I have only lived through the educational system one time, and that has just been through my personal experience going to school as an only child. However, relating back directly to social psychology, it is interesting to observe different motivational drives and ambition (or lack of) that different friends in my friend group had compared to one another.
Specifically, one of my best friends growing up was known to be very intelligent. She seemed to study very hard for any exam or quiz; similarly, always getting phenomenal grades. Even when she wasn’t studying as much as other friends of hers would, she still would achieve some of the highest grades in her class. A vivid memory I have of her is when we both were in the 3rd grade, had just received our scores from the spelling exam the week prior, and she was crying next to the side of our classroom outside. I ran up to her and asked her what the matter was, and she refused to tell me what was going on. I begged her to let me know why she was so upset, and she simply handed me back her graded spelling exam – she received a 17/20. I asked her why that upset her, as a B was a good grade and something to be excited about. She was sobbing so much that she could barely breathe, and she said it was one of the worst grades she had ever received. This situation seemed to greatly devalue my friend’s academic self-concept. Meaning, her views on her own success and abilities seemed to be threatened, hurt or somehow misaligned from how she previously viewed herself (Schneider & Gruman, 2012). Her self-confidence and self-esteem had been substantially depleted because of her results; amplifying the pressure she felt to do better on her next go around. In that moment, I wondered why she put so much pressure on herself to achieve flawless grades. As time continued, her behavior relating to schoolwork stayed similar. She always had about a 3.90 GPA, and went on to attend UC Berkeley and received a B.S. in Anthropology. Though we grew up four streets away from each other and attended identical elementary schools, middle schools, and high schools, our “social norms” or expectations were surprisingly very different.
This reminds me of the theory of planned behavior, drawing back to influences from (a) personal attitudes, (b) subjective norms and (c) a person’s intentions to behave in a certain fashion. My friend had adhered to having attitudes that required flawless grades, participation, and attendance (and were even present in elementary school). Though subjective norms are typically looked at on a more collective scale, I think that familial contributions would fall into this category. The pressure that my friend faced to do well in school, since both of her brothers suffered from learning disabilities, more than likely amplified the pressure she felt to succeed and live up to the dreams her mother had wanted for her.
It’s interesting to see how much of someone’s self-concept and self-esteem is composed of educational background and academic success. In our society, and as many people state, “a bachelor’s degree is the new high school diploma,” and “a master’s degree is the new bachelor’s degree.” Meaning, the pressures many face to succeed and do well have become increasingly high, with educational fundamentals that have sometimes decreased substantially. This is because, as some have theorized, the public school system has deprecated in value so much that special education (gaining a bachelor’s degree, master’s degree, and so fourth) is the only way to meet the needs and demands of employers these days (Farrington, 2014). The real world pressures that attaining good grades, gaining acceptance into highly ranked schools, and relative job-experience are at an all time high. If someone lacks the means to deliver on any of these fronts (by not having enough money, time, or other obligations), their quality of life could drop for reasons they haven’t even contributed to. This can lead to further issues of self-handicapping, and essentially finding more reasons to tell oneself that they are already “not good enough” or ill-equipped to manage the current circumstances (Schneider & Gruman, 2012).
Though it’s much easier said than done, I think that the major lessons I have learned from academia is the power that academia has in and of itself. I think that children, adolescents, and young adults should all be taught to (as part of course requirements) keep a manageable outlook on who they are aside from what any profession or occupation would require them to be. School should teach more than just what it takes to get a job, but how to also build confidence and give praise in kids being themselves and prioritizing being themselves over the perfect employee for a job prospect. As also understood from this week’s lessons, the power that compassionate, driven and aware teachers have on helping children access themselves and nurture their talents makes all the difference.
Farrington, R. (2014, September 29). A College Degree Is The New High School Diploma. In www.forbes.com. Retrieved March 24, 2017.
Schneider, F. W., Gruman, J. A., & Coutts, L. M. (Eds.). (2012). Applied Social Psychology (Second ed., pp. 209-215). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.