I went to a high school graduation last night. My sister had finally completed her four years of mind numbing torture, and it was time to celebrate. Now, I've never been a fan of graduations, but the speeches are usually hilarious. Whether it's the valedictorian talking about plans for future world domination, or the student body president thinking anyone cares, a good laugh can always be had. But this time, the principle of the school said something that shocked me. He was proud that a couple of students had managed to graduate in only three years and that more students would be able to do this in the future. On top of that, 60 people managed to have greater than a 4.0 grade point average. I thought about this, and then I cried a little.
I remember high school. I don't fantasize about it. It was a shithole, and like everyone else, I hated it. A lot. And while it is every student's dream to leave high school as soon as possible, people forget what that really means. It means one year less before you have to grow up, one year less to spend with your friends, and an extra year's worth of homework that needs to be done. I don't see how any of those are good things.
Once you get out of high school, your parents no longer have to take care of you. You are officially an adult. That means you need to find a job or get in debt with student loans. It means you can longer do crazy and stupid things without repercussion. Most importantly, it means everything you do affects the rest of your life.
The social aspect of lower education is arguably it's greatest purpose, and reducing that is counterproductive to future societal growth. Learning how to interact with others is a necessary skill for business success and emotional health. Life is pretty depressing without friends. But, as you get into college, social isolation becomes more prevalent. I remember waiting for a class to start and not one person was talking to anyone else. They were all too consumed with their phones or MP3 players. I can't help but wonder if these people had high GPAs and spent so much time with homework that they never learned the importance of forging friendships.
Of course, the worst thing is the extra homework. Advanced placement classes are killer. I, myself, remember staying up until I passed out doing homework and then waking up early to finish it. I wasn't a straight A student, and I still didn't have a social life. I can only imagine the stress levels of a teen with 30% more homework to do each year. With so much focus on competition and good grades, it's no wonder people end up stressed for life. They never have enough time to find the hobbies that would help them relax.
So, dear readers, here is my valedictorian speech. The purpose of high school is not to get you into a good college. It is not for you to study all day and night. It is not for you to learn to compete against your peers. The purpose of high school is to learn about yourself, to enjoy the friendships that you make, and to cherish the last moments of free time you have before you enter the real world. Getting into a good college might help you get a good job in the future, but that's really worthless if you don't know how to make the most of life. By stressing grades over life lessons, the education system not only fails us, but continues to devalue the only worth it has.