The universal laws of a high school classroom

How high school stress pressures shining stars

Aanya Agarwal, Staff Writer

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As I sit in class while my teacher drones on about Newtonian physics, my mind wanders from the lesson at hand to life’s biggest questions. What is life? What has been the defining trait of my (admittedly short) high school experience? Is mint chocolate chip ice cream just mint ice cream with chocolate chips, or is it chocolate chip ice cream with some mint? The last question in particular haunts me at night.

One trait repeatedly comes to mind: stress.

My attention snaps back to physics, and the teacher talks about Newton’s second law. Force equals mass times acceleration.

My mind wanders again, and this time I begin to contemplate the more philosophical aspect of the equation. If we look at force as the stress high schoolers are under and mass as the weight of classes and social interactions, does this mean acceleration is how well they are doing? No, that doesn’t relate to speed. Perhaps it’s the relation of their closeness to college age and thus college applications. That makes more sense since it actually connects to the concept of speed.

To give some context to the equation, according to psychologist Robert Leahy, the average high schooler in the 1980s had the same stress level as that of a psychiatric patient in the 1950s.

Let that sink in.

Now add the strains of living in the 21st century like the mental health epidemic, widespread corruption, and teens trying to figure out how to fix an economy that the generation before us left completely decimated.

That is easily double the force of what was present when the study was conducted in the 1980s. In fact, according to the Nuffield Foundation, “The proportion of 15/16 year olds reporting that they frequently feel anxious or depressed has doubled in the last 30 years, from 1 in 30 to 2 in 30 for boys and 1 in 10 to 2 in ten for girls.”

When you take the added weight of trying to survive in a cut-throat society, while thriving in the era of technology and classes, and simultaneously preparing for college, it equates to one extremely unhinged kid.

The next week in class we discuss black hole theory, which states that when stars are under massive force, they collapse in on themselves and become black holes. The theory says that they become so massive that the force around them literally sucks the light out of other stars. I realize stars are so much bigger than us, and even they can’t handle that level of pressure. What happens to us high schoolers when that force is applied to our shoulders?

We lose our light. The ability of young kids to light up any room they step in is lost with time, like a star slowly losing its energy and fizzling out. That same room once lit up with a goofy smile years later is unaffected by their presence because they’re too busy working on calculus homework to waste  time on trivial things like smiling or interacting.

This is the result of a larger black hole that is taking the light of thousands of stars: a society that applies so much force on a kid that the kid begins to collapse in on themselves.  High schooler’s shoulders are made to carry backpacks, not societal expectations of excellence.

Now, I’m no Newton, but it seems like in our own little universe called high school, there’s an abundance of black holes and not nearly enough stars. What am I doing about it? Just eating my ice cream and trying to shine.

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The universal laws of a high school classroom