Average=failure mindset takes over

May 2, 2018 — by Anna Novoselov

Students should compare their current selves to their past selves, seeing success as a measure of improvement rather than academic scores

“What did you get on the test?”

“Oh, I failed.”

Conversations like these are often heard on campus. Many outsiders would assume that a failing grade would be 59 percent or below, the traditional definition of failing.

But, of course, for many students here, failing is anything less than an A. An “average” and “meets standards” C or even B grade is deemed unacceptable and unworthy of being spoken out loud.

Such a mindset has proliferated in the Bay Area, which is  concentrated with highly skilled professionals who have achieved great success. Children often feel pressured by the high expectations of their parents, fearing disappointment.

This mentality has created a toxic environment in many schools, where students force themselves to take endless AP and Honors classes and sign up for extracurriculars and programs that they may not particularly enjoy. They are not satisfied by an “average” B in a college level class because they compare themselves to classmates, who throw themselves into a similar whirlpool.

Many students have fallen into this trap. Constantly comparing themselves with others decreases perceptions of the value of successes and increases doubts and fear of falling behind classmates. As a result, children compensate with an increased workload and greater self-criticism, struggling to continue collecting achievements to display on college applications.

As colleges have become increasingly competitive, students feel the need to be perfect to get into their top choice. Telling stories about success despite rejection from an elite university can broaden students’ perspectives and decrease their unrelenting desire to be admitted to a specific school.

Students should realize that graduating from an Ivy League is not the only way to reach success, for there are numerous acceptable schools that can provide an enriching academic experience.

However, the stigma surrounding scoring well has not let up. As AP testing approaches, the stress associated with scoring well skyrockets and students are sucked deeper into the tendency to compare.

According to Greater Good Magazine, 70 percent of students in California high schools say they are often or always stressed by school work, and 56 percent are often or always worrying about grades, tests and college acceptance.

Such an outlook should be discouraged. Instead, students should compare their current selves to their past selves, as improvement is the true measure of success. If education was largely based on learning and obtaining life skills rather than high grades and test scores, more children would feel satisfied with their accomplishments. Teachers and students should make this distinction by promoting this mentality and encouraging students to change their outlook.

Support services should be expanded in schools to change the school dynamic to one that focuses on student happiness. Educators should be taught effective ways to promote students’ pride in personal achievements, emphasizing learning above grades.

For instance, there could be more schoolwide assemblies discussing the negative ways students compare themselves. The administration could put more emphasis on stressing the importance of challenging oneself to be better than one’s past self and not those around him/her.

In addition colleges could admit students by focusing more on essays, extracurricular activities and interviews rather than GPAs or standardized test scores.

By believing that being better than others measures success and results in happiness (or acceptance to an Ivy League School), students drown in an unrelentless competition with each other, sacrificing their well being and free time, which can lead to severe repercussions.

Stanford University lecturer Dr. Denise Pope links high pressure environments and a “more is better” mindset to intense stress, low self-esteem, anxiety, and an increased risk of mental disorders.

She reports that when asked how one defines success, parents often answered “happiness, health, giving back to society,” while children answered “money, grades, test scores.” While past generations evaluated themselves through qualitative experiences and personal emotions, millennials and generation z see themselves as a reflection of compared quantitative results.

This dependence on quantitatively defined success is a problem. Children are basing their happiness on ranks and percentiles instead of self-improvement. They strive to be at the top of the academic totem pole because being average is not acceptable anymore.

As the school year comes to a close, the dreadful anticipation of AP exams and other standardized tests spreads throughout the student body. These tests  will evaluate a child’s worth on whether they score better than “average,” preferably in the top 1 percent in the nation.

When results are out, most will desperately try to figure out their standing among their peers. A few will gloat while others, even those who did well, will feel ashamed of their scores and of their own abilities.

The only way to prevent the belief that one’s success in school is measured by being better than his or her classmates is to establish a mindset that success is not determined by being the average; rather, it is based on one’s self fulfillment and personal improvement.

A successful life is not determined solely by academic scores. A person can reach happiness without being in the top 1 percent of every subject and activity.

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