Reforms needed in student approach towards laning process


Nested in the heart of Silicon Valley, Gunn has taken on the intellectual pressures that come with its ambitious surroundings. In this type of community, students feel obligated to match the level of success they see around them. A common product of this pressure is students’ unjustified enrollment in a subject’s most difficult lane simply to increase their academic rigor. At times, this rather blind outlook becomes a part of the culture—whether in peer groups or at home—and students begin to sacrifice other (yet equally important) parts of their life. In many cases, the sole goal of one’s high school career becomes getting accepted into the most prestigious colleges, creating an unhealthy mental environment for other students as well.

A fundamental aspect of the academic rigor discussion lies in laning, the concept of breaking a subject into classes of varying difficulties. For instance, 10th grade chemistry is divided into an honors lane and a regular lane, and 11th grade history has an Advanced Placement (AP) class and a regular class. For math, the divisions become even more complicated: some students have tested out of over two years in math, while others may be falling back a year or two. Although opinions differ on the exact formula for laning, laning should not take on the blame of academic tension; changing Gunn’s laning system would be an ineffective way to address Silicon Valley’s stress culture. The problem must be addressed at its root, rather than by denying students of an opportunity to customize their education. If lanes are removed through de-laning, there wouldn’t be enough opportunities for high-achieving students, as they would be put in classrooms with students who are less interested in the subject. Moreover, standardizing education by the removal of lanes prevents students from customizing their rigor and finding a schedule that caters to their interests.

To be sure, increasing the number of lanes could also increase stress levels for those who feel pressured to take the most difficult classes—but this isn’t necessarily a fault of the system. Students who believe it is normal, or are encouraged, to replace non-scholastic time with hours of schoolwork for the sake of looking impressive on paper are not in a healthy environment. If Gunn condones this mindset, it deters its mission of fostering a community of creative thinkers with rewarding lives. In addition, there are students who take rigorous classes with a personal interest in the material, and there should always be lanes readily available to them. Thus, a solution to balancing the two perspectives comes with preserving the structure and shifting the culture around lanes rather than removing them.

To start, students shouldn’t feel the need to take difficult classes because of parental or peer pressure; rather, they should be able to pursue what they truly enjoy without stigmatization from others. Not only will this create a more collaborative environment, but it will also allow students to appreciate differing interests. Such a solution would need to start at home, though. Parents should encourage students to excel at their interests and not force them to simply take the hardest possible classes offered.

Of course, changing the culture at home isn’t within the school’s control, and a closer stepping stone may be adjusting the community’s definition of rigor. By gradually replacing homework with more innovative ways of enrichment, Gunn would allow more students to take higher-lane classes and ease the load off students who feel pressured. This type of solution may take form in increasing the number of discussion-based classes and project-driven assessments so that students don’t feel buried in mundane work. After all, there is a fine line between healthy stress and harmful stress. Healthy stress pushes individuals to become stronger, while harmful stress can have lasting negative effects, according to research by Stanford University Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences Dr. Firdaus Dhabhar. Finding a healthy equilibrium between thoughtful rigor and an open curriculum may prove to be the right trajectory.

Before changing the laning system, it is important to consider how each group in Gunn’s diverse student body may be affected. In education, there is rarely a one-size-fits-all approach that works, so collecting data and having a fluid model would be key to effecting changes. It is also important to note that this issue isn’t just specific to Gunn; an adjustment in culture and teaching style will not be simple, but a progressive movement like it can provide long-term benefits to current and future students.