December 23, 2004
A Student’s Plea
Often I find myself staring at walls or lying on my bed staring at the ceiling, blank-minded. But I am not one who has the luxury to
be blank-minded. There is too much to do -- not by will, but by force. There is work to be done -- two lessons of math homework, 26 pages of AP English reading, eight terms a day to study for the AP test, probably some science homework that I don't remember and the indefinitely intimidating SATs, looming in everyone's mind. I/we, all students, are collapsing under the weight of our responsibilities, high school beasts of academic burden.
So I will explain to those who ask, such as parents, teachers or siblings, "Why are you not working?" Why I am not working? It seems nothing we students can do is enough. One day there is a chemistry test, the next an essay due, the next an English test, the next a much-needed break, which is not really a break because we still have everyday homework and SAT studying, followed by another test, another essay -- and eventually the lines begin to blur. Eventually, all worries and all concerns about school, grades and college just don't seem worth it.
"Of course they're worth it," say parents and educators, and we know they're worth it. We know we need to study, we know we need to do well in school, well on the SATs, well on the APs, we know it's all important. So maybe we could find some system of working, making a schedule that encompasses both work and rest that would suit our needs and keep us sane. Not so, friends, not so.
There comes a point where we students are no longer inspired to learn. (Were we ever?) Yes, we enjoy learning what we find interesting, whether it be history, chemistry, philosophy, etc. for each individual. But as the requirements build up, and the pressure rises, our only motivation to work is to avoid being scolded for not working. We no longer care about our grades; it isn't worth it. We don't connect the drudgery of studying for tests or the SATs with their necessity. What I mean is that when separating ourselves from work, we understand that we need to do it in order to get into college, to have a stable life and just to learn things we didn't know before. But when we have to get our hands dirty, get right into it with those pencils, books and calculators, and put C-clamps on our brains, the amount of work we realize we're facing dismisses all of those long-term accomplishments for the immediacy of stress. So we shut down our brains like blocks of concrete, and stare at the walls.
In my experience, education is no longer about learning; it's about how a student looks on paper. Letters and numbers that represent our intellect, and how many extracurriculars represent our involvement. They mean little to me. But they mean plenty to parents, schools and colleges, though, so we have to put up with them. But when they become so important that our lives need to revolve around them, it is much easier to ignore them to the extent that we can, so that parental or academic authorities won't bother us. Not to say this is right, but it's honest. And not to say we don't enjoy intellect; I spend much of my free time reading, writing, talking religion or politics, enjoying or creating art, etc. These things are valuable, but, sadly, they don't appear on our transcripts -- the mindless drone of SAT, AP and GPA percentiles do. Sad how five letters and their numbers are likely to define our lives, even if we're artists and writers and scientists and philosophers and politicians without the papers to prove it.
I do not expect to change any of these things with my words. If I did, I would also ask for a unicorn pony and to be a teenage ninja. I only hope to help parents and educators understand why we students at times are so disheartened and disconnected from our education.
I don't speak for all students. Of course there are students who don't feel this way, but they're sparse. And in a way, I feel real compassion for those who don't have the ability to disconnect themselves from their responsibilities, their worries of the SATs, the right college, the right jobs, the right mate, the whole right life, and run wild and untethered on the beaches of their own minds. But plenty of us students with our stress-roasted minds understand and relate. Someday when we inherit the world, we'll change the system so that our children's children will enjoy their preadulthood wholeheartedly. Someday, my brothers, someday.
Seth Lutske is a senior at YULA Boys School and editor of the school newspaper.