The Toxic Culture of Tunnel Vision

SERENA LIN (Editor in Chief)

Competition can feel as though it is the natural order of things. As children, we grow up competing with our siblings and friends in the schoolyard. However, simple competition between children can suddenly become an all-enveloping culture of toxicity and harm as they grow older and the stakes are raised. From there, a sort of academic tunnel vision arises and ultimately prevents students from developing an in-depth, comprehensive vision of why they are competing with each other at all. It is a dangerous and harmful road to force students down, one that prevents genuine learning and self-discovery.

The phrase academic tunnel vision is one that describes a high school student’s singular goal of making it into the college of their choice. It is not, however, to be mistaken for the healthy drive of a motivated student with aspirations of college.

The difference lies in the fact that the former blots out every single other aspect of their life in order to prioritize higher education. These students are born out of a toxic, cutthroat environment in which the extreme separation of their personal lives and their academic ones is necessary to remain competitive. The latter, on the other hand, is able to discern what they want and why they want it, beyond impressing an admissions officer. For these students, competition is driven, purposeful, and intrinsically motivated.

The mental and social effect of academic tunnel vision, especially in extreme cases, is a population of competitive students in a culture of mistrust and paranoia. Sharing any advantage or opportunity means inviting more unwanted competition, especially if that advantage or opportunity is nothing more than a stepping stone on a college application. In the end, this promotes the unhealthy mindset in students that they must be hypervigilant around their peers.

Competition to a certain degree is beneficial. For example, competition can encourage students to work harder in their studies or give them a goal to achieve. It is also a good way to train students to develop healthy coping methods that they will need as adults, where competition follows them through their careers.

Healthy competition in high school students must be about more than college admission. Healthy competition encourages students to discover their personal goals, such as why they want to pursue higher education and why they want to be in their chosen field. In contrast, toxic competition is centered around simply getting into a college, with no mention of what exactly happens afterwards. This can be detrimental for students due to the fact that after basing their academics solely on making it into higher education, they struggle to develop another goal to pursue, which can end in a lack of motivation and feelings of instability.

Glorifying the high-achieving student with tunnel vision, the one who is always reaching for more opportunities or accolades without a real reason to, also means glorifying the ill mental and social sacrifices they have to make. Even if they were never worth it in the first place.