The Student News Site of Palo Alto High School

The Campanile

The Campanile

The Campanile

Cultural upbringing, community expectations fuel grade anxiety

Last year, a teacher emailed my counselor concerning the troubles I’d been recently having with my performance in math. I arrived at the counselor’s office, confused as to why I was called. She started talking about my math grades and my heart sank. However, my counselor only looked confused.
“I don’t see why you got called in,” she said. “You’re a fine student.”
This was incomprehensible to me. Grades have been a constant source of stress for me and many of my peers in Paly.
Starting from freshman year, maintaining a good GPA to get into a top-tier college was drummed into my head as a neverending mantra.
My grades, a two-year-long source of shame, were far worse than anyone else I knew. Yet here my counselor was, telling me they were considered fine or even good.
The older I get, the more I notice the disconnect between the GPA many adults at Paly consider good and the GPA I consider good.
In my opinion, the discrepancy is caused by the vastly differing expectations of students who grow up like me.
Paly, located in Silicon Valley and next-door neighbor to one of the best universities in the world, is full of high achievers.
Asians make up 36% of Paly. According to the Pew Research Report, 57% of Asians in the country are first generation immigrants, which in my experience causes many of their children to grow up with similar cultural expectations as their parents from the home country.
Asian countries are generally focused on academics. College is often seen as the end-all be-all, the gateway to opportunities. In China, the only assessment to determine entry into college is called the gaokao.
The stress from the test taken at the end of high school is responsible for 93% of student suicides in the country — and those include students who haven’t even entered high school just yet.
China’s intense focus on college doesn’t just go away once the parents move to a different country. The intense focus on college success shifts to America, through a hyperfixation on GPA, SAT scores and extracurricular activities.
Many teachers in Paly emphasize that grades don’t matter. I have had several teachers tell us about their experiences getting Bs, Cs and Ds all throughout high school and ending up in a good place.
I understand that many teachers want students to feel less pressure around grades. I understand that many have done just fine while not getting an unweighted 4.0, going to an Ivy League and having an excessive amount of extracurricular activities (and I don’t doubt they had a much happier high school life while they were at it).
What I don’t think those teachers understand is the expectations that are ingrained in many kids due to upbringings.
When I fail a test, it isn’t just a sign that I need to study more and try harder, or that I really ought to stop browsing Reddit instead of studying. It’s a sign that I’m letting down the expectations my parents and peers have of me.
It’s a sign I’m letting down the people who I care about the most, and that I’m not heading towards what they believe is a good life track. It’s a sign that I failed my own expectations.
My point isn’t that the “grades don’t matter” viewpoint isn’t helpful to many students. Far from it. Many students thrive in environments where teachers emphasize learning above grades and don’t care if they do badly grade-wise.
But it’s not as clear cut for many others. For as much as I wish I could think like that, a few words cannot change the way I was brought up.

Leave a Comment
Donate to The Campanile

Your donation will support the student journalists of Palo Alto High School. Your contribution will allow us to purchase equipment and cover our annual website hosting costs.

More to Discover
About the Contributor
Lea Kwan, Staff Writer
Donate to The Campanile

Comments (0)

All The Campanile Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *