Editorial, Issue 6 — Volume CVIV

Parker and Perfectionism

Over January 9 and 10, psychotherapist and author Lynn Lyons spoke to Parker teachers and families about the roots of adolescent anxiety and methods to address them. One significant cause of pressure for students, Lyons stressed, is perfectionism that, in some ways, is reinforced by the school. 

In theory, Parker doesn’t push perfectionism on students. With a progressive philosophy and a goal of fostering “joy in learning,” according to our mission statement, the curriculum is centered on growth. The notion of learning as a process, not a means to an end, positions mistakes as opportunities for reflection rather than reasons for punishment. 

In a number of ways, teachers bring this ideal to reality — whether by admitting it’s okay to not know the solution to a math problem, awarding partial credit, or leading discussions in which students are encouraged to defend their ideas, right or wrong. Classes with routine homework graded for completion allow students to genuinely learn without the stress of being consistently correct.

Still, the Parker day-to-day holds many sources of stress for perfectionists. Homework graded for accuracy can send a message that effort is meaningless without success. Even if a teacher welcomes mistakes, fear of judgment from classmates can deter students from sharing in discussion. Extreme views of the college application process lead some students to believe their futures depend on achieving X, Y, and Z. 

Lyons explained that well-meaning accommodations by teachers often are counterproductive — rather than promoting skills to navigate challenging situations, accommodations encourage avoidance. Extensions for projects allow students to fixate on perfection with the additional time. The accessibility of scores on the Portal fuels a grade-crazed student body. When test-takers can work beyond the end of a class period, they may repeatedly check over their answers — while they may feel better about their performance on the exam, they don’t actually learn to curb their anxiety. 

Of course, there are strong arguments in favor of extensions, grades of the Portal, and (non-LR-related) extra time. Rather than rigidly advocating against such accommodations and other stress-inducing aspects of the school, “The Weekly” hopes to spark discussion on ways that Parker can support perfectionists. 

Lyons emphasized the importance of preparing students to approach issues with a flexible mindset, to break them down into manageable parts. By promoting such skills and identifying solutions to subtle factors that entertain anxiety, Parker will create a healthier environment for perfectionists that truly allows them to find joy in learning.