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Mediocrity should not be celebrated or encouraged

In high school, I had a math teacher who was intimidating, brilliant and a very tough grader. He proved to be very influential in my education — mathematics-wise and beyond. One day in class, he began discussing our generation’s individualistic tendency of expecting praise for doing our work — work that we were expected to do as students. He told us right off the bat that we would not be celebrated in his class for showing up, taking notes and doing the homework, and we would not be given a badge for breathing. 

At the time, I was not appreciative of this seemingly harsh teaching method, realizing that personal celebration, or even an A+, would never be in my future because I could barely figure out the algebraic formulas that we were expected to master.

However, over the years, I have come to appreciate and agree with what Mr. Roberts told us on that early morning in accelerated algebra two. 

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The point that he was making is that many of us are undeservingly awarded for the most basic of tasks. This has been glaringly clear to me as of late, being in classes where college students voice their complaints about the coursework load and professors treat upperclassmen students as if they’ve never been in a college-level lecture class before. 

An article focused on student success in the classroom states that “high expectations are a condition for student success; low expectations a harbinger of failure.”

Students are being overly catered to in the classroom, conditioning us to think we can work less for high grades, and setting out a path of laziness ahead of us.

I know that sounds like a huge generalization, and it is. There are most definitely students and young people who know how to work hard with integrity to succeed. I would actually say that most students are. But in my experience, I’ve noticed themes of settling for mediocre work in myself and my peers. Over the years, we have simply stopped doing our best work. We are getting bored and becoming idle.

But I don’t think that this is a small scale issue. Look around you – the media that we consume daily is, most of the time, average.

Practically every week a new “celebrity” is produced by some corporate entertainment group, with their latest “musical” hit or personal memoir that they’ve seemed to crank out at the young age of 20. Though most of our mainstream entertainment is mediocre, we continue to consume, hungry for more. Why is this? I don’t know. I do it all the time. I can’t and won’t stop listening to Becky G’s hit single “Shower.”

But at the same time, I can’t help but wonder if this type of behavior is subconsciously training us to lower our standards of what we consider success. I think that it does.

In 2011, Bristol Palin, daughter of Sarah Palin, wrote a book called “Not Afraid of Life.” Now, I haven’t read this book and nor do I plan on it, if I’m being honest. But I would say this is a fairly good example of how we give praise for work that may not be the best out there. Bristol’s book became a New York Times’ Bestseller, a prestigious and revered title. Bristol’s book may have been great. She may have wowed the masses with untold literary talent and piercing storytelling ability. And I will never know that. But, Bristol became famous because of her mother and her mother’s spotlight. Chances are Bristol hasn’t worked that hard to receive such a title as New York Times Bestselling Author.

There are individuals out there who spend their lifetimes mastering a craft. They work hard and challenge themselves, and unfortunately many of these people are never recognized for their art. On the flipside, people who may not have the same type of dedication or talent, but who are attached to a certain name are recognized, awarded, and praised. You see, we oftentimes celebrate mediocrity.

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I wish there were more Mr. Roberts out there who could lay down the cold hard facts, but at the same time, encourage individuals to work hard and never settle for “meh” work. 

I encourage you to keep this in mind as we make our way through this semester. Good grades and success should be earned – not handed out.

Collegian columnist Zara DeGroot can be reached at letters@collegian.com, or on Twitter @zar_degroot

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