ the defective product out of the belt. Likewise, children are forced along the tides of their education, without having a chance to fully understand their concepts, and expected to display ‘acceptable’ or ‘passable’ knowledge to move on (in our system, this usually means ≥50%). How can we expect children to fully appreciate each aspect of their education without giving them adequate time to explore? When a child is struggling with a concept, why do we not allow that child the time to learn? Why not evaluate based on mastery, rather than sufficiency?
The danger of the conveyor belt is this: it can make some children (not all) adopt an approach to life that is not necessarily spurred by any sort of dream or passion, but one that is formed through expectations. I was one such child. All I cared about were grades. I figured that if I had high grades, I was set for life. If I worked hard, I would get where I need to be quickly.
What I failed to realize was that I had no idea where I ‘needed’ to be. Even though I was working my butt off to get close to perfect marks on my tests, projects, and exams, I was still rolling through the motions. I didn’t know where I wanted to go. I only knew how to follow the system to a T. Study, study, study, study, study, test. Study, study, study, study, study, exam. By my grade 12 graduation, I had the highest GPA in the entire school board, and the lowest idea of what I wanted to do with myself.
It’s no wonder someone such as me, grade-centric and clueless, went to a rather prestigious program and crashed hard. Don’t get me wrong, I still had pretty stellar grades, but my point is that I had no purpose or drive anymore. It hit me like a truck that I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life, and here I was getting a Health Science degree just because my parents thought it’d be nice for me to be a doctor. Everyone around me seemed leagues “better” than me. They had the high grades (honestly what’s the difference of a few percentages?), but many also had a concrete motivation or drive behind their work. These students shined even in freshman year, and left me completely in the dust. I had based my identity off my high grades. Sure, I was in band and choir, and was quite the sax player while keeping up my studies. None of that mattered to me. I developed the mother of all inferiority complexes to all of my peers, even though I did not even know 3/4 of them.
So I spent three years hating myself more and more. I thought I was defective. That I would never compete with any of these stellar people, so I may as well not try. This corrosive thinking wore me down emotionally, but somehow I ended up with a perfect GPA in second year. The sacrifice? My mental health. My physical health. Everything that is foundational to any form of work. “This is working,” I told myself as I proudly stood with the Dean of my school with my 4.0 GPA medal.
That semester, I was sleeping 5 hours a night, staying up extremely late playing League of Legends on the weekends because there was no time to unwind during the week, barely eating food because I was ‘too busy’, and isolating myself from others. All in the name of grades. A week into my second semester, I crashed hard and essentially became a vegetable for a couple of weeks, culminating in a hospitalization.
Long story short, I had a tentative diagnosis of depression, generalized anxiety, and social anxiety. Perfectionism? Poison. It’s the perfect crime of society. My journey toward imperfectionism is a long time coming.
Always remember to BKTY (be kind to yourself),