With a little over two-thirds of Minnetonka students taking at least one advanced class, it’s easy to believe that more classes, more credits, and more credentials are the way to go. And it’s hard to deny that achievement is important, whether for college, employment, or simply general knowledge. Doctor Swanson, AP and IB Coordinator, says that “those students who take [an AP or IB] exam and score a two or better are more likely to graduate from college, graduate on time, and graduate with higher grade point averages.” She goes on to say that “following through on a rigorous course […] is such a good experience to have, and at the very least [students] know they can live through it.” And offering more classes sooner — as with the new AP classes for freshmen — can give students a head start on advanced programs and gear them towards more rigorous coursework later on.
However, such achievement comes with a price. “High-achieving student cultures [take] a toll,” says Swanson. The pressure to do more, sooner, leads to anxiety and detracts from the traditional American idea of balanced social life and academics. Cultures that place a high emphasis on student academics at the expense of “balance” and “well-roundedness” have a correspondingly higher level of anxiety, says Swanson.
And a culture of achievement creates its own hierarchy — a perceived devaluation of those, for example, taking general-level courses. There are students, says Swanson, for whom “general classes are exactly where they need to be — provides them the right amount of challenge, with the right amount of balance, the right amount of pacing for the kind of growth and development they need for success beyond high school. And some students will feel that being in G classes isn’t as good.”
The impressive academics at Minnetonka are incredibly valuable, but the attitude that goes along with them is not. Too often, advanced classes correlate with superiority and stress, instead of simply the honest-to-goodness learning that should (and does) take place. Stress, at least, is practically unavoidable — but the students at Minnetonka need to recognize that achievement does not necessarily correlate with worth.