Pros and Cons of Milton’s Competitive Atmosphere
by Eliza Scharfstein on Friday, November 22nd, 2013
With its rigorous academics, Milton Academy fosters a competitive environment. Students constantly compare standings in classes, work tirelessly towards stellar semester grades, obsess over standardized test scores, and discuss college lists. While we should all strive to do well, the competitive atmosphere at Milton leads to stressed, and at times irrational, students.
I agree that competition pushes students to improve. When we see our peers succeeding, we want to catch up with if not surpass them. In the college process, seniors work especially hard to perfect their transcripts in order to beat out their fellow students and earn a spot at their dream school.
However, a competitive atmosphere has some serious downsides. Most noticeably, this intense pressure creates stress from intense parents, high achieving siblings, hardworking peers, or even demanding teachers. These high and often impossible expectations force us to work hard at any given moment, never granting ourselves the much needed breaks.
For some students at Milton, the competitive atmosphere contributes to a student’s desire to find shortcuts. Milton labels this act a breach of academic integrity. Throughout the year, the administration reads DC statements at morning assemblies and in the majority of these statements, the deans tell us about students who, during a really stressful time of the year, turned to cheating. These members of the administration are absolutely correct by enforcing the idea of maintaining integrity throughout the year, even when times get tough. Although cheating is not the moral, ethical, or a just way to combat the competitive nature, it is a way of dealing with the stress.
At the beginning of each year, all classes review Milton’s guidelines for academic integrity. In my English class, we were given an entire packet on plagiarism, with discussion prompts and stories of cheating. In one of the stories, written by Brigid Schulte in the Washington Post on September 15, 2002, a high school boy decided to plagiarize when he is pressed for time. He said, “When you’re taking a heavy course load of high-level classes, and getting home after 6 every night…you simply don’t have time to do all that homework the old-fashioned way. And you have to keep your GPA up. You’ll do anything to get that.” His reasoning certainly does not validate his cheating, but it gives us a greater insight into the thought process of someone who cheats—he sees cheating as the only way to possibly succeed. He also notes that succeeding, or maintain good grades, is extremely desirable in this day and age. Obviously, other components factor into a student’s desire to cheat—laziness, for example, but laziness cannot be the only factor. If people did not care about their academics at all, they would not even put in the energy to cheat.
So, why do cheaters think something immoral is okay? At the end of the day, a major factor is that students believe cheating will help them reach their high academic goals. The competition at the previously mentioned boy’s school was overwhelming, and he seemed to lack an understanding and the moral strenght to withhold himself from doing so. Milton, on the contrary, provides us with an extremely well-thought-out and detailed set of rules regarding academic integrity. Unlike the boy in the story, we know why cheating is wrong and we know what will happen if we do so. Even so, some students at Milton still decide to cheat, as evidenced by the multiple academic integrity violations each year. Obviously, these students are driven by some pressure to cheat. This pressure can be easily identified in our context: the intense competition here at Milton.
So what should we think about competition? Is it good or is it bad? It is not exclusively one or the other—the overall implications of competition are mixed. However, it is easy to forget that this intense atmosphere can have its downsides. While competition fosters improvement, it also provides a significant amount of stress and results in the detrimental punishments that stick with us throughout high school.
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