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Sycophantic Students: Who Is to Blame?

Ira Gorawara

We all know that student. The kid that intentionally sits in the front of the class, right besides the teacher. The kid that regularly talks to his/her teacher about his/her personal lives. The kid that constantly compliments the teacher. The kid that snitches to the teacher about all the other students.
Who is this student? Primarily, a student under the pressure of getting into his or her dream college: a junior. GPA, essays, extracurriculars, SAT, recommendation letters and the countless other components essential to a well-rounded application begin to consuming the life of this student. “11th grade spells the onset of tremendous responsibility,” explains a current junior at HKIS, who prefers to remain anonymous.
In order to design this all-encompassing, perfect resume, students need to ensure each component is at its optimal level. However, one of these indispensable components is not under the students’ control: recommendation letters. There is no predefined formula for a student to assure a favorable letter. An atmosphere of competition results: students adopt creative ways to please the teacher, hoping it will influence their recommendation letter. But do some students take this too far?
For example, students often give presents to their teachers during the holidays. Who’s to know whether this derives from genuineness or transactional behavior? Mr. Zen, a former Junior English and AP Language and Composition teacher, has plentiful experience writing recommendation letters. He says, “In Hong Kong, the idea is that nobody does something unless they get something in return, even acts of kindness. And that’s a larger, cultural problem I think. You can’t really teach someone just to be nice for the sake of being nice, especially if in the culture they see the opposite all the time”. Students in Hong Kong are gradually becoming more outcome-oriented, and are starting to bother less about sincerely performing good deeds.
In this light, is it the fault of the student, or, are we as a society at large responsible for fostering an atmosphere that pressures students to build an impossibly idealistic resume? “Universities are saying, ‘we need x, y, x to be able to admit you’, and students want to get that, desperately. [Universities] are not saying we need you to be a genuinely good person," says Mr. Zen. Universities may claim they are looking for "good kids", but is that really the case? Does that "good kid" really end up in the top universities? What makes a "good kid" and "good resume" different?
We as a student body must come to a consensus: a university does not define who you are and how good you are. Although the pressure at this time of year may be strong, students must work together to undo this atmosphere of toxic competition and backhanded tactics and instead promote collaboration and healthy discussion.

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