4.0. 1600. 36. 100. 5. To any high school student, these numbers are all too familiar. 4.0: the ideal GPA. 1600 and 36: perfect scores on the SAT and ACT, respectively. 100: the highest possible grade in a class. 5: the maximum score on any given Advanced Placement exam.
As a student, when I hear these numbers, I physically cower. Maybe I cower in fear, or maybe I’m simply tired of hearing the near-constant discussions about raising my own numbers.
Either way, throughout all my years of schooling, I’ve been reduced to nothing more than a number–a concept that I refer to as the “just a number phenomena.” My fellow students and I have been pitted against each other–by teachers, by parents, by society, even by each other. Starting as early as kindergarten, we are enumerated.
Thinking back on it, it seems outrageous. How do you even manage to “grade” a kindergartner? Do teachers keep a tally of every time a 5 year old colors outside the lines? Do they measure how many naps a student manages to take per week? Do they quantify what percentage of letters in a word are written backwards?
In my kindergarten class, my teacher used a point system. At the end of the week, if you had over 25 points, you got the ideal treat for any kindergartner: a special pizza lunch and a movie. Sure, we weren’t measured in the same way that we are now as high school students. But nevertheless, we were enumerated.
From an early age, adults have drilled the idea in to our minds that these high numbers bring success. In fact, society even incentivizes higher numbers and scores. Think of the kindergarten point system example. A five year old, of course, would probably qualify a special lunch and a movie as the epitome of success. And society–or, in this case, the teacher– tells the general population that if they want to be successful or happy, they have to complete certain acts to raise their “scores”.
Clearly, the “just a number phenomena” is not exclusive to high school. This idea of quantifying a person–a human being– as nothing more than a number is deeply rooted in society, indiscriminately manifesting itself throughout all ages.
To me, the “just a number phenomena” appears most frequently in high school. Perhaps this is due to the fact that I am a high schooler, and most high schoolers are inherently self-absorbed. But it seems as though everyone — my teachers, my classmates, and even colleges– views me primarily as a number.
Sure, one may argue that it’s a teacher’s job to quantify their students. Additionally, not all teachers fall prey to the “just a number phenomena”. However, in far too many of my classes, teachers and students alike appear to value the grade more than the learning.
I cannot count the number of times that I performed well on a test or assignment, but knew deep down that I didn’t study to the degree that I should have. Even worse, I often find that I didn’t truly understand the material and simply got lucky on the test. Similarly, imagine there is a student who studies for hours upon hours, but fails a test due to pre-test jitters.
[pullquote]Even worse, I often find that I didn’t truly understand the material and simply got lucky on the test.[/pullquote]
Is a student who gets lucky on a test somehow better than the other student? In the long run, will my 95 on a psychology test really do me any good if I don’t understand the concepts behind it? Nevertheless, I am enumerated. To my fellow classmates, my teachers, and the colleges that are practically analyzing me like a cell under a microscope, that number–a 95 supposedly representing my mastery of a topic that I know I have not mastered–defines me.
Many colleges state that they look at a student’s wholistic application, meaning that they at least try to look at what else a student has to offer besides their numbers. To be frank–while I appreciate the intent–I think it’s a load of BS. I’m sure schools take an applicant’s extracurriculars activities into full consideration. But deep down, I know that no amount of community service, no amount of money fundraised for a noble cause, no number of leadership positions could make up for a low enumeration.
Maybe I’m cynical, but I truly do not believe that one of the many high-brow universities who claim that they realize their applicants are more than just numbers would accept someone with a 2.0 GPA–no matter how many other powerful attributes they might have to offer. Why? Colleges themselves have their own numbers to be concerned about.
It all comes down to the aforementioned societal perception of success; for example, a university might be deemed “successful” if their average student has an average SAT score of 1500. The “successful” universities which achieve these high numbers–much like the five year olds in the kindergarten example– are rewarded as well: strong reputations, popular demand, and lofty tuition prices. Therefore, colleges will do all they can to maintain this success, accepting applicants who will raise their own numbers and averages; it’s an endless cycle, a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Now, I’m not trying to say that all enumeration is unnecessary, or even that all enumeration is bad. And I’m definitely not suggesting that we eradicate all the numbers that define us. Instead, I merely suggest that we shift our focus to some new numbers. Maybe society should value the number of people I’ve left an impact on, or the number of lives that I’ve touched, or the number of smiles I’ve brought to someone’s face.
But then again, what do I know? I am just a high school student. After all, I’m only 17.