Our world is measured in numbers. Everything is quantifiable. The Earth is approximately 40,000 kilometers in circumference, and the United States has more than 300 million people.
But it's not just physical or scientific objects that are measured nowadays. People are, too, and by all the people around us. For example, when looking for potential in students, everyone from weird Uncle Phil to the college admissions officer evaluating your application is looking and sifting through numbers to get an idea of who you are. When Uncle Phil asks, "So, did you get all A's last semester?" he is quantifying your achievements whether he knows it or not. Everything is scrutinized numerically now, so we no longer have an accurate representation of each student's abilities, because something like potential cannot be measured in numbers. Additionally, by reducing students to numbers, we students are less likely to take educational risks.
Here's why: When reduced to numbers, we want to look as impressive as possible. By taking that advanced English class and "only" getting a B in it, your "value" immediately drops. Instead of trying that one advanced class we might genuinely enjoy, we drop that class in favor of a lesser one where an A is more feasible. I really wanted to take AP Language and Composition, as I knew it would push me and make me a better writer. However, I also knew it would be extremely challenging and that I could end up with a B. With the goal of having the best GPA possible, instead of making myself the most "well-rounded," I felt encouraged to stay safe intellectually. That seems wrong. I had to choose between AP Language and Composition and a lesser English class -- even though I was intellectually interested in the AP class.
I felt compelled to go the other route in order to preserve my GPA. My value should stem from more than the fact that I got straight A's last semester. As a Bay Area teen, I know I'm not the only one who feels this way.
Too many find that the real goal isn't learning but to look as good as possible on paper. This stems from steps mandated by society: Do homework to receive credit to earn good grades, and become successful by following this narrowly defined path of education. When we look back at Step 1 of that process, the immediate end goal of doing homework (and everything else) is to check off a series of boxes to make you look good, instead of actually learning for the intellectual challenge. Better to take a class where you can do stuff quickly and well and move on to the next thing than to explore a topic in-depth where you might struggle. This quantifying system stunts growth and learning.
Doing homework is all part of the process: Do homework to get credit, credit to receive good grades, and good grades to gain you admission to a respected university so that you can emerge as a productive employee in the corporate and professional world. Our factory of an education system allows for students to get by without really understanding what they are learning. That means we students are limiting ourselves. That AP class we didn't take out of fear shows how we are afraid of true learning -- if failure is an option. We are limiting ourselves, our goals and our horizons.
Living in the Silicon Valley, I find that terribly ironic. As a hub for the world's major innovators in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) industries, the Bay Area is home to some of the most intelligent and innovative adults and teens (not that I'm biased or anything). While the entrepreneurial community in Silicon Valley is built on the concept of learning and improving through failure, our schools encourage the opposite. Many of my friends and I don't aspire to just work for Apple or IBM or the private medical practice down the street. We dream about creating the next version of them. That takes risk, experimentation and failure -- in other words, authentic learning and improvement. Not limiting our potential so that we look good on paper.
The Life in Perspective board is made up of teens who write for the features sections. Neeja Patel attends Fremont High School. Reach Neeja at firstname.lastname@example.org.