Pushed versus motivated: standards of academic success demotivate students

[We’re] making sure that what we are teaching has relevance or can be relevant to our students because if students don’t see why they need to learn this or how it connects to their life, then they will become bored or tune out.

— FUHSD superintendent Polly Bove

Although our teachers try hard to make essays and formulas more exciting, if you listen closely, you can still hear the echo of the student body bouncing around in the hallways: “Why exactly do we need to know this?”

According to Valerie Strauss from the Washington Post, if you carefully search through your long-term memory, you might find answers such as, “math teaches you how to think” and “those who don’t remember history are doomed to repeat it.” Still, there seems to be no direct explanation as to how trading hundreds of hours of sleep, energy and free time for the ability to remember five different methods of solving quadratics, for about three years, unless you are majoring in math, is rewarding. 

It is natural for many students to give up. Even the brightest spark of desire to understand the philosophical conflicts of the french revolution will fade soon after spending 18 hours a week reading and annotating primary sources. 

Unfortunately, even if some teachers manage to successfully strip the seductive ideas and concepts of each subject from an engulfing mass of busy work, they are often strained by the time restrictions of each course. High school students are subjected to an overpowering stream of information, depriving each student of their individual right to savor the knowledge they have been given.

Finding a comfortable pace is crucial for each student to enjoy the learning process, according to Sarah Vander Schaaff in her article about learning strategies. This however, is often disregarded by the system, which indirectly pressures its students to challenge themselves by taking harder courses. 

While very positive in some aspects, Homestead’s standards of “academic success” are highly exclusive to a wide range of students. Many students who might have been motivated or interested in a certain challenging class find themselves struggling because of the misrepresentation of the work load or expectations for the class itself previously provided by the school. 

The pressure of Silicon Valley’s highly competitive environment is toxic, and should be carefully filtered to produce a productive yet nurturing atmosphere for the vulnerable desire for knowledge of our high school students.