Last week, my dog Roots (short for Roosevelt, short for Teddy Roosevelt) was put down. He had been suffering for a long time, and his recent immobility and weight loss forced me to let go of my best friend of 12 years. Whenever Roots had seen me and my family return home, his big heart swelled with so much joy and love that it overcame him, and he shook his body all around and jumped on us with his tail flying back and forth so fast it almost couldn’t be discerned. I loved him to an unspeakable degree -- I find it improbable that I could ever love a human to the same extent. However, while I could talk about him for hours, Roots is not the subject today. The subject is an unfortunate situation I find myself in, possibly even more tragic than the loss of a beloved dog, that causes me to regret my time spent with Roots, or more importantly, the lack thereof.
We knew Roots was sick for a long time. Months, if not years, went by where we solemnly pretended not to hear or see his pain. My blind ignorance was made all too easy by the rigorous schedule I occupied. Most of this schedule revolved around school work, a concept so seemingly universal that it seems unnecessary to question. Why shouldn’t I spend so much of my time focusing on school? After all, it determines my university which determines my job which determines my income which determines my happiness, correct? But as I sat at my desk, day in and day out, wishing for nothing but time to spend with what remained of my decrepit pet, I reflected on why exactly I couldn’t spend my so desired time with him, and I drew the conclusion that it was only due to my need for points. Not knowledge, not success, not even happiness. My only care was points.
The idea that our society is too focused on academic achievement is far from new -- I do not claim to be entirely groundbreaking in my thought process. As a matter of fact, I will admit that I find myself rolling my eyes when someone monotonously drones on about “America’s flawed education system.” However, the downright triviality of the implementation of this success-based philosophy is something I find noteworthy. We as students are told that universities are seeking a respectable Grade Point Average, or GPA. A GPA, however, is nothing more than a condensation of a series of letter grades, each of which is a condensation of a myriad of assignments, each of which is a condensation of points. The result of this is the increased value placed on the individual point, for it is the single unit of measurement of an entire education. Consider it as a meter. While a meter itself may not seem like a significant thing, without it acting as a basis for all calculation, the entire International System of Units would collapse. Students roll their eyes at peers who argue with teachers over miniscule points on tests, but the dissatisfied students know that truly every point matters.
Thus, education becomes a numbers game, a calculation of our probability of finding this thing called “success.” Every student knows how many points they need to get the next highest grade, to pass through to the next round. We memorize instead of learn, and spit out our memories onto Scantrons with as much efficiency as we can muster. We dedicate our entire days and nights to school work, our only goal in mind the acquisition of points. We do our work not according to quality but quantity, and when a teacher insists on high quality, we memorize the baseline requirements for such a standard and learn to spit them out, once again with efficiency in mind. Students become more highly regarded because of their ability to recognize patterns, not in the subjects they learn but rather in the types of questions on the tests. We abhor subjects that require true analytical thinking instead of the following of a rule or procedure. We unendingly devote our time not to go the extra mile but to merely get the extra point. Kids are no longer kids, simply students. Even parents’ participation in this enforcement of the “school above all else” is becoming increasingly apparent. We refrain from social interactions, from relaxation, from happiness, because studying hours at a time is what has been deemed more “important.”
Because of my obsession with seeking the best possible life for myself, I devote my hours after school to homework and studying because I know ultimately everything I do will equate to my receiving a point. I used to participate in rowing and forensics, both activities I truly enjoyed. But a GPA made up of grades made up of assignments made up of points was seemingly of more value than truly challenging mental or physical exercise.
The reason I lament this so passionately at the moment is because I can handle missing out on television or relaxation, but I cannot accept the fact that I missed out on the last moments of my dog’s life. The fact that I was forced to study instead of spend time with Roots as he had his last meal and his last tail wag hurts me deeply. Even on the day of his death, I could not spend more than an hour with him because I had two tests the following day. As I sat with him for a few brief moments on his last day, I cried, which was to be expected. But I didn’t just cry because I missed his being there, I cried because I hadn’t been. This dog’s entire life revolved around me and my family, and I could not do him enough justice to be with him even when I knew he would be leaving us soon. Thus, I leave you with this tale of frustration, in hopes that you will go home to your dog, or your spouse, or your child, and dedicate your time to him or her, because cherishing loved ones is far more worthwhile than cherishing points.