The Detriments of a Comparison Culture

Michael Balderas

Melissa Silva

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    I don’t feel inclined to share my grades. Or my GPA. Or my test scores. In an environment where comparison seems to fuel students, my preference may come across as odd and maybe even unreasonable. 

    I made the decision to stop sharing grades once I realized the unhealthy atmosphere this behavior perpetuates. Because the culture of comparison is so widely accepted and so deeply rooted in many students’ lives, it may be difficult to consider the harm it brings to students. Although some will disagree with my perspective, it is important to realize that there are many among the student body who not only feel negatively towards this culture of comparison but are negatively affected by it. 

    There are two main possible reactions by the student being asked the simple “What’d you get?”. Usually, because of the prevalence of the culture of comparison, the one being asked feels obligated to answer. For some, being placed in this position and sharing information about grades or test scores are insignificant. For others, being placed in this position brings feelings of discomfort, shame, or hesitance in the possibility of displaying oneself as cocky. Because of this, it is easy for students to lose self-esteem or to present themselves in an undesirable light.

    I’ve noticed that comparison often provides motivation to work harder or serves to boost one’s self esteem. I’ve personally had experiences where, even after making it clear that I didn’t want to share my grades, the other person continued to insist, justifying their request on the grounds that knowing my grades was “necessary” for their own academic success. While many will justify comparison for these and other reasons, this culture of comparison too often and too easily becomes an invasion of others’ privacy, and the pressure to compete with peers ultimately proves detrimental to students.

    How do we work to end this culture of comparison? The easiest way is to simply not ask others about their grades, scores or GPA. I know that for many people, this seems impossible, as comparison has seemingly become utterly indispensable to academic success (It’s not. Approval can and does come from within). Of course, the other aspect of this culture—being asked about your grades and scores—makes ending the culture a bit more difficult. Personally, when presented with the question of “What’d you get?”, I just say, “I don’t share grades.” I have found that, with that answer, people (usually) realize that not only do I not want to share that specific grade, but I do not want to share any grades. This way, they remember not to ask me the same question in the future. As far as how well this works—very few people ask me about grades nowadays.

    Since I decided to stop asking about and sharing grades, I have been significantly prouder of my accomplishments. My grades have not changed, but my attitude toward them has. I have established my own set of standards, rather than use others’ accomplishments to gauge my own success. Of course, separating myself from this culture has not eliminated all my stress, as I do set high standards for myself, but it is definitely a relief to be exempt from the constant bombardment of questions regarding my grades and scores.

    Counselors, teachers, and tutors alike constantly tell us that our grades and scores do not define us. Perhaps it is time to take that to heart and stop defining ourselves and our peers based on grades by working to end the culture of comparison. This way, we can create a more encouraging school environment in which students feel proud to be part of a less judgemental community.

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