Before high school, I attended the tiniest charter school known to man. I’m not kidding: my graduating eighth-grade class consisted of eight people. Of course, there are both pros and cons of attending such a small school; some of the former were that the student body quickly became a very close-knit family and that the teachers were able to pay more attention to each individual student, while one of the latter was that eighth-grade drama tended to spread like wildfire. Nevertheless, the school was an outstanding environment in which I could begin my exploration of the world. I learned independence, trust in others and in teachers, and a desire to excel that only a charter school could have fostered.
Needless to say, I received a nasty shock the first day of high school.
In this obscene monstrosity called a school, all students had exactly the same schedule, going into and getting out of class at the exact same times. They struggled to pass classes with teachers they didn’t like, and they strove to decorate their report cards with letter grades that their parents would approve. Before my first day of high school, I had never received a letter grade in my life. My charter school simply did not believe in such things; the work that was assigned there was solely for the individual’s achievement.
But as I made my way through my freshman year of high school, navigating through all the differences that this new environment posed, I found it was easy to fit in. Almost too easy. I found that with the same schedules, the same types of classes (which were given to the student based on what he needed to satisfy state requisites, not based on the student’s personal interest), and the same teachers and homework, everyone became squashed into one giant masse, each member–for the most part–nearly indistinguishable from his or her neighbor.
It was in that year that my philosophy of life began to take shape. A part of me missed the individuality so prevalent in my old charter school, and I would often wish that the other students of this high school could have experienced it as well. I also realized that, of all the things that could have possibly defined me, from piano lessons to swim team, I had found my individuality because of a charter school, a school that helped me learn appreciation not for the GPA itself, but for the person represented by the GPA. And when it came to being in a high school where I was presented not just with grades but also my rank in the school as a whole, my charter school helped me remember that individualism. Thus, even though it can come from the oddest sources, I believe that individualism is the most important personal characteristic one could choose to treasure.
Though individualism is rarely “accomplished” or found simply by personal reflection–there is usually an impetus, a “school” if you will, that will help one to recognize it–it is both unmistakable and priceless. After all, in this world of GPAs and rankings and millions of other daily miscellaneous comparisons, there could be no higher praise than someone saying “to each his own.”