THE BLOG
05/20/2014 11:15 am ET Updated Jul 20, 2014

My Teachers Have Senioritis

My teachers have caught senioritis. "I know you're seniors and you don't want to do you any work, but... " were the first words uttered by each of my teachers as I began the spring semester. In most of my classes, the homework load suddenly shrank and in some, it was eliminated. In one class, even tests were done away with. And this is not at a second-rate institution -- it's at one of New York's most competitive high schools.

Senioritis has become so entrenched in society's perception of high school that the term "second-term senior" has become synonymous for "slacker." In fact, seniors feel so privileged that they report believing it is "unfair" when their teachers assign as much homework as they did previously. Every year we allow "senioritis" to continue without any consequences, it gets worse.

According to the Washington Post, "senioritis" may be worse than ever. Senioritis has gotten so bad that some schools have abolished classes altogether, instead adopting "work-study" programs, which, in many cases, are a façade for early summer vacation.

Senioritis should not be treated like a disease that cannot be cured, taken for granted and grudgingly dealt with. Teachers should not lower the homework load and take it easy on their students. Schools should not allow students to sign up for five-hour school days or tolerate cutting classes. Letting students get away with senioritis only further feeds it by telling students that it is acceptable. More importantly, however, tolerating senioritis concedes the seniors' fundamental argument -- that education is a means to an end and that once that ends has been achieved education loses its value.

By accepting senioritis as inevitable, we not only increase the incentive to slack off ("The teacher's just going to curve everyone, don't worry about studying!"), but frame four years of high school as defined by college. This means that senioritis doesn't only affect seniors -- it seeps into our schools' culture and inadvertently impacts underclassman as well. For all we preach about the value of education and knowledge, students evidence a disregard for both. If teachers believe that education is inherently valuable, they should not lower their standards. Students respond rationally to incentives. If teachers demonstrate they are willing to fail their students, students will step-up their games. On the flip side, if students accept papers that are three-weeks late, students will not turn in their essays on time.

Worse, colleges are complicit. Once you have been accepted to a college, it's almost impossible to get rescinded. At Dartmouth, for example, it takes a D/F or a 2.0 GPA to get rescinded. That's down from the straight As it takes to get in. This should change. If colleges truly care about recruiting students with passion and academic drive, they should rescind students who demonstrate that their high school success was a performance, not a genuine illustration of their character and passion. Doing so will help eliminate the perverse incentive to slack off, and it will also reward hard-working students on the waitlist for their diligence and passion.

Senioritis is not a disease to be accepted and adapted to. It is a problem that strikes at the core of what it means to be a high school student, and begs the question of why we go to school in the first place. If that answer is to become more educated, intelligent citizens of the world, then schools should actively combat senioritis. This means being willing to fail students and maintaining high standards. It means rescinding students with sub-par senior year report cards, because they clearly have little interest in learning. With time, senioritis can be cured.

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