I casually overheard a conversation the other day between two students that are in a class with me, who were, as can be expected, complaining about the class. Student A went on a rant, which basically summed up to “it’s not fair that the answers to the homework are posted online before the homework is due, because I work really hard trying to figure it out, and everyone else in the class is just going to copy it, turn it in, and get the same grade as me.”
That’s not a direct quote, but it’s close enough. I was polite enough to just keep walking, though I was interested in what Student B would say in response. So I guess I wasn’t really eavesdropping. This is good, because that’s rude.
But what Student A said really got me thinking. Mainly, I just thought “who cares?” but then I realized, obviously Student A cares. So then I thought, “why?”
When I first came to Pacific, I noticed students here form community rather than seek competition, that somehow we are united against our mountains of homework and barrages of tests rather than divided in a Hunger Games-style gauntlet.
But I’ve noticed the latter attitude surfacing more as the years have gone by. Students are starting to one-up their peers whether in discussions in class, where arguments suddenly must have a “winner,” or on tests, where the top grade is worn like some sort of badge of honor conferring supremacy.
And it’s not just students. This week is special for one reason: it’s Lu’au week. Before I even started college, I was told repeatedly that we had the “best Lu’au in the Pacific Northwest.” I always took pride in that.
But Lu’au isn’t a sport or competition, where yes, it’s totally okay to want to win, that’s the goal. It’s a way for us to share and preserve our culture and have fun at the same time. None of those things require us to make it “better” than any other Lu’aus.
In fact, if other Lu’aus are better, it makes our job even easier, because they’re helping us achieve our goal of cultural sharing.
While this imaginary competition might have inspired students to work hard, we don’t need it anymore.
All the students I’ve seen working on Lu’au work hard to make it great, not better than anyone else, just great for the sake of putting on a spectacular show.
So this year, as far as I’m concerned, we’re going to have an awesome Lu’au, because we’ve put in so much hard work.
Whether this Lu’au is better than others, or is the best, is not a concern at all, because that doesn’t and shouldn’t matter.
The same goes for grades, which might have once been a good way to measure student success and provide attainable goals. If we’re using them that way, great.
But once we start obsessing over how we measure up, and trying to outdo each other, then we’re just hurting the Pacific community as a whole. We’re forgetting again about our overall goal, which in this case is for all of us to learn and find success.
My grandpa told me once that you could put as many sand crabs in a bucket as you wanted, but they’ll never escape; if one tries to climb out, the others pull him back down.
It’s time to get our goals straight. Let’s win on the field and on the courts, and let go of this idea that we have to win in the classroom when we all have the same purpose here. Let’s instead help our community to succeed.
If we work together rather than against each other, maybe we can tip the bucket over. But one thing’s for sure: if we keep trying to pull each other down, no one’s getting out.