Secondary education and hyper-competitiveness: Succeed or “No Harvard for you!”

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A great and provocative quote about education by Daniel Coffeen (via quotecatalog), and brought to my attention by @marcyljordan:

High school, it seems, has changed. It has become competitive. Young men and women — 13 to 18 years old — must work more or less tirelessly to ensure their spot at a college deemed worthy to them and their families. So rather than living their adolescent lives — lives brimming with desires and vitality, with vim, vigor, and brewing lust — these kids are working at old age homes, cramming for tests, popping Adderall just to make the literal and proverbial grade.

And for what? So they can go to a school that puts them in debt for the rest of their lives. School has become a great vehicle of capitalism: it quashes the revolution implicit in adolescence while simultaneously fomenting perpetual indebtedness.

My response: I don’t remember me or my contemporaries stressing about grades in high school like kids do today. I cannot remember this topic ever coming up in high school, and I went to one of the best public high schools in the state. I received an excellent education, taking honors and AP classes.

And to be honest, even today, not all high-school students are competitive over grades: just ask any high-school teacher. But I think there are lots of good reasons why kids at the higher levels–such as honors programs and AP classes–are significantly more stressed-out today than they were in the 1970s and 1980s:

  1. The economy and job market sucks, making it all the more important for students to create an impressive resume. That means a good college, which requires good high-school grades. 
  2. Standardized testing has created a sickening outcomes-oriented culture, where the only thing that matters is the score. Education as a value-in-itself is a laughable concept to most of today’s students. I see this every day in law-school students and it breaks my heart.
  3. High school grades appear to be inflated today due to high-school administrators who want to get kids through, parents who push for higher grades when undeserved, and students who feel entitled to get all As “because they need them to get into a good school.” And of course, also to blame are some teachers who are slowly captured by the pressures from administrators, parents, and students to grant undeservedly high grades. Because grades are inflated near the top, a good grade has less meaning. Thus, any grade lower than an A can have an absurdly disproportionate impact on a student’s college application.

As the photo suggests, “No Harvard for you!”

Cross-posted to Infoglut Tumblr.

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