When You Are No Longer Good Enough
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Politics and Activism

When You Are No Longer Good Enough

Exceptionalism At A Young Age

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When You Are No Longer Good Enough
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Remember when you were little and everyone was special. Teachers (or at least the teachers in my school district) tried their best to make every student feel that they were unique and that they should individually express themselves, but, as soon as the colorful signs of positive encouragement faded to mundane posters of the periodic table, the constant IV drip of positive reinforcement disappeared during a student's high school career.

I think back to the times where the “exceptional” or “accelerated” students were not placed in AP classes, but separate reading or math groups where the teachers constantly praised them over how smart they were. Not just the teachers though, I remember being five or six and a part of these accelerated groups and my parents would commend me over my tireless efforts of reading thirty minutes of Dr. Seuss every night. I was absolutely ecstatic over the thought that I was smarter than the other kids because I loved the attention it brought with it. Teachers would rave about me at parent-teacher night and I would always come home with the best marks on my report cards. Anyway, I am not trying to simply boast the accomplishments of a version of myself who is long gone now, rather, I want to include some backstory to further explain the complete and utter shock I, and many others would receive as we got older.

I noticed for the first time that I was not as "exceptional" as my teachers and parents constantly drilled into my brain throughout grade school in seventh grade (which for me is the first year of middle school). I was in environmental science when I received my first “C” grade which was attributed to many other factors, such as my lack of attendance in that class, however, I mostly received this score because I simply did not understand the material. This was a huge first for me as I normally was in all the accelerated classes, as I stated, and excelled in them. For the first time I could see my classmates further surpass my intelligence and I could not help but wonder: Had this always been the limit of my abilities? Was I always destined to be an exceptional student in my younger years, but an average student in my later school career?

This was a possibility that frightened me and put me into the mindset that I was a complete embarrassment to my family. I thought that my exceptionalism as a child would propel me forward in my high school career, however, this only lowered my self confidence in my abilities. I felt as if there was a standard of excellence that I was now held to and was not meeting the requirements. This, along with many other factors, is the reason that I have struggled throughout my high school career.

Now, I do not want people to look upon students like me with pity because there are an infinite amount of other causes that you could devote your time and energy to. However, I want to make it imperative that the idea of exceptionalism at a young age is a toxic force that can shape the way a child's mind develops. In fact, in 1993, the idea of enforcing good behavior by rewarding with prizes and the negative effects as a result of this practice was researched by Alfie Kohn in his article "A Case Against Gold Stars". He dubs constant praise of young children as “gold star syndrome.” He discusses how offering prizes to children to be obedient leaves adults who grew up with this practice feeling like they are owed something in the workplace while doing their job. Kohn offers alternatives to the common methods and explains how his ways have a better effect on people.

Overall, as I make my journey through the perilous jungle that is high school trying to balance an academic career and social life while still thinking about colleges, I often reflect on my time as an "exceptional". I ponder what it would be like if we still received stickers and smiley faces on tests instead of the "see me's" and "try better next times" that high school students so commonly see. Would my academic life be easier to handle, or would I find a new problem within the school system to criticize? I do not know the answer to that question. But for now I will have to live with the fact that I am not the "exceptional" student I once was. But, beside my insecurities I know that it is okay to accept yourself the way you are, and maybe one day I, and students like me, will learn how to do that.

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
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