D3F1N3D 8Y NUM83RS: students judge selves numerically

Numbers are beginning to play a larger role in defining who people are. Education and social media are two of the most prevalent areas in which numbers have taken over. In school, grades take precedence over learning for the sake of learning, and attention from others online is understood as a reflection of public opinion.

One is the place that should be achieved in an athletic competition. Two is the kind of pencil that should be used to receive the perfect score on the ACT. Three is the number of meals that should be eaten per day in order to maintain a healthy weight. Four is the GPA that should maintained if there is to be any hope of getting into college.

These harsh numerical realities, often categorically inaccurate, are all too prevalent for the average teenager. From birth to death, we are a generation that is being identified by numbers, and the definitions don’t stop at the number four. With the increasingly competitive environment at BSM, students are boxed in by a numbers––numbers that paint only part of the portrait of their identities.

Junior Mimi Burns, a dedicated student, grapples with this constant struggle. “[Numbers] definitely affect my life because I try really hard to keep my GPA up,” Burns said.

This is how I want you to learn, so I’m going to make you do it for a grade.”

— Julia Whelan

Burns and others are compelled to conform to the social norm of number definition due in part to the typical grading structure employed in American schools. Focused on the end result––a number––students feel unable to demonstrate their true potential, and instead are focused on attaining the final grade; the emphasis is placed on results rather than the intelligence gained.

“Teachers dictate what we do and how we learn through grades. If a teacher forces us to hand in a study guide, we many not have time to make note cards, even if note cards are really a better way of learning for us, because not doing the study guide means a bad grade. Basically they’re saying, ‘This is how I want you to learn, so I’m going to make you do it for a grade,’” senior Julia Whelan said.

But contrary to the social norm, ACS Engineering Director, Mr. Timothy Jump, has a grading structure that pushes students to work smarter and strive for quality, not just to get the grade. “Engineering is about getting the ideas and if can you demonstrate knowing the ideas,” Mr. Jump said.

“You have to be pushed. You don’t get the points until you do the work. Compare engineering to a math test: getting an ‘A’ on a math test is like kicking an 80 yard field goal. You might have been able to kick one 80-yard field goal and gotten lucky on the test, but if your average is 15 yards, then you don’t really know the ideas and can’t demonstrate them on a day-to-day basis. In engineering… it’s about how well can you do out [in the real world]. And when you show your ability to demonstrate knowledge of the ideas, the grade takes care of itself,” Mr. Jump said.

While some students enroll in engineering with the notion that an ‘easy A’ can be achieved in the class, a good grade is achieved by those who want learn the concepts and who can demonstrate knowledge of them in real world situations. “Students who buy into [the engineering program] and understand it have significant success. The kids who really get into it and the way the grading works will love it,” Mr. Jump said.

Mr. Jump himself is a testament to how the quality of one’s work is more important than defining it using grades and numbers. “When I graduated high school, I got the largest scholarship of anybody in my class, and I wasn’t even in the top five percent. What set me apart was that I had a math and science portfolio that no one else could touch, and I had developed real-world products. I’ve seen a lot of [kids with] high GPAs, but they’ve only learned how to do that specific type of work.”

I think people tend to define themselves based on the number of ‘likes,’ ‘favorites,’ or followers they have. And, if a post isn’t as popular as someone anticipated, they feel self-conscious about unrelated things.”

— Avery Bather

Grades are one of a myriad of different ways in which numbers have come to define the current generation. The increasingly technological world has also played a role in defining teens via numbers in the form of social media.

With its growing prominence in today’s world, social media sites impact self esteem. Teens view online profiles as reflections of social opinion based on follower ratios and the number of ‘likes’ or favorites. Such was the case with senior Avery Bather, who was surprised to receive over 250 Facebook “likes” on her senior picture. “Getting that number of ‘likes’ on my senior pics was such a confidence boost,” Bather said.

But Bather admits that her number of “likes” was unexpected. She realizes that this type of social media attention should not be made into a defining characteristic. “I think people tend to define themselves based on the number of ‘likes,’ ‘favorites,’ or followers they have. And, if a post isn’t as popular as someone anticipated, they feel self-conscious about unrelated things,” Bather said.

Teens crave this self-esteem boost triggered by popularity on social media sites. “I think that once teenagers get used to getting a certain number of ‘likes’ on pictures, they just keep trying to get more and more and almost get addicted to it,” Bather said.

Students are desperate to feed their obsession by ensuring that their posts are popular. “People always seem to crave followers and ‘likes,’ and it feels like they do anything to keep their [online] status high,” senior Lauren Lindahl said.

Disappointing tales of lost followers and unmet “like” goals have set a new trend in place. People feel offended and embarrassed if posts don’t reach popularity expectations. “To be honest I would delete something if I didn’t get enough ‘favorites’ or ‘likes.’ I’ll notice if I lose a follower, or I’ll use the ‘who unfollowed me’ website, only because then I’ll unfollow them,” Burns said.

While GPA and “likes” on social media play a major role in the lives of today’s teens, it would behoove our generation to take a closer look at the way we are defined by numbers and the consequences this can have on our future. Numbers are only one part of the greater sum, and as such, should not be the defining characteristic. Unfortunately, this new reality may be here to stay––for better, or worse.