By ARLEENE MEJIA

From the start of our school careers, we are defined by numbers – numbers that define our learning process and career pathways. The school system ignores the fact that students all learn and progress in different ways, and this results in a fear of inferiority and indecisiveness for the future.

Rooting from elementary school, we are forced to worry about our reading levels in comparison to our classmates. This fear was only perpetuated by a toxic reward system. If we got above average, we would get rewarded with acknowledgment and special privileges, but those who develop slower than the rest are left with the fear that they aren’t good enough. We are then consumed by the unquenchable desire of being praised and superior.

As teenagers, we start to realize that the school system fails to uphold its intended purpose – to educate and promote academic prosperity. People make mistakes and we all have a voice and opinions that we express differently, but despite our realization of the toxicity of the school system, we comfort to its standards as a result of the fear of inferiority installed in us from childhood. We were all deceived by movies and books that told us that these four years are a safe haven to express ourselves and discover who we are. We have lost sight of who we want to become because we are bombarded with the ideas of “if we take certain classes, we will be accepted into a prestigious college and live a successful life.” We are wired to believe that taking AP classes make us inherently more intelligent than our classmates.

In attempts to mask our fear of mediocracy, we take AP classes we find no joy in, do community service for more hours than we sleep, and stress about tests we’ll forget about the following week. School systems feed us these ideas without consciously knowing that these necessities are stressing us more than encouraging us to be successful. They praise the academically superior students, leaving the struggling students to ask, “What about me?” They rank us based on our extracurriculars, our G.P.A, and our class rank. What comes naturally to one may be another’s struggle. Despite this, academically achieving students are the only ones who receive praise for their “best.”

Connie Matthiessen, a Washington Post author, finds that one of the main factors leading to college dropouts is the lack of counseling. High school rarely provides sufficient guidance for life beyond receiving a diploma. We are pressured to the point where we aren’t sure if it’ll be worth it at the end. The school systems fail to see what is truly best for our individual needs. However, we need not abide by their ruthless expectations. We have the ability to flourish and blossom without being restricted to academic conformity.