The Problem with the A+

7 hours a day for 180 days, students all over the country wake up at roughly six in the morning to catch busses and carpools, all in search for the elusive A+. Students devote thousands of hours to academia in the name of knowledge.

The Bethel High School mission statement says, “Bethel High School believes in developing life-long learners who are responsible citizens and independent, critical thinkers prepared to meet life’s challenges.” That all sounds nice on paper, sure, but it’s completely untrue. And Bethel High School is certainly not the only school to develop a similar statement. Across the country schools spout these delusions, not because they believe them but because it sounds better than “Bethel High School believes in high graduation rates.”

We must remind ourselves that schools are systems. And systems are organizations put together to stress structure and status quo. The purpose of a school is bureaucratic by nature. Schools don’t want to enlighten their students; they just want to follow procedures.

The Bethel High School mission statement was created in the midst of an accreditation scare. BHS had lost its accreditation, which means that it no longer was a member of the system. Well that wouldn’t do, so in order to appease the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC) Bethel developed its mission statement. Which means that it was created not because it really was trying to make “life- long learners” and “critical thinkers”, but instead it was created because it wanted to do almost the exact opposite; its purpose instead of making its students “independent” it made them conformist. Is it just me, or does this smell like irony?

The holy grail of the student body is the A+, and who doesn’t like to see that in their report card? We devote all of our time and energy to obtain a letter followed by an addition symbol, which is decidedly not the goal of a “critical thinker”. A critical thinker is one who observes life and nature in the quest of understanding not in the quest of a high GPA. We need to remind ourselves that good grades are not the accomplishments of the intelligent rather the outcome of an efficient bureaucrat.

Students spend the majority of their time trying to enhance their class rank, but at what cost? They spend all of their time getting a letter to be placed in a file that doesn’t represent any of their knowledge. All it does is show they were able to hand in homework on time and study effectively.

The purpose of this article is not to take on schools. Of course, schools have their place and they are essential to civilized society. The purpose of this article is to show the world that we are living in ignorance. We surround ourselves with happy delusions so that we don’t wake up one morning and realize that our high SAT scores have absolutely nothing to do with how enlightened we are as a people. And just because you placed high in your class does not make you a “critical thinker.” So let us not surround ourselves with blissful ignorance, and take school for what it is: a bureaucracy, not the Wat Rong Khun and our alumni are not Siddhartha.

The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of Wildcat Word.

2 thoughts on “The Problem with the A+

  • January 26, 2011 at 12:30 pm
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    I am surprised by the overwhelming cynicism of the author. You say in the first paragraph that students are “all in search of the elusive A+”, but then you go on to say that they “devote thousands of hours……in the name of knowledge”. You seem to recognize that the two are not synonymous, i.e A+’s and knowledge, but you never really say what you think that students are looking for. Reading the rest of your article more carefully, I think that you do not have much respect for your classmates, little faith that they are actually interested in learning. If you are right, that is unfortunate, but I think that you are wrong.

    You say “That all sounds nice on paper, sure, but it’s completely untrue” about the BHS Mission Statement and I say that you are completely wrong. You say the Mission Statement was “created in the midst of an accreditation scare.”, which is true, but that honestly had little to do with the goals of the statement. Take a look at the mission statements of some other schools, most of which were not “created in the midst of an accreditation scare”, and you will find similar idealistic goals. If you question the staff and faculty at BHS I believe that you will find that we really want to achieve these lofty, idealistic goals.

    Much of what is done at Bethel High School is about conformity and maintaining the status quo, but that has two goals. The first is to maintain general order and organization; students have a lot of different topics/subjects to learn and there are a lot of students to learn them. To do this efficiently, for the sake of the taxpayer, it must be well organized and order must be maintained. The second is that some conformity, such as following basic rules for a job or the laws of society, is necessary to be successful and to live a good life. Total conformity and maintaining the status quo is certainly not a goal of the school, the administrators, or the teachers. Your being allowed to make this commentary within the structure of the school is an indication that you are wrong about our school. There are certainly many non-conformist students who are well respected by the administration and the teachers, and nobody is trying to make them conform.

    I do find that I agree with some of what you say in your final paragraph. There are those students who think that grades have some real meaning about them as people and that the higher your class rank the better you are as a person or that a high SAT score means you are intelligent, but I think that the percentage is small. I do, however, definitely agree with you that none of those things have anything “to do with how enlightened we are as a people”.

    Reply
    • January 26, 2011 at 11:21 pm
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      I do agree with you that the BHS staff does strive for the idealistic goals, and I certainly meant no disrespect if I seemed disparaging. I absolutely believe that those are things you genuinely want. However the staff goals and the student goals are not identical, and perhaps that’s only something I’m realizing now because of your comment. While it is only my supposition, it may be that the staff goals are coordinated with the mission statement. But that same mission does not reflect the goals of the students. The goal of the student is to pass and move on, in my opinion.
      I find that the student body, without speaking for them, doesn’t search for knowledge in school. I do want to repeat, that school is 100% necessary however, at least in my experience school is what I do in between my own personal progression. As Mark Twain said, “I’ve never let my school interfere with my education”. I don’t think that I’m underestimating my peers because I do believe they crave knowledge just as I do. Perhaps the existential question is which has more impact forced learning or independent study?
      I would also like to comment on the conformity portion of the article. I wasn’t trying to be a teenage angst and stereotypically rebel against conformity. Because you are fully correct that some conformity is crucial. However, I would imagine you can appreciate the irony in the fact that the diction of the mission statement does claim independence, and it was created because of the accreditation scare. The goals of it may be isolated from that scare but the mission statement itself was created due to that reason. This does prove to be ironic.

      Reply

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