Talks with Cox: A culture of competition

Gracie Cox, Editor-in-Chief

I have gone to schools in the LOSD for my entire academic career. From Forest Hills (Go Falcons!) to three painfully awkward years at LOJ and finally landing at LOHS, I’ve been a proud LO student through and through. That being said, despite the surplus of opportunities and high quality of education offered at LO, we as a district have a big issue. The elephant in the room has only grown as the years have passed, and I don’t see it stopping anytime soon. This problem is over-competitiveness, and it has made my life a living hell, especially as a junior.

If you haven’t gathered yet, this is going to be a serious one. So, buckle up, put your big boy pants on and listen to me rant for a good little while. Doesn’t that sound fun?

I first noticed LO’s “competition culture” back in elementary school at Forest Hills. I vividly remember panicking over taking those timed basic addition, subtraction and multiplication tests on cream-colored half-sheets of paper. Now I’ve always been an anxious person, but these tests brought me to my limit. My math teacher firmly believed in the educational powers of these tests and publicly shamed and took away recess time from students who didn’t receive a certain score. I have never been an especially gifted mathematician, but I was proficient, except for when it came to these tests. I would see my teacher start the timer and immediately forget how to do basic math skills that I knew perfectly well until that moment. I spent far too many recesses stuck inside the classroom, feeling ashamed of myself for never living up to my teacher or the school’s standards, and eventually begged my mother for a math tutor in order to stop embarrassing myself. As much as I hate to admit it, my teacher’s tactics worked. They were harmful to my self-esteem and those of many others, but I’ll never forget my times tables again.

Ever since I started school, I’ve had a difficult time not comparing myself to fellow students. However, my high standards for myself did not magically appear. They were fostered, if not born from the pressures of going to school in LO. From the days of 1st and 2nd grade, myself and my classmates would simply not shut up about how intelligent they were, how quickly they could do math and how many words they could spell. This egotistical, academically obsessed nature has only morphed into a worse version in high school. Instead of boasting about how many words-per-minute we achieved while doing typing practice in the computer lab, we now pretend that we do terribly on tests when everyone knows that you got an 85 and won’t stop talking about just how poorly you did. Open your eyes, a B is not something to cry over.

But as much as you can fault students for contributing to our pressure problem, teachers are just as much if not more responsible. They feed into the issue without recognizing or caring for the most part, but we all know it’s the impact of our actions that matters and not the intent. Many teachers for as long as I can remember have had high expectations for their students, and haven’t cared to refrain from expressing their extreme disappointment with students who do not perform to their liking. I don’t think this is done so consciously for the majority of the time, but it’s certainly noticeable. As students, we see the difference between the way you speak to high achievers compared to how you address the mediocre. We see the kids that you pick on versus the ones that you praise. And in some incidents, we see you outright verbally compare students in a classroom. Not only is this unprofessional, but it is extremely hurtful and discouraging to those that aren’t on your “good side.”

Now, before I get blasted for it and called a communist or a lily-livered snowflake, I don’t think that competition or pressure or expectations are all bad. If competition is healthy and expectations are reasonable, then I’m all for them. But, the issue is that our levels of pressure are off the charts and our priorities are out of whack. The number of students struggling with their mental health and workload is astounding. As a school, it is unreasonable for the majority of your student body to be this stressed and this discontent with our lives, ourselves, and our individual performances. It’s disheartening to see my classmates struggle as they are now, and all I ask is for an attempt to change.

Simply put, we need to be more accepting of so-called mediocrity. Getting imperfect grades and imperfect test scores needs to be seen as ok. Every student at this school is intelligent and deserving of respect in their own way, even if for some it is not as obvious as others. It is ridiculous to hold ourselves to expectations that we will never be able to meet, and I think we need to lower them. I’m just as guilty as the next LO student when it comes to overvaluing grades and performance and judging myself and the people around for things that truly do not matter. This problem, considering its prevalence, seems impossible to address. But, my solution is simple. Embrace our mediocrity. Embrace our flaws. Did I get a 60% on the Physics test? Why yes, I did. And I’m not ashamed of it. As a human being and as an adolescent, I am not perfect. I seek to accept myself for who I am and the multitude of flaws that make up myself as a person. I ask that LO, even if just for a moment, forces itself to do the same.