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Perfection Versus Passion: What’s the Purpose?

As students, musicians, and athletes, we do a lot of things to reach a final goal that is usually defined by others. In this piece, NAEye explores what we value and how we measure success.

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Perfection Versus Passion: What’s the Purpose?

The awards are plentiful at NA, but we ask: at what cost?

The awards are plentiful at NA, but we ask: at what cost?

Sydney Frencho

The awards are plentiful at NA, but we ask: at what cost?

Sydney Frencho

Sydney Frencho

The awards are plentiful at NA, but we ask: at what cost?

By Kristen Kinzler, North Allegheny Intermediate High School

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It’s the last period of the school day. It’s obvious that every student is tired, bored, and ready to go home. They all slug into the room that’s lit by obnoxious, white fluorescent lights and trudge over to their desks, where they pull out their computers, hear their teacher disinterestedly mumble a short set of instructions, and head to Blackboard to complete yet another assignment. Of course, it has to be a powerful learning tool if its online and has a fancy, state of the art website, right?

Across the school, students walk into a classroom that has its desks arranged in a large circle. The bell rings, and the normal dread ades as books are open– real, paper books– and a lively discussion starts up. It’s engaging and compelling. It’s the kind of classroom that actually encourages learning and independent thinking.

Clearly, there’s a large difference between the environment of these two classrooms, and one will most likely prove to be a more effective school climate. But there’s a catch. The first one, with its computers and frilly algorithms, is probably the class getting praised, while the second is told it needs to modernize and catch up.

Let’s move to another instance.

In one orchestra class, students walk in and sit down only to rehearse the same piece over and over again. They work to make it perfect for the concert and memorize it flawlessly. It is repeated over and over in order to become impeccable and an ideal piece to play in front of all the other staff members and parents. Maybe it wasn’t the best classroom experience, but they performed well for that one night. They impressed the parents. They won an award at the adjudication. They got their credit, and while that may be important and a cause for celebration, is it worth possibly compromising the learning process?

In another class later in the day, taught by a different teacher, students are met with a different atmosphere. They warm up with a tune that forces them to play differently. They get to musically explore a whole new concept. Then, sure, they may practice a concert song, but not to the point where their brain goes numb, because afterward, they get to try something new again. It’s a more open environment, one that allows students to discover what they like and push themselves in their art. At the concert, they’ll still sound great because of the passion they pour into the song, but it may not be flawless. They may get a few more points off at the adjudication. Maybe they’ll miss a note at the performance. But they’ll have had a better understanding of and appreciation for their music.

Again, there’s an obvious, huge contrast, and one could probably guess what class students would enjoy more. However, in the eyes of the school board and the parents, the orchestra with the perfect score and the flawless concert and the dispassionate playing would be regarded as better.

What do we lose in the blind pursuit of a perfect score? What’s the purpose?”

That’s an issue– an issue that exists in the classroom, in the arts, and in sports. It exists in everything we do. But in a sad, despondent kind of way, it makes sense based on who we, as a society, are.

Because after all, our society loves the gratification that comes from a good final result. We love finishing in first place and all the awards and titles that come with it. We love being praised for being innovative with technology use in the classroom, and we love hearing the booming applause of the crowd at the end of a performance.

That’s all fine. We should take pride in our work. However, at what cost do we achieve this final result? What do we lose in the blind pursuit of a perfect score? Are we doing it for ourselves or for the approval of others? Most importantly, what’s the purpose?

There are many layers to these questions– especially in our schools. There may not even be clear answers, but they’re questions certainly worth exploring.

The first layer is prevalent in the classroom. An example can be seen when a student is handed a packet worth some trivial amount of points while their teacher is discussing a lesson. No matter how interesting the teacher is, no matter what life lessons he or she is sharing, and no matter what vital education is being spread, most kids will still always be focused on the packet.

Because the packet that gets them the grade. The packet that has no human connection and provides a minimal educational experience. All because the packet is what’s going to help them get that A on their transcript.

But is the packet always going to beat the teacher? Should it?

Doing well in school and getting the grades are important, too. But since when did doing well and getting A’s become synonymous? If a student is actively ignoring mind-blowing lessons for some points, then it’s not really education at all. 

Because the packet that gets them the grade. The packet that has no human connection and provides a minimal educational experience. All because the packet is what’s going to help them get that A on their transcript.”

Referring back to the technology example brings another issue.

While teachers and administrators may get praised for being so “on top of the ball” and “modern” with their brand new technology, it’s not always beneficial to the actual kids. 

All of the electronics used in classrooms emit a high energy bright blue wavelength. Overexposure to this light is shown to cause eyestrain. It also interrupts sleep patterns and circadian rhythms. So, those laptops we use in almost every class? Potentially damaging. That studying many students do late into the night on their electronics? Messing up their sleep schedules.

That technology also limits human interaction– a vital part of school. More computers mean less face-to-face lesson time, less discussion, and less applicational learning. Answering questions on a computer, where the algorithm will only accept so many answers, discourages students from thinking outside the box. Sure, a math problem may only have one solution, but analyzing a character in English class can go in a million directions. Talking and discussing these things allows for a higher level of understanding that Blackboard simply cannot offer.

The human connection between teachers and peers also lets young adults form new opinions and ideas. Many kids in high school are just figuring out who they are and want to explore their point of view. They want to broaden their horizons. Discussions, collaboration, and listening to different views and concepts let them do just that. Computers don’t.

Technology can be beneficial in many ways. However, if we keep it in every single aspect of education, it becomes standard and potentially damaging.

But hey, as long as our schools being glorified for our tech and the millions of dollars we’re spending on it, it’s all good… right?

Standardized tests heavily influence school systems’ motivations as well. In 2015, 64% of students and parents said schools focus too much on standardized tests results.  They want to get the highest scores so they rank the highest. So they can get the awards. Because, they, like everybody else, love the final result of being on top, and will do whatever they can to get there.

If the school is so caught up in their own competitive chase, kids are compelled to care about that as well. They’re convinced that as long as they get a good score on the PSSA, then they’re getting a good education, and they’re told that if they can’t get in that top percentile, they’re not good enough. It’s a vicious cycle.

Another aspect of the problem is in our music and sports programs. Our music programs often focus too much on performances, adjudications, and impressing the parents. But how often do we stop to think about how enjoyable the music is? How inspiring it can be? Maybe it’s cheesy, or maybe it’s something that can transform a class into a passion.

Sports are based on winning. That’s why we play and watch them. Winning is especially prevalent and idolized in a school district like North Allegheny, but in the end, we should also be focusing on establishing a sense of determination and teamwork. I’m sure those traits are learned on the road to championships, too, but what about when a team loses every game? Are those values still being enforced and valued, despite the final score? Some kids have been lucky enough to have coaches and teammates who know that it’s not all about that and support them despite losses. Sometimes, more can be learned from losing than from winning. But I can’t help to wonder if other kids have been so fortunate, or if they’ve been screamed at for not pulling off the win.

To be clear, this is not an editorial towards individual drive or competition. Rather, it’s a statement against our school systems –not even our own–, our organizations, and against the standards shoved down our throats. It’s a calling out of the brainwashing we’ve undergone our entire lives that have led us to hold the final result on a pedestal. Because it impacts our everyday lives. It impacts our stress levels and our happiness and what we hold close to heart.

In the end, we all can get competitive. We can all get caught up in chasing the final result, and we can all become obsessed over an award or a title. I’m not proposing we stop and smell the roses or something. I am personally way too ambitious for that. It’s not always bad to love the success.

It impacts our stress levels and our happiness and what we hold close to heart.”

However, maybe recognizing our true motives and attempting to shift our mindset could help us be a little better. Maybe, if we took our eyes off of the prize for just a second— if we defied what everyone has always told us for a moment— we could have a more accurate idea of what our passions are and of what makes our heart race. We could then use that knowledge to jump into new endeavors or to enjoy our current adventures even more. To push ourselves. To pursue what truly inspires us. To light a spark within ourselves that makes everything shine a little brighter.

And maybe that’s the purpose, after all.

Disclaimer: The observations made in this article are not all based on the author’s personal experience and are not directed towards any staff member or class setting. It’s simply a generalization made on all the efforts made to uphold appearances and achieve a perfect final result.

This story was originally published on NA Eye on January 28, 2019.

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