Don't Sacrifice Creativity, Learning, for Grades

Mar 2, 2018

High school; the golden years, the time of our lives, the glory days. These all describe high school as the best years of our lives. For 6 hours a day, 5 days a week, we inhabit school buildings and attempt to follow the curriculum of math, science, English and history all while attempting to learn things more important to our growing selves.

Endless nights are spent with noses buried in books just trying to reach Friday night, when a football or basketball game will be spent with friends as a stress reliever. However, is this cycle of stress and relief of memorizing and tests during the week minimizing creativity and life during the weekends? Is the want for perfection a self-given goal or is it the pressure of our parents and teachers that drives us? What does high school really teach our youth?

I interviewed some students in my English and Latin classes, and one thing that was completely agreed on, no matter who was asked, was that high school teaches social skills extremely well and extremely fast. There is an acknowledged increase in confidence from middle school to high school, which plays a huge part in becoming more comfortable around people.

As soon as the doors to high school open, there is an array of clubs, sports, organizations and countless other things that give a sense of belonging to growing up. Asking questions in class, going to teachers for help, making new friends with strangers in a new class, are all outcomes of being content with surroundings.

A 2017 study led by Chris Segrin at the University of Arizona says that poor social skills are linked to stress, loneliness and poor mental and physical health, like risk of smoking, obesity and depression. The fact that according to the 2014 census, 57 percent of children between ages 6 and 17 participate in at least one extracurricular activity proves that school, although seen as a prison by some, helps develop skills needed to function in the outside world. Through trial and error, teenagers learn how to find good relationships, differentiating between positive and toxic.

Sarah Drury, a health teacher at Gorham High School, says that there is not a specific unit about healthy relationships, but it is a concept in everything she teaches. Focuses include analyzing healthy and unhealthy behaviors, how surrounding community and culture effect health, and how to have good communication and negotiation skills.

YAAP, the Young Adult Abuse Prevention program, which is a part of the Family Crisis Services, the domestic violence prevention organization in Portland, visits schools and does a presentation called “Jake and Caroline.” The presentation shows the progression of abusive behavior and discusses how to avoid it and talk about it.

Drury also says “adolescents are vulnerable to making poor choices . . . a lot of lessons are learned from experience.” Although lessons about drugs and alcohol are taught, sometimes it takes experience to determine where individuals will go. Finding an authentic group of people to be around gives belonging and good times to all members included. It is with those people that we navigate high school and use it as a foundation to go into the world.

Increase of confidence combined with a strong sense of belonging makes the “golden years” stereotype we have all come to know and love. High school students are known for loving to let loose, but with increasingly packed schedules and homework on the rise, we are being taught destructive lessons.

At a TED talk in 2006, Ken Robinson discussed how creativity is being suppressed in education. “Our education system has mined our minds in the way that we strip-mine the earth: for a particular commodity. And for the future, it won’t serve us. We have to rethink the fundamental principles on which we’re educating our children.”

School has become a highly competitive time filler that determines how our lives will unfold. Schedules are packed with extra-curricular activities and sports, leaving little time for the school work we are being judged upon. One in 4 high school students have a job, 6 out of 10 do extra-curricular activities, and 55.5 of all students participate in sports. The drive to do well with small amounts of time can lead to dire measures. Extremely late nights are the norm, you learn how to function with no sleep on a regular basis using caffeine and Dayquil. You learn to skip breakfast for more homework time and cramming before a test because the night before was to jam packed.  You learn how to sneak looks at a neighbors test for when cramming does not work.

Neil deGrasse Tyson said “When students cheat on exams it’s because our school system values grades more then students value learning.” Most students agree with that; sometimes it is better to write what you think the teacher wants to hear or not sleep just to get the perfect grades to satisfy expectations.

When asked about creativity in school, Meghan Reidy, a sophomore at Gorham High, said, “I try to think back to my freshman year and I can’t remember anything. . .There’s creative people and it’s more difficult to do creative things because you’re so focused on other stuff.”

High school may be the foundation for our future, but our future shouldn’t be drained of creativity and life before it even starts.

In his TED talk, Robinson also said, “Picasso once said this: he said that all children are born artists. The problem is to remain an artist as we grow up. I believe this passionately, that we don’t grow into creativity, we grow out of it. Or rather, we get educated out of it.”

High school is the time to learn how to act in the “real world.” We start and grow friendships, finding the ones that work and discarding the ones that don’t for a chance that we’ll never experience them again. It’s a time to let loose before sitting behind a desk for the rest of our lives, or maybe, it could be the precursor to a lifetime of jubilation.

Maybe if the stigma around being mistaken was removed, the imagination that once filled our kindergarten classrooms could follow us in our lives. High school should not be teaching us how to cheat to stay ahead, or that it can be better to not waste our opinion if it costs us a grade. We, students, should learn that our minds are the gateway to a world of possibility.

Lydia Valentine is a student at Gorham High School, and is a regular contributor to Raise Your Voice.