Useless Competition at SLS

St. Luke’s is going through an identity crisis. As the acceptance rate drops and the pressure placed on students rises, we need to ask ourselves what kind of school we want to be. On one hand we aspire for all students to succeed and reach their full potentials— the demanding workload and accompanying stress are necessary evils in the pursuit of intellectual improvement.

However, if we overload the students and push them too hard, we risk losing one of the biggest draws to the school: the warm atmosphere. One of the key factors in why students and faculty members choose St. Luke’s over surrounding independent schools and boarding schools is the community. St. Luke’s aims to be a place where students work hard, not to be better than one another but to be better than they once were. Importance is placed not who scores the best on a test, but rather whether or not everyone studies and understands the material, and if not then what can be done to achieve full comprehension. We are not trying to be like Exeter or Hopkins, and frankly we don’t want to be — stress and competitiveness are toxic to type of community we’re trying to build. However, many people feel that we’ve been straying from our goal of personal motivation in pursuit of learning, and have instead been focusing too much on grades, scores, and of course awards.

Before writing this article, the Sentinel staff and I polled 126 members of the St. Luke’s community, asking them to share their views anonymously on the atmosphere of the school. When asked to rate on a scale of one to four how competitive students are with one another, 76% of students submitted a three or a four. Furthermore, over two thirds of respondees said that competitiveness is detrimental to the atmosphere of the school. When we work so hard to create a warm and caring community, why do people still feel so much pressure to outshine their peers? And what can we do as a school to live up to our values of cooperation in the pursuit of learning?

One step that I believe we need to take is to eliminate the Academic Awards Ceremony. The event was created with good intentions: to honor the hard work and dedication of students who have excelled during the year. However, for the majority of students who don’t receive awards, it becomes a cruel and painfully long exhibition that says little more than “you’re not good enough.” I don’t want to belittle any award winners, and I’m sure they’re almost always deserving of the praise they receive, but there is no reason to subject the entire student body to a public comparison of who is a “winner” and who is a “loser.” Any student who gets an award has surely received recognition for their hard work by the way of grades, teacher comments, and course recommendations. The types of students we try to craft at SLS aren’t always necessarily naturally gifted, but work hard to understand the material and are proud of their work— these are the students who feel discouraged by the ceremony.

Kids are more stressed than ever, as the obsession over grades and colleges gets more intense every year. Steps have been made to decrease the competitiveness between students, such as no longer posting the honor roll in public and the broadening of awards to include non-honor classes. Nevertheless, students still feel the pressure to outwork their classmates as if school is a contest to be won. The awards ceremony unnecessarily feeds in to this dynamic, and creates more competition than we need. We try to maintain a warm and cooperative community at the school, in which we are all working towards the communal goal of learning and knowledge. I believe we should try to preserve that atmosphere, as it is what separates us from other schools and makes St. Luke’s such a special place.

–Henry Vehslage, Editor in Cheif

Posted by on May 27, 2015. Filed under School News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry