With high school graduation approaching, it is time for one student to assess her complicated relationship with school.
By Abbigail Baker
Our relationship began when I was five. Like so many others, I was bright-eyed, young, and excited for my first date. My mother had even bought me a new outfit just for this special occasion! I’m not talking about my first date with a boy or even a relationship with a boy— no, I’m talking about my entrance into the world of education, and my complicated, 12-year relationship with academics. Ever since that first date, I’ve had a love and hate relationship with school.
When I was in kindergarten, I remember first learning how to read. I remember looking at books and being in awe of their magnificently bound pages and beautiful words. However, this awe only lasted until I got home. Then the actual struggle of learning how to read began. “I don’t know what it says. It’s a word, and I don’t know it. I can’t read, Mom!” As a child of five years, I was struggling with what some might call the challenging part of learning. “You have to try Abbi. You need to know how to read. It’s going to be hard at first, but you have to try.” I remember my mom forcing me to read every single night, even when I wasn’t required to. I also remember reaching level ‘H’ before anybody else in my class and feeling astonished at what I had accomplished and learned through hard work. That instance captures what I loved about learning at a young age: the challenge, and overcoming it.
I remember receiving my first report card in middle school and feeling so proud of my academic achievement. I found the column of straight and perfect A’s oh-so pleasing.
When I got to middle school, something changed. I was faced with a different kind of challenge. I was introduced to the concept of grades and tests. Both, I was informed, would have direct effects on me and my future. I remember receiving my first report card in middle school and feeling so proud of my academic achievement. I found the column of straight and perfect A’s oh-so pleasing. On the reverse side, I also remember receiving my first ‘B’ for a mid-term grade and beating myself up. How could I let such an imperfection scathe my perfect column of A’s? In middle school I fell in love with receiving A’s on assignments, but I also developed a hate for anything less than perfection.
In terms of academia, grades became everything to me. Whenever I obtained an A I felt as if I were on top of the world, and I was motivated to continue down this seemingly righteous path. I loved the feeling of being the best, and I relished the praise from my family. However, whenever I received anything less than an A, I felt like a failure, a normal-nut, or, I suppose you could say, I felt average. As ridiculous as it may sound, I think in middle school I started to slowly but surely assign those grades to more than my tests or my homework. Once I started receiving grades for classes, I started giving those grades to my self-worth, to my future, and even to my meaning.
As a student who is now finishing high school, I still struggle with seeing my grades and test scores as more than letters or numbers on a piece of paper. In fact, I may take these symbols more seriously than I did in middle school. I’d like to say that I should, and will, easily rise above this obscenity, but the situation has become even more challenging because so many outsiders are doing the same thing to me— grading my existence. During the ACT last year, I felt so much stress, pressure, and anxiety that after walking out of the exam room I had the worst backaches I had experienced in 16 years of life. I don’t like learning that is geared toward a test that determines so much of my future; after all, isn’t learning supposed to be more holistic?
The letter B does not show that I am a hard worker who is willing to stay up until two in the morning to finish assignments.
Happily, in high school, I have been discovering that I’m not supposed to be learning just about numbers and verbs, but I’m supposed to be learning, as a wise friend once put it, “How to do life.” In high school, I have been falling in love with learning how to be a better person. In AP Chemistry, some nights I had to stay up late in agony in order to complete numerous worksheets about thermochemistry, but having to stay up late and do those worksheets taught me the value of time management and hard work. In AP English I have spent hours attempting to write a paper answering a rather introspective and philosophical prompt. And when I write these papers, I discover why I put myself through classes like AP Chemistry, and I learn more about myself as a person. I love learning about thermochemistry whilst learning how to manage my time. I love learning how to respectfully criticize a topic, whilst discovering my deeply rooted feelings about that topic, and discovering what makes me who I am. I love learning about “how to do life” whilst learning about the pedantic aspects of life.
I love learning. I hate being given a number or a letter that attempts to describe what I have learned. ACT scores do not show that I have learned how to work extremely well with others. ACT scores do not show that I have developed great leadership skills. The letter B does not show that I am a hard worker who is willing to stay up until two in the morning to finish assignments. I love that I can go to school each day and learn something factual and also learn something about myself. I hate that grades and test scores determine what colleges I can get into and what scholarships I can receive, when they only represent what questions I can correctly answer on a particular test. I hate getting sucked into the numbers and letters, instead of just enjoying learning. That’s the funny thing about all this talk of school: I hate to love it, and I love to hate it.
Photo: Back to School by Phil Roeder on Flickr