Liberty’s culture has a dark side

Nathan Jackson, Assistant Opinion Editor

Liberty’s culture has an underlying competitiveness—both academically and athletically—that leads to people to overextend themselves and put them in a harmful situation (mentally, physically, or both). This needs to change, for the sake of every student.
Liberty may have a reputation within the Issaquah School District of being less successful than its counterparts, but regardless, the Liberty culture is still intense. This culture pushes people to do too much, then eventually crash and burn in face of the pressure they put on themselves. People—whether by chasing college, being inherently competitive, giving into peer pressure—try and do too much. Which, of course, blows up in their faces. Taking five APs, working a job, and playing a sport five days a week can pad the college resume and look impressive (but still isn’t enough because of a lack of community service), but it’s an unhealthy practice that isn’t sustainable.
Even if students want to reduce their load and cut back on a couple of activities, there’s pushback from both staff and students. Staff push AP classes onto students by promoting the benefits of AP classes and discourage talk about the drawbacks. Students, on the other hand, have this idea ingrained into their consciousness that more extracurriculars equals better, and if you aren’t nearly at the breaking point, then you’re somehow inferior. We compare sleep times and somehow consider less sleep a good thing. This causes students to do more (at the cost of their mental and physical wellbeing) to feel validated.
That obviously isn’t healthy. Stress caused from overextension has serious mental and physical effects. Mentally, increased stress can lead to worse memory, worse reaction time, and cognitive disorders (like anxiety and depression). Physically, enough stress can lead to cardiovascular disorders, insomnia, and a weakened immune system. Apart from these effects, burnout becomes common when stress becomes too high. All these components combine to make a burnt casserole of detrimental bodily effects that do not benefit a high schooler. And when this occurs too often for too long, it becomes normalized, and normalizing it does not make it okay. Normalizing it simply makes more people take part in the cycle. With more people taking part, more are affected, thus growing and continuing the cycle.
If anyone begins to have an issue with being too stressed, students once again push back, but in a different way. If an overburdened student feels like expressing their feelings, it immediately (once again) becomes a competition. It turns into “well, I’m taking six APs and working two jobs.” Just because one person is doing more does not invalidate the other person’s struggle. That’s not how pressure works. It’s personal, not collective. People under ‘less’ pressure than others are still allowed to talk about it and speak their mind.
Yes, a competitive nature can be great in certain instances, but school is not one of those instances. By turning high school into one giant competition, students have backed themselves into a corner full of anxiety and stress. The only way to get out is by changing Liberty’s culture.