I remember when I began to realize that academic achievements, while personal, are still comparative. I was in middle school, where I was not actually given letter grades. Regardless, I could tell if I got more math problems right than my neighbor or if I understood my book better than they did. As much as my school tried to decrease these comparative pressures, I still found a way to do such.
On the EOGs, your percentile rank is based upon how well you did in comparison to the rest of North Carolinians in your same grade. You are ranked against everyone else, not necessarily given a numerical value showing your specific successes.
Then there is the SAT and the ACT. Sure, you think you did well on the standardized college admission test, but when you hear that your best friend got 200 or 2 points higher than you did, your self-confidence begins to waver. College admissions are based 100% on who is better than whom. Comparisons are constantly being made, based on test scores, GPA, class rank or personal essay questions. This has created an educational atmosphere that works to bring others down not raise each other up.
I continuously find myself falling victim to this culture. When I get an A on a paper, it is not enough to be happy with my success, I have to try and compare it to my peers. If everyone else gets an A, then what is mine even worth? For me, it isn't enough to succeed. I have to succeed while others fail. While I can admit that this is a terrible flaw, it is something that isn't uncommon.
Colleges become prestigious by only accepting a small percentage of students. If everyone can make it into Harvard, would it really be Harvard anymore?
But this is a huge underlying issue in modern education. This leads to resentment toward those whom succeed and guilt for those who over achieve. To this day, I find it difficult to be truly proud of a good test when my friend next to me did not do as well. I feel guilty and the need to be vague when people ask how I did on a test because I don't want to share that I did well. I actually feel more comfortable saying I did not do well. There is an underlying feeling that others will constantly resent me for my own success.
In reality, my thoughts, which I am sure are shared by many, have some merit. I find myself annoyed with my peers who are constantly answering questions and doing well because I just see them as show offs. There is this delicate balance that is hard to reach between under and overachiever. But in a world where perfectionism is instilled at a young age, most aren't satisfied with just being average.
It all circles back to the environment that current teens are being put through. Parents these days share that there wasn't nearly as much educational stress on them as there is on us. It seems as though more pressure is added as time progresses. More school systems need to reiterate the importance of being happy with one's best work, even if someone else's best work is "better" in some situations.