In a small classroom in a remote location, a group of 20-something year-old United-States-of-American girls are frantically agonizing about their grade point averages (GPAs). As Americans, they were born and bred to always, always earn A grades, if not A+: the highest grade you can receive in the States, roughly equivalent to a 4.0 GPA. It is emphasized that the GPA you receive in college will effect you for the rest of your life; nothing else matters except for that A.
Because of the stress imposed on letter grades in the USA (which apparently have a direct correlation with the probability that a student will result in a job or highly-ranked graduate school post-graduation), in addition to various other life stressors, the American Psychological Association (APA) this year claimed that university aged persons and other young adults are among the most stressed people in the USA (http://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2013/02/stress-management.aspx and others) – a country consistently ranked amongst the least happy countries in the world according to the Happy Planet Index (HPI) http://www.happyplanetindex.org.
The affliction in the voices of the girls in the aforementioned conversation abutted this anti-happiness claim; it was unmistakable; for them, this was actual duress. The following approximate excerpts from conversation were heard:
“Don’t they understand how these grades effect us?”
“Do these teachers not realize how important my GPA is?”
“Wait a second, this is transfer credit?! It’s not pass/fail?!”
“I can’t believe she only gave us 8.5 out of 10. She didn’t even tell us the full and complete criteria on which she was grading us. Who does she think she is?”
“We need to contact [our advisor] over this.”
“This could actually seriously impact my GPA.”
“If this lowers my GPA I am going to flip.”
“If we earn 100% on everything else for the next three weeks, there is still potential to earn an A.”
“Basically anyone who got 8.5 out of 10 on the last two assignments is screwed.”
“Well, I’m definitely not going to get an A now.”
The same repetitive, monotonous conversation continued like this for, I kid you not, 45 minutes. There was not a split second without a complaint, criticism, or overt distress. Girls were talking over each other, raising their voices, and threatening to contact greater authorities to set their grade records straight. It was mind numbing.
However, possibly the most baffling part of this colloquy was that the girls were not even in the United States of America. They were not even currently at a US university. They were at a private university called Universidad Latina – or as the locals call it “U Latina” or “la U” – smack dab in the middle of San Pedro, Costa Rica – a country regularly ranked among the happiest countries in the world.
Now, indubitably, the students at U Latina work very hard. Us Americans are studying alongside the top medical students in the country. Not a moment passes without a student in a lab coat with a notebook or piece of equipment clutched inside a carefully gloved hand. Furthermore, medical school is not easy – regardless of the country of study.
However, what the Costa Rican students do that the American students don’t seem to understand is learn.
When I asked my host brother, who studies nutrition here in Costa Rica at one of the best medical schools in all of Latin America, what the most important thing in his education was, he stated: “To learn.” When I probed the question, “Is it more important to you that you learn or that you earn good grades?”, he persisted, “That I learn.”
This is something that I have never heard an American student say. Americans do not want to learn. Americans want good grades – but they do not want to work for them. They want to call a Google Search “research.” They want to manipulate the system; find out what the teacher specifically is looking for in excruciating detail, and do just that – nothing less, but nothing more. They want to deceive professors into thinking they try hard and persuade them – however discretely or seductively – to give them the grade that they desire.
But not the grade that they earned.
I know this not only from observing my classmates for over a decade now, most of which has been in a private school system, but because I myself have been a victim of it – the “grade seduction” if you will. It is so much easier to spend your time telling a professor how hard you are working instead of actually making a concentrated effort and learning: getting a real education.
We spend more time entertaining the idea that we may eventually make an effort to do something than actually doing anything. We dance around the reality. Everything is to post a picture of or to brag and boast about. But nobody has anything to brag about any more.
It is a sad reality that in the United States, our school system does not employ us to learn, they advocate for the “A”.
It is not the knowledge that will get you into the college of your dreams in the USA, but the GPA you earn in high school. Your SAT and/or ACT scores. The “level” of class you take and number at that (possibly AP) level that you take. Will you graduate with honors? High honors? How many activities are you in? Do you lead any activities? Do you play sports? Are you captain of a sports team? Win any championships? Have you produced anything of substance? Any art? Been published? Starred in a show? Do you have the voice of an angel?
And so on and so forth.
Americans are not taught to be good at things and are not taught to enjoy things. They are taught to participate in events and programs that will look good on an résumé. Because in the end, that’s all that anyone is in the USA. An résumé: a piece of paper (or if you really “make it”, a couple of pieces of paper) describing in a brief account who you are, what you have done, and how you are “qualified.”
But what does a piece of paper matter if everything that it is shrouded in is stress and unhappiness? If you don’t actually know anything? Anything at all?
Aren’t we going about life the wrong way? Why is everything aimed to get us a good job? For money? Do we really care that much about money? So much so that we infiltrate the brains of the children and tell that all that matters is the almighty “A”? Is what university we attend the only thing that matters? Is life to “show off” – like Facebook is so inappropriately teaching us and our youth? Is life not to enjoy?
Seriously: Who cares about good grades if our minds are empty? If we are good at nothing? If we enjoy nothing? If we are unhappy – or worse: miserable?
If I can impart a bit of advice onto the students of not only the USA, but hopefully people in whichever distant locations of the world: enjoy your education. Take classes that you like. Get good at things; become talented in something that you love.
And take a chill pill, for crying out loud.
Don’t go for the A. Go for the C if you have to. Because if you learn more in a class where you received a C than you do in a class where you earned “the A”, it was vale la pena: worth it.
At the end of the day, it’s not the A’s in school that make us happy. It’s our talents. It’s the things we enjoy. It’s the things we love. It’s the A’s in life.
This is DandyLion signing off. Over and out!