I recently had the opportunity to present at The Nantucket Project, the an- nual three-day conference held on the is- land in late September that brings together thinkers, leaders, artists, innovators, de- signers, preachers, and educators for thought provoking dialogue and engage- ment. I had approached TNP Co-founder Tom Scott last fall about speaking at the conference as I had an idea that I felt needed to be “out there.” We went back and forth over the winter - with mostly me following up with him - and he had me speak with several other members of TNP core staff. About the second week of Sep- tember, he told me that I was officially in the line-up.
A number of interesting things happened that day. When I took my place among the other presenters in the front pew at the Congregational Church, Richard Saul Wurman (who founded TedTalks) told me - very politely - that I was in the wrong place, that the front pew was reserved for presenters. I told him I was one. I think he was surprised. After my talk, he told me that “he had seen a lot of talks and mine was really well done.” As the session wrapped up, other presen- ters and members of the audience, of all ages and from all walks of life, came up to me and told me that I was absolutely right on, that they agreed 100 percent with what I had said. During the reception that evening, Abby Falik, a recognized expert on education and founder of Global Citi- zen Year, an organization which promotes a bridge year between high school and college (as it “builds self-awareness, global skills and grit”), asked me to contact her about getting my presentation distributed. It seems to me that what I said really needed to be said.
Below is the text from my talk. I wonder how many of you will think it rings true.
It seems to me, that the level of pressure and the height of expectations that are being placed upon ambitious and driven high school students who are plan- ning to attend competitive colleges has be- come too great and is beginning to have negative effects on the quality of their ed- ucation. Students like myself and many of my peers, are beginning to perceive any grade lower than an “A” to be a failure...and as a result, this ability to achieve an “A” has begun to weigh in heavily in our choice of classes. I have witnessed very intelligent students driven away from taking a challenging class they found interesting because they were not convinced that they could earn an “A.” I can very much understand why they did this.
But the ability to earn an “A” should not be the determining factor of success. It is precisely in these more challenging environments, those in which students may not be able to earn the perfect letter grade, that they will learn a lot about a subject that actually interests them, and most importantly, a lot about themselves. Struggling in a challenging class and making mistakes provides you with the opportunity to reflect on your errors and improve upon your approach. Sure, I am a young person myself, but I have to believe that this is a very valuable experience for someone like myself to go through...and be comfortable with.
By raising the bar so high for high achieving students, to a point where they perceive any grade lower than an “A” to be a failure, I think we are robbing them of these valuable experiences.Now I understand that there are some politics involved here. Higher test scores, larger AP class offerings, and the like - these things make schools look good. And to a certain extent, these things pro- vide more opportunities for students. A rigorous academic environment is a good thing. However, I think we have reached a point... a point where the pressure being placed on high achieving students is be- ginning to take away from the quality of their education.
I wanted to speak at TNP because I wanted to get these ideas in front of an audience. I’m not sure what long-term ef- fects this may have on my generation - on our generation as high school students. But I thought a good first step would be to raise awareness of the mounting pressures being placed on many of us young, ambitious students and to consider what might be lost with such a high speed, high-pressured approach.