Oscillatory Perfection / "The Fundamental Paradox of Secondary Education"

I’ve been thinking too much lately about school and the way it works. And because I’ve been paying lots of attention to my Pre-Calculus class – my toughest subject area this year – I thought of a way to organize my thoughts into a concise graph, as shown below.

Consider that you’re in high school, that x=0 is on the left side of the graph, and that the graph extends indefinitely to the right (so, X to positive infinity). You’re represented by the polynomial function running down the middle of the graph.  Look at the lines y =B and y= A and how they define a rectangular region running along the dead center of the graph. Then, notice how the function – which is you – is only sometimes within that rectangular region. Finally, look at how that rectangular region is called the  “zone of oscillatory perfection”.

This came as a product of midterm exams, cramming, and a resulting need to reevaluate a lot of the things I do and don’t do in my academic/work life. More importantly, it finalized itself after a conversation I had with my mathematics teacher one day after school.

Notice how the region above y=B is named “Curriculum”, while the region below y=A is named “Extracurriculars”. At the start of high school, you of course begin well above y=B, focusing on your classes and homework. Not necessarily because you’re a nerd or anything like that, but simply because you haven’t yet been exposed or been allowed to take an interest in the multitude of things that go on after school, or the different clubs, societies, and/or sports you can participate in.

A little ways into high school, thus, you start joining different activities and engagements and naturally, your concentration begins to shift towards them. So, whenever you join a new club, sport, or project; naturally, as expected, and as one should, you start thinking about those things and because most of us can’t truly multitask, some brain power responsible for processing “Curriculum” is reallocated to “Extracurriculars”.

But see, “Extracurriculars” can mean anything. Etymologically speaking, “extra-” refers to anything that is beyond what is needed , more than normal or expected from something or someone; of course, we know we’re talking about all that which isn’t the “Curriculum”.

So, consider this: if we can define “Curriculum” as the 6 – 10 classes on your schedule (Periods 1-6 or 10), can we do the same for “Extracurriculars”? Why of course not! If “Extracurriculars” includes all that is “beyond” the curriculum, then the list of acceptable values – the “domain”, as my teacher would say – for “Extracurriculars” is truly infinite. Soccer practice, orchestra rehearsals, badminton games, theater performances, having to do chores at home, hanging out with friends and family, going on a trip or adventure.

Schools expect their students to participate in extracurricular activities. Well, they must if things like Club Rush Week (where each club in the school sometimes forcibly recruits members at lunchtime), college admission advisers that advise joining a sport or activity ranging from half-hour community service clubs meeting every other Wednesday to extended (2:20 to 8 PM, anyone?) Color Guard rehearsals thr/ee days out of each week for 2 months, exist! Then you factor chores and miscellaneous responsibilities at home! Then you factor the byproduct of such a frenetic schedule, which is undeniably necessary time for mental decompression, usually in the form of “chilling” (either at home by watching TV, or outside in the real world by taking up a job or hanging out with your friends on the weekends)!

Thus enters what I will now call “The Fundamental Paradox of Secondary Education”: if the average high school student cannot process both curriculum and extracurriculars simultaneously, yet is encouraged – nay, essentially forced – to carry out the latter in addition to the supposed mandatory nature of the former, the only way for the student to carry out such a requirement “correctly” is to define an optimal area of oscillation between each parallel, recommending students to do their best to remain in there.

Maybe if I told my math teacher about this, she’d tell me I’m wasting my time thinking about stuff like this; time I could be using to study for the test on Friday. Then I’d tell her, “but Mrs., isn’t such mental decompression necessary?” Then she’d say, “get back to work” and that’d be the end of the story. See, it’s made out to be simple. “Just do the stuff you have to do; get it done, that’s it!”, my mother says. But that’s exactly what the most difficult part of it all is. What do we have to do? How can we evaluate what is ultimately mandatory when we’re forced to balance between something mandatory by law – curriculum – as well as that which is considerably extra?

My math teacher, upset about students that don’t study for her class, says it’s because kids today have too many distractions and can’t concentrate. Then I told her, “well, what about extracurricular activities? Those take a lot of time, too!” to which she replied that that wasn’t the case, that when she taught the same class ten years ago, her kids not only studied more, but they did more or the same amount of extracurricular activities. How can you isolate distractions from extracurriculars? Aren’t the terms synonymous with each other in the end? What is mandatory? That’s

“The Fundamental Paradox of Secondary Education.”

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