Education’s Superiority Complex

The push for academic superiority can lead to low self-esteem and, therefore, must be resisted.


photo by D. Crickets

North Allegheny’s pressure for success leaves many students overworked and stressed.

Mia Dudek, Staff Writer

From a young age, students at North Allegheny are taught the importance of hard work and high grades. The schools drill academic competitiveness into students’ heads, setting up unrealistic expectations for many of us as we proceed through our academic careers.

As students, we are constantly reminded of our school district’s well-respected reputation of strong standardized test scores, GPAs, and successful alumni, who often go on to attend prestigious universities. This success, however, comes at a cost. The environment created by North Allegheny convinces students that their success is achieved by maintaining good grades and high test scores.

Like many of my peers, I too have fallen under the impression that my grades determine my intelligence and self-worth during certain times in my life. When I was in first grade, I struggled with subjects like math and reading. My parents and teacher made the decision to hold me back a year to catch up academically. Getting held back was the best choice to help improve my learning at the time, but it also came with consequences.

I was viewed as “dumb” by many of my peers for years. It still bothers me to see how young the stigma is brought on after experiencing it myself. I was never in any gifted programs in elementary school. I was in the Title 1 program, speech and was always obtaining individual help.

Those in the gifted program were taught from a young age that they were more advanced than students like me. The kids in GOAL seemed to hold that over my head and would constantly remind me of my weaknesses. Behavior like this has followed me throughout my time at North Allegheny, and I have continued to feel this pressure, even in high school.

Once I got to middle school, I started to notice this effect on more and more students. As the beginning of high school drew nearer, everything became competitive. Students in eighth grade would work even harder than usual to be recommended for Honors courses come freshman year, thinking it would prove their intelligence and further their chances for college readiness.

I didn’t truly know the impact of this pressure, however, until I entered high school. Here, it’s more than just school—it’s self-confidence. I regularly see kids crying over one bad grade, and they’ll say things like “looks like I’ll be going to CCAC,” or “I’m so stupid.” So many kids are stuck believing that obtaining the highest grades, taking the most challenging AP classes, and having a 4.0 GPA or over is what makes one intelligent. The kids who do achieve these accomplishments are taught that they’re better than others.

It’s become a confidence booster to these students to find out that their classmates struggle more than they do academically. It’s an evil belief that was taught to us at such a vulnerable age. Students who try their hardest but can’t maintain the highest grades are the ones who are truly affected. These types of kids are looked down on by their peers. They believe they are less than their peers. I know this because I was in classes for a long time with many students like this. I used to be one. 

Self-esteem and intelligence are not all about grades. The North Allegheny students who put themselves onto a pedestal may end up with mediocrity in the workforce due to a number of factors. Intelligence is so much more than how well one does in high school—an employer is never going to ask someone how well they did on their AP Physics test in 11th grade. As adults, there are other factors to consider, such as trade careers, personality, work ethic, the ability to work as team members, and attitude—all of which cannot be learned between the pages of a book or on a test. Yet as young children, that is what our district and society have brainwashed us to believe.

As someone who has lived through these experiences, the number one thing we have to do is ignore the stigma, no matter how hard it may be. North Allegheny puts so much pressure on their students to be the best, and it does more harm than good. It creates a toxic learning environment from an early age.

There is so much more to a student than their grades. Every human being is different, so be the best you can, and in the end, life always seems to work out the way it’s meant to be.