When did school change its focus?

Lily Ziegler, Journalism Student

What is the first word that comes to mind when you think about high school? Stress! High school is full of stress from all different directions. If one plans on going to college, she is expected to have good grades, be in the top percentage of her class, do well on the SAT’s while still being active in sports, plus participate in extra curricular activities including community service. How are student supposed to have fun?

In our generation, pressure to succeed is trickling down from college to the high school level. This stresses students out more than anyone would expect. Vicki Abeles, filmmaker, recently directed a video called A Race to Nowhere, creating a stir in the educational community. Abeles refers to high school as ‘a race to nowhere’ because students are constantly competing and striving to be the best, yet rarely do they know what they are actually racing towards.

Although schools are mandated to give students standardized tests, A Race to Nowhere questions that need. The education system, as a whole, has put teaching and actual learning on the back burner.

Darrick Smith, teacher at Oakland Technical High School in California and interviewee in A Race to Nowhere, sees education transformed into a “system that tries to robotize students to be these academic competitors.” He says, “I had a student who ha a 3.5 GPA, got excepted to St. Mary’s College. She didn’t pass her exit exams, and they told her she couldn’t graduate.” Smith further explains, “You can’t just take this one thing [such as a single test score], and say its all over because of one thing, and when you start to do that to people, the stress level is going to go up because little things count.”

Parents, teachers, principals etc. may deny any pressure they put on children; the truth is students pressure themselves. A Race to Nowhere features the story of one young girl who put so much pressure on her self to succeed, that after failing one math test, she felt the need to commit suicide. This girl was privileged with a very good education; yet, the strain of success and the fear of disappointment lead to her untimely death. How could our society allow such event to occur based off of a single standardized math test?

“With all the pressure on test scores, we don’t have time for projects anymore because that takes too long,” says Emma Baton- Bowen, teacher at Mendela High School in California. “Things that actually get [my] students think and work together and care, are pushed aside. Our product is humans; it’s not really easily measured, [especially through standardized tests].”

Although the Bethel educational community puts just as much work and effort in to their sports and art programs as they do their academic programs, the “race to nowhere” is a national issue. It is a reflection of how our society defines education.

As a sophomore at Bethel High School, I can identify with the pressure to succeed, and I find that it is interfering with other aspects of my life. I cannot remember the last time I played outside without anything to worry about. Instead, I am too busy with preparing for my next softball game or working on the essay that is due or the 15 million other things that I have on my plate. I know that I am not alone.

I recognize that standardized tests are necessary to evaluate established material, but do they have to dominate our high school experience?