Grin and Bear It

There was a time when I dreamed of being an artist. I didn’t know all the details of this vague life plan; I just knew I loved creating ‘things’ out of my imagination. Then I came to Andover. I came to Andover with my dreams in tow, knowing full well that this school would challenge me and, in many cases, defeat me.

I am writing in response to an article last week written by Caroline Lu ’15, and I agree with her on many levels: some of the requirements here are hard and unfair. Often I lose motivation in the face of a subject I don’t like. Trust me, I have gotten a 52 percent on tests in many different subjects.

I am often frustrated by the limits the many requirements impose. Unfortunately, I wasn’t advanced enough in science and math to have choices freshman year, and even in Upper year, most of my classes are required. I want to take architecture and European history. If only I were able to take Law and Morality, I think I would like it. But I simply don’t have time because I am busy finishing all my requirements.

But isn’t this what we signed up for: to be pushed in every direction, to be defeated until we learn to succeed, trying to learn everything about life and trying to find something we love?

I still haven’t found that single thing I love. I’ve been looking for a while now, and I wish Andover would help me more in that search. The requirements here are hard for students who don’t know what they want to do in life. So much math and science, scattered history classes, and once you pick a language you are stuck with it, kindled romance or not.

Worse than the complicated requirements is the pressure at this school to perform for parents and impress colleges. Everyone knows that not taking four years of math, unless you’re the next Tom Brady, is suicide when applying to college. Many times I do feel pressured to find my niche, to represent myself on the looming Common App with a definitive black and white portrait of my teenage accomplishments.

Aren’t we all here to learn? Of course we should be challenged, but shouldn’t we also be allowed to take the courses we want? While Lu is correct in saying that pentatonic and harmonic scales are not on the general SAT, she fails to realize that the test is not the sole determinant of a person’s character and future potential. I know the SAT can never put a grade on my satisfaction and knowledge.

At the same time, we have a responsibility to those who gave us this opportunity and to ourselves to apply ourselves. I am (by my own standards) failing math – and I love to complain about it. On the first day of class, my math teacher reminded me not to complain and instead try harder. When I haughtily asked him what the point was of a particular concept, he called it knowledge for its own sake.

As hard as the subject may be, unless the teacher is an unmotivated slug, one should at least try to understand the subject and the teacher, and put some effort into learning. It’s fine not to like every subject after you have honestly given it a shot. But until you do, sit down and study.

Andover is trying to give us a good education, which includes different classes that certain students might not enjoy – but each subject is something that you need to appreciate. It’s not enough to pick an interest and go through life with that one interest; we are always striving to be well-rounded people who understand the world we live in. To achieve this goal, an exposure to things outside our normal comfort zone is required.

It’s an imperfect system; that much is evident. Our school sits on a perilous fault line between being college preparatory and teaching students to absorb knowledge for knowledge’s sake. Since we have all chosen to come to Andover, it is now our job to deal with the sad fact of college requirements, the limits the requirement system places on our own interests and, most importantly, our desire to absorb as much knowledge as we can, and to deal with it all with a smile. After all, we chose to take this path.

Sam Koffman is a three-year Upper from Princeton, N.J.