We have been talking a lot about Excellence over the last couple of weeks and it has really been an interesting conversation. As a non-conformist this conversation about excellence really ignited something within me. A fire of rage and anger which eventually subsided. My school defines excellence by saying ” we set high standards for our own achievement and celebrate the achievement of others.” What irks me about this definition is the part that says “we set high standards.” Why this bothers me I guess is how do you set these standards? According to what or whom do you set them against? And furthermore, how do you measure these standards?
I am a non-conformist because I realized that I live in a world that benchmarks people and would like to keep the rich rich and the poor poor. Our society is like a pyramid, there are many people at the bottom and very few at the top. Now we are told that for a socio-economic society to function at its optimum this is how it should be but in all honesty this is a lie. Now how is this “structure or model” perpetuated? It is perpetuated in three ways: education, Media and Culture.
In education, the system is made to be intentionally difficult as you progress. The aim is not to make you a critical thinker or a person who through learning more about the world you become innovative, no! The point is to make you drop out of school so that you do not reach the top of the pyramid. This is what is called the “Bottle-neck” system. Many people and countries claim to have moved past this way of learning but they really did not. Let’s look at a school X which is trying to break away from the norm, a school where one would think that the child is being set up for academic success and life as well.
In a class of 95 students the students are streamlined over a course of two years. The top brass will get the best opportunities and the middle to lower brass will get some opportunities. As explained before the top brass is always the minority. The students who get to go to Ivy League universities are an average of five students. These students will be regarded as excellent because they managed to get a GPA of 4.0 or close. They were engaged in a Student Enterprise that was new or that was doing some “groundbreaking” work. They will also have done some extracurricular activities, they must, must be good at Maths, they sometimes even know more than two international languages and if they want to go the extra mile they can also play an instrument. These are the measurements of the “excellence” set in my community. Now, the child who maybe because of various social and cultural elements failed to “thrive” at school X will not be considered excellent. If after two years a lusophone child managed to move their grade for English from a D to a B they will not considered to be excellent because the bottle neck system does not favor continuous iteration. If it did this would catapult more people to the top.
If we zoom out a little bit and look at the selection process conducted by school X we can further see this bottle neck system at play. The vision is to create the future generation of African leaders, in hopes of improving the African continent. So what is done to achieve this goal is that you take 95 students from a pool of 4500 students who applied. If we consider those who did not apply but wanted to (self-reject) this number is greater. You take these 95 students and pay $30 000 USD for two years for their education in hopes of giving them better opportunities so that they can get the best and become part of the elite in their own communities. This in itself is a template of that bottle neck system that breeds unhealthy competition for resources and opportunities. Why not take that $60 000 USD and pay for the tertiary education of 10000 African students each year? Well because one could say according to the pyramid model only a selected few should attain these opportunities.
This is why I reject this definition of excellence which “sets” its standards according to a society that never wanted me to thrive in the first place. However, I am aware that this is the society in which I live in and for now I cannot escape it so I will live by its rules but my principals will not be shaken. I will borrow my definition from a woman I recently heard speak; Excellence is intentional continuous improvement. For me this is something I apply to every part of my life. I chose to do subjects that I love and that I am also good at. Not the subjects this “pyramid” system told me to do because the probability of me succeeding would be lower. I do Literature, Biology and Poetry Writing as my electives. The average for my three courses is an A and for me excellence is raising my average to an A* by the end of the year because this will be a mark of intentional continuous improvement. When I first started school, I had 0 friends but right now I am in the beginning of my second year and I have around ten close friends and plenty of acquaintances. For me this is excellence and I can measure it because there is intentional continuous improvement. When I began school I had no blog or publications but I had a passion for writing. However, now I have a blog with 872 followers (thank you guys) and an external online publication. For me this is excellence.
I am not applying to any Ivy League because to me that is not my standard of excellence, my standard is not the name of the institution I get my degree from. My standard is not even the degree itself, my standard is what I have done after four years and if I have improved from where I am now in all spheres of my life. So that is all about this Excellence business!