The Point is to Learn

In middle school, I was a fairly diligent student who did all the homework assignments well ahead of time, studied for my tests, but never concerned myself with grades. It never really mattered to me how well I did on the tests as long as I was learning, and as weird as it sounds, I enjoyed it. I never felt pressured to do well, and succeeding in my classes just came naturally. I did well in all my classes and I really believe that my foundation in middle school was strengthened because I didn’t let grades define me. My goal was to increase my knowledge, getting good grades was just the cherry on top. However, in high school, my mentality changed. Worried about getting into a good college and maintaining a perfect GPA, I cared less about the knowledge I was gaining than about the letters on my report card. School became stressful and I quickly saw that the more I concerned myself about grades, the less knowledge I retained. I limited myself to only learning material that I would be tested on, and because of this I saw myself falling behind in a lot of areas. I crammed for tests, lost my reading habits, and saw a decrease in my grades. By my senior year, I realized that the obsession with maintaining a perfect GPA had actually dragged me down. I was no longer at the top of my class, and there was nothing I could do about it. I had lost focus on the purpose of education.

After reading Louis Menand’s Live and Learn, I began to relate my mentality in high school to the three theories he proposed. I realized that the theory 1 he proposed was exactly the kind of mentality I carried in high school. Theory one suggests that to excel later on in life, students need to get good grades, which reflect students’ academic progress. It proposes that grades are a predictor of a student’s future performance; good grades represent a successful career while bad grades represent a not so successful career. Thus, it is important to prove to be better than everyone else and to stay at the top of one’s class. However, through my own experiences, I think theory 1 is too narrow-minded and limits the intellectual growth of a student. Thus, I propose three ways in which theory one fails as a predictor of one’s success and as a method of producing more qualified individuals.

Firstly, I think theory one is an extremely unfair way of judging whether someone will succeed in the future or not. Grades are not at all an accurate representation of one’s growth during college. In fact, they are an extremely small part in determining which students will do well in the future because they only factor in academic growth, not personal growth. Pure academic growth does not promise a brighter future. In fact, students who show mental and personal growth are probably more likely to excel in the future than those who just show excellent academic records.

Secondly, if students are only concerned about getting good grades in order to get a job at a good company, they will lose focus on the real purpose of college, which is to learn. It is very easy to lose purpose while competing with others to be the best. However, education is not a competition. It is about growing and if students concentrate too much on getting good grades, they may restrict themselves from growing in other ways. College has a multitude of courses to offer and one should take this opportunity to explore different areas and expand his field of knowledge.

Finally, theory 1 proposes that “education is about selection, not inclusion,” which in my opinion is a very orthodox way of thinking. In a modern society like ours where everyone is given an equal chance, this statement only takes us back to a time when opportunities were offered to only the few privileged individuals in society. Not only is this socially wrong, but it also proves to negatively affect society as a whole because it minimizes the number of educated individuals in our society.

In conclusion, I think theory 1 is impractical, unjust, and does not do a good job of predicting one’s future success. As a previous supporter of theory 1, I have had first hand experiences with the negative effects this theory causes, and therefore, strongly believe that this narrow-minded theory will not ensure the success of college students, but rather create robotic individuals with limited knowledge that only pertains to their respective field.

The Looming Terror Threat

World Trade Center: 9/11 Tribute (2012)

World Trade Center: 9/11 Tribute (2012)

Philosopher and Holocaust survivor Anges Heller, who was the recipient of the Raoul Wallenberg Medal and a speaker at the 23rd Annual Wallenberg Lecture on September 30th, spoke about how the things we experience in our lives influence our philosophies. My experience of September 11, 2001 was one of extreme confusion because at the age of eight, I was old enough to be told what had happened, yet too young to be exposed to the grim realities of terrorism. Living in New Jersey at the time of the attacks, my Mom sat in our living room watching news coverage on a plane that had hit the North Tower just after 8:45 that morning. When the cameras caught the second plane smash into the South Tower, everyone began to realize that this was not an accident. She found herself home alone, with my Dad on a business trip in California, explaining what had happened to my sister and I after picking us up from school later that day. Unable to wrap my head around the gravity of the situation, our car rounded the corner and we began to see the the smoke from the towers, as it crept through the streets of our neighborhood.

The thick smoke from the World Trade Center is carried by the wind prior to the collapse of the both towers (9/11/2001).

The thick smoke from the World Trade Center is carried by the wind prior to the collapse of the both towers (9/11/2001).

Reflecting upon 9/11 and the anger and hurt it caused millions of Americans, I cannot help but feel anxious when thinking of the current conflict in the Middle East involving the terrorist group ISIS. With the beheading of two American journalists and one British journalist, the group has now used its English-language magazine to brag about the enslavement of both women and children. Continue reading

Machiavellianism and Band Directors


Byron Center High School Marching Band, 2012

I was very involved with marching band throughout my four years of high school. For my first two years I played clarinet. At the end of my sophomore year I auditioned to be a drum major, a position that filled the next two years. Drum majors, for those who don’t know, conduct the band and act as student leaders. Marching band was very influential to me and I feel that I got a lot of leadership experience from the program.

After reading Nicolo Machiavelli’s The Prince, I started to think about what it takes to lead a large group of people. His book discusses the characteristics necessary to be a successful prince. I wondered how his ideas could be applied to my own life, even if on a very general scale. I considered if Machiavelli’s concepts could be applied to the two directors that led our 150 member marching band.

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