If you’re a college student, or have been one, you know what November means:
Stress. A lot of it.
I was reading this article from the Huffington Post today after having it sit in an Opera tab for a few days and kind of questioned the assertion made in the headline: “Your Mental Health is More Important Than Your Grades.”
This is a statement I would love to believe, but I can’t say for one day in my entire academic life that it has held true. It is an idealist argument. I’m not necessarily an idealist, but it’s particularly around this time, these maddening weeks before Thanksgiving, that I wish there was truth to the statement.
Because right now is when everything starts to get serious. Deadlines are coming. Papers are due. Work is busy. The semester is winding down — or winding up, I would say.
And yet, it is not so much the stress that I detest. Stress is a part of life and life is about finding ways to manage it. What I detest is the mixed messages from today’s academic institutions.
The whole notion of education is a mix of “you should do your best to learn” and “you should get good grades because you won’t get a job if you don’t.” But it is so skewed toward the latter that it is almost as if the former doesn’t matter.
And so, growing up, I was encouraged by my parents to shoot for the 4.0 and the A’s. I do not fault them for this because education is built upon pursuing excellence and society, for so long, fed into this idea of academic elitism. All you have to do is look at Harvard, Yale and the whole idea of Ivy League education to see this.
And now, I find myself in a bind. I find myself wanting to learn and become educated, but confined to the reality that my level of education will not matter unless my grades positively reflect that drive.
Last week, I received feedback on a presentation I did for a rhetoric class. My professor takes the time to write an entire half-page worth of detailed feedback, in addition to in-line comments when handing back papers or outlines and so forth. I didn’t receive a bad grade on the assignment by any means, but the reality is that it was the grade I checked before the feedback.
Once I saw the grade, I did read the feedback, but instead of focusing on that, I agonized over the grade being a few percentage points lower than what I wanted. And at the same time, I wanted to just ignore the grade entirely, but I couldn’t. I couldn’t ignore the realities of a system that places so much weight on binaries; right answers and wrong answers, A’s, and B’s, and C’s and D’s, and F’s.
Educational institutions encourage us to chase perfection, while half-heartedly saying that actually learnings things is important. In a world filled with imperfection, this is not only an unrealistic approach to educating people, but it is also harmful.
Maybe stress wouldn’t be so pronounced for students if the focus of education wasn’t so shallow, so emotionally draining, so psychologically exhausting.
Do you think a paradigm shifted is needed in education?