Why being well rounded has no point

Why Being Well-Rounded Has No Point

9/27/2007

Kenneth Burchfiel

Students, these days, can’t just be good at one subject; it’s expected of them to excel at every class they take, whether or not they have a natural affinity for it. The reasoning behind this “good at everything” mentality? Being a well-rounded student ensures success in college, graduate school, and, ultimately, in life.

It’s a lie that I find hard to stomach.

Think about it. The majority of adults work in one specific job, be it mathematics, English or science-based. Furthermore, most people have a natural affinity for one specific subject, whether or not they have an opportunity to focus on that skill in school. Why is it, then, that we are expected to ace every single subject when our aspirations, and our jobs, usually focus on one thing alone?

Junior Stacey Mahjong is well aware of an “excel in everything” attitude at McLean. “There’s the pressure to take the highest-level class that’s offered,” she said. “You’re juggling classes that you’re forced to take.”

Mahjong, however, sees little purpose in focusing extensively in every subject.

“I think that if you really don’t think that you’re going to major in history, you shouldn’t have to take history courses,” she said.

From the surface, the idea of being well rounded sounds pleasant. After all, students should be knowledgeable, if not experts, in multiple subjects. It’s under the supposed motive of “well-roundedness,” though, that much of the educational system is standardized. The push for generalized competency has produced educational relics such as the GPA and SAT, both of which can affect a student’s opportunities for employment and higher education.

“Grades matter in order to get into a job [and] college,” freshman Yuriko Salmon said.

The SAT and GPA treat all subjects on an equal scale, disregarding the distinctive strengths of every student in the process. It’s hypocritical of colleges and administrators to profess to cherish the unique talents and specialties of every student while ranking each and every one of them on scales that reward generalized competency instead of individualized excellence. The idea of well-roundedness is promoted to excuse this sort of standardization, which should distress every person in this school. Students should all have a base of knowledge in multiple subjects, sure, but it’s even more important to be especially knowledgeable in one particular subject. That’s what sets one apart from the pack, not a 4.1 GPA or a 2400 SAT.

Being specialized, says junior Kat Somovigo, can also increase one’s profits.

“That’s how you make money. You can’t make money by being mediocre in a lot of things,” she said.

People are often surprised to hear about C-average students who go on to have great careers. These kinds of people don’t simply get lucky; their success stems from them focusing their efforts and time on something that they truly care about. High school, however, forces us to think against this concept of specialization, teaching us the merits of “well-roundedness” instead. Dedicating time to one thing alone, after all, would mean leaving other “vital” subjects behind, resulting in a lower GPA, worsened SAT scores and a lack in AP courses. Students, and parents, are well aware of this.

Regardless of the course, junior Suzie Huffore said, “my parents don’t like it when I get a low B.”

Efforts to allow for specialization are often overshadowed by the pressure to do well on standardized tests and grades, which both heavily impact a student’s chances of getting into a preferred college. “It’s high school now, so… it really matters,” Salmon said. And yet, who’s going to have a more enjoyable life: the students who works tirelessly in everything but never has time to focus on what they care about, or the student who dedicates their time and effort to the things they wish to pursue?

“You should be able to get a rounded education, but be able to focus on what you actually like,” Mahjong said.

Not to sound radical, or anything, but why should GPA, the perfect symbol of well-roundedness and standardization, matter as much as it does? Grades themselves aren’t as important as a students’ skill level at the one thing they are best at. It’s that factor, not GPA, that will set students apart and launch careers.

Being “well-rounded” and having a 4.0 GPA pales in comparison to something schools can never offer—a lifelong desire to learn, study and work in a particular subject. It’s time education became less about the illusion of well-roundedness and more about encouraging every student to develop his or her individual gifts.

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