Competition breeds success, not stressful environments

The Oracle

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By Ben Atlas:

Our school is commonly known for its academic prowess, rigorous curriculum and extraordinarily high levels of stress. This often begs the question: is the amount of anxiety over grades too high a price for academic excellence? Critics of Gunn’s supposedly competitive nature constantly assert that students aren’t happy and that Gunn has finally reached its limit—school is simply too hard. Realistically though, the scholastic environment consists of optional amounts of work and stress that allow students to achieve academic excellence and gain real-world experience.

While reputably hard classes such as Advanced Placement (AP) and honors courses do in fact breed competition, these are by no means required. A student’s schedule is only as difficult as he or she makes it; it’s not hard to just drop down lanes, take fewer AP classes and even get a few prep periods as an upperclassman. In fact, a senior’s day could involve only taking classes desirable to that specific student and leaving school at noon. In addition, the administration ensures that students are not biting off more than they can chew by forcing them to fill out AP contracts, which are forms that each student is required to complete prior to taking an AP course. This makes the student consider his or her other commitments through a focused statement on why they want to take that specific class. Course catalogs clearly point out the hours of homework a certain class requires each week. This means students really only take difficult classes if they want to; time management and planning a reasonable schedule are strongly encouraged. That being said, the common  presence of difficult and challenging courses does create competition among the aspiring academic elite.

When students strive to achieve high grades in difficult classes, it naturally follows that  our school should gain academic prowess as a whole”

When students strive to achieve high grades in difficult classes, it naturally follows that  our school should gain academic prowess as a whole. In 2011, Gunn was ranked as the 42nd best high school in the nation by Newsweek for a reason. No student truly aspires to a life of no work and no reward; most are proud of their school’s collective intellect, as illustrated by the popular “Pump our gas!” Chants at Gunn/Palo Alto High football games. Not only does our school’s competitive nature outfit students for college, but it also prepares them for what lies ahead afterwards.

The whole concept of college is essentially competing for high grades, finding job opportunities, and learning about one’s chosen subject. After Gunn’s rigorous lesson in adapting to heavy workloads, students commonly find college much easier than they otherwise would have. Students will already have been exposed to fighting for good grades, challenging themselves to take difficult classes and constantly giving their best academic performance. Even after college, the competitive style of Gunn’s atmosphere is obviously recurrent in the non-academic world as well.

The United States is founded on the principles of capitalism, and  an integral part of real-world society involves competition between businesses and  constant striving for the accumulation of capital gains. Historically, the hardest workers and most tenacious competitors rise to the top. In every conceivable occupation, professionals are forced to pit themselves against each other to not only get a quality job in the first place, but also to succeed in their field of study or practice. These conditions are similar to the presence of high-level commitment to getting a better grade, a higher grade point average and more extracurricular activities. When it comes to making it in America, toughened Gunn graduates will have a critical edge over their adversaries.

Critics of the highly competitive atmosphere misguidedly assume that students are worse off academically with increased competition. However, according to studies done by renowned psychologist Norman Triplet, people generally perform at higher standards when they have an adversary. For example, cyclists cycle far faster when competing against active opponents in races as oppose to when practicing by themselves. Therefore, the quality of Gunn students’ work is far better off because of the competitive atmosphere that is offered.

Although well-intentioned critics of Gunn’s high amount of stress are heard on campus daily, their arguments do not stand up to scrutiny. When students complain  that Chemistry Honors is too difficult, they should remember that it was their choice to enroll in it in the first place. When parents whine about their child’s overly studious habits, they should reconsider the purpose of high school: to enlighten their children and prepare them for the rest of their life. The option of a difficult curriculum is able to make Gunn an academic giant and to prepare its students for whatever path they choose to take after graduating.