Some of the biggest misconceptions about education today are the ideas that:
- an A+ is the only acceptable grade
- honors or advanced classes are the only classes that matter
- test scores determine one’s future.
I will admit that this misconception was even part of my thinking until just a few years ago. From fifth grade up to my freshman year of college when I earned a C in physics, I was that student; the one who felt only A’s were acceptable and that honors and advanced classes put you above the rest. As an adult, that translated into believing that awards and distinctions were what defined me as a person. As a new teacher, this thinking even carried over into my classroom for several years as I pushed high standards onto all of my students with very little sympathy or empathy for the various struggles and backgrounds they brought into my public school classroom.
It was not until I transitioned into teaching at independent schools that I clearly saw the negative side of pushing ever-exceedingly high standards for academic achievement. Let me be clear: I do believe in high standards and encouraging students to do their best. But it becomes destructive when students begin to compare themselves with others, and a Superstar Paradox presents itself.
WHEN THE PURSUIT OF ACCOMPLISHMENT IS DETRIMENTAL
The Superstar Paradox, a term coined by author and coach, Keren Eldad, is an all-too-common phenomenon where people’s pursuit of accomplishment comes at the detriment of their happiness and well-being. While she applies this concept primarily to adults and the business sector in her most recent article, the parallels with K-12 education are worth noting.
When individuals are caught up in the Superstar Paradox, Eldad says, they have a tendency to connect success to status or power, and they have a legitimate fear of making mistakes or “being perceived as a failure,” just as many students do. Their unhealthy need to please others and to rely too much on others’ opinions of them is only exacerbated by social media.
THE SOLUTION TO THE SUPERSTAR PARADOX
As an alternative to constantly striving to be more and do more, Eldad encourages us to “accept vulnerability and imperfection as paths to freedom” that will help guide us to happiness. Truly, mistakes are not failures, but rather, stepping stones for growth. I would add that we need to practice the all-too-foreign concept of grace in our lives. Defined by terms such as “mercy, pardon; disposition to or an act or instance of kindness, courtesy, or clemency; a temporary exemption : reprieve,” grace is desperately needed in the realm in which we now live of this never-attainable ceiling of acceptable accomplishment because someone else might be better.
Seeing the unnecessary stress on students who constantly push themselves to the academic edge (and sometimes, in the process, forget how to be kids) has made me take a 180 in how I perceive academic rigor and overcommitment. These days, I encourage students (and adults where it applies):
- to choose course schedules wisely--if they sign up for an AP class, do so because they have a passion for the subject matter, not simply because it looks good on a transcript or because a friend is taking it.
- to not shy away from classes and activities that challenge them for fear of failure.
- to reflect on their efforts when the grade earned or the result of invested time is not the expected or desired outcome. If they tried their best, learn from the experience and realize that results and grades do not define us.
- to find a school/life/family balance and some time away from screens.
- to, as Eldad says, “stop living life for achievements, money, accolades and the validation of other people,” and choose to grow in the principle of grace.
Eldad, K. (2019). The superstar paradox: How overachievers miss the mark in life and at work. Psychology Research, 9(8), 339-343. doi: 10.17265/2159-5542/2019.08.005
Eldad, K. (2019, Nov. 6). The superstar paradox….it’s a thing [Blog post]. Retrieved from https://www.kereneldad.com/the-superstar-paradox-its-a-thing/
Kern, M. (2019, August). The superstar paradox: 5 Reasons overachievers miss the mark. HMC Sales, Marketing and Alliances Excellence Essentials. Retrieved from http://ezproxy.liberty.edu/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.liberty.edu/docview/2308174641?accountid=12085