I’ve always found it unfathomably ironic that one of the first skills you learn turns into perhaps the single most toxic thing in some individual’s lives. No different from any other child in the world, I was taught at an early age the simple skill of counting to ten. However, I never would’ve imagined the extent to which these numbers could affect me. I quickly became aware of how numbers were incorporated into many aspects of my life. It’s almost as if everywhere I turn, a number is there to determine my worth. The problem isn’t with the numbers themselves, but instead what they represent.
School is merely the tip of the iceberg. Children are taught to abide by a system in which their worth is depicted on a scale of 0-100. This system causes teenagers to fall susceptible to stress on an unhealthy level from the pressure of being nothing less than the best. My realization of the “perfect” student standard occurred in ninth grade. It was during this time that I expressed my feelings towards the overly competitive grading system to my English teacher through an essay. An excerpt from this writing piece about being simply “more than just a number” was published in the novel, The Teacher and the Admin, written collaboratively between my teacher, Mr. Armida, and our school superintendent, Dr. Felicello.
My feelings towards this subject have not changed. As students, we overwork ourselves to reach an unrealistic goal of achieving a perfect one hundred. Living up to this impossible expectation does nothing but harm a student whose main priority should be broadening their knowledge. Instead, our judgment is clouded, and our priority is to obtain the highest average. It was the day I wrote this essay in my ninth grade English class that I vowed to base my academic success on more than my average. I would prioritize learning to the best of my ability, regardless of what a number on a piece of paper had to say.
Numbers aren’t solely limited to the classroom however. In today’s society, a persons’ status also relies on a number, whether it’s likes, followers, or the numbers attached to one’s bank account. It seems as if everyone’s greatest aspiration has become to have the most of each of these things. The problem with this is that not everyone can have the most; there’s always someone who has more. However, that does not mean they are necessarily better than you in any way. The issue with competing based on a number is the normalization of recognizing someone as superior because they have millions of followers or dollars, rather than judging someone for who they are. We’ve become so concerned with superficial matters, that we forget what’s truly important. People go to great lengths to become the highest on the totem pole. We see celebrities and influencers online painting unbelievable pictures of themselves, creating an unrealistic image of what “perfection” and success looks like. If it wasn’t for the number attached to their social media or bank accounts, no one would pay attention to these falsified photos that cause so much damage to the adolescent mind, aspiring so desperately to be just like them.
I believe it’s evident that it's not the physical number I have a problem with. The number itself is nothing more than a symbol for the figurative meaning behind it. It holds the power to cause us as humans to lose sight of the most important things in life. When we live to fulfill the expectations set by a number, we are limiting ourselves. As students we lose the ability to attend school for its intended purpose: to learn, and as ordinary people we become accustomed to focusing on the superficial aspects of ourselves. We all need to learn to be more than a number. That’s a world I want to live in.
North Rockland High School
Class of 2022
Penn State University