Reimagining Lawrenceville's Work Ethic

in Editorials | October 6, 2023

          In the past year, Lawrenceville has seen its fair share of changes in regards to academic life. Some were relatively minor changes, such as reducing the Monday homework load from four subjects to three and more strictly adhering to the nightly homework limits for each class. The removal of Saturday classes last Spring Term, on the other hand, was a dramatic change from the decades during which Lawrenceville has been having classes on Saturdays. The common theme underlying the Administration’s academic initiatives has been ensuring that students spend less time on assignments, a change that has resulted in a reduction of the School’s academic rigor.

          Life at Lawrenceville is meant to be challenging, but it is not meant to leave students mentally drained, and the root of this issue is not the academic rigor or students’ extracurricular time commitments, but rather the work culture at this school. A difference exists between rigor and toxic work culture.

          Less homework and fewer classes means more time for us to relax, socialize, and generally do things that make us happy; rarely do you see students on campus complaining about less homework and no Saturday classes. However, is making academics less rigorous the only way—or, rather, the right way—to make students happier? At the same time, do students not come to this school for its academic rigor? We choose to travel across the country or across the globe just to come to this very institution. We studied for the SSAT, worked hard for straight As in middle school, and spent hours finalizing application essays just to walk these very grounds—a place that we knew would be academically rigorous. What is it that makes all these hours worth it when most of us could have just attended our local high schools down the block? We choose to come to a school where we know we will be spending half of our Saturdays in a classroom and most of our school days in class, at sports, or grinding away in study hall. Students here forfeit the “typical high school experience” for the unique resources they have access to at Lawrenceville. Yes, classes here are difficult, but they are difficult because they follow advanced curriculums taught by exceptionally qualified teachers. Yes, students here run from their last classes to their sports practices, but they do so because Lawrenceville has the coaches, sports complexes, and exercise machines that give them more opportunities to participate in co-curriculars. Yes, students here have club meetings and play rehearsals, but only because they are surrounded by equally driven students who push their peers to explore their passions. We came to this school not because we were looking for an easy four years, but because we were searching for a challenge.

          While the demanding work culture here—which drives students to stay up past midnight perfecting their essays and wake up at dawn to review for tests—is representative of the multitude of resources we have access to and the strengths of Lawrenceville students, the work ethic can also perpetuate the harmful idea that academic performance and getting ahead in the college admissions race is more important than mental health. Feeling pressure from others, students may feel the need to push themselves to show a similar level of dedication to academics and extracurriculars, even if this drive and hustle contribute to a decline in their mental well-being. When given a choice between taking a 500-level or a 400-level course, many students will pick the higher level, not necessarily because they are interested in the subject. Seeing their peers select the “Honors” option and hearing college counselors preach the importance of 500-level courses on a transcript, they feel that they must take the harder class. At any school, mental health should be a first priority. At Lawrenceville, students can easily lose sight of this priority when people are in a permanent state of busyness, juggling an endless stream of classes, sports, and clubs. The issue with this busyness, however, arises not from lengthy assignments or daily practices, but from students who find themselves struggling with this heavy course load and advanced material deciding they must simply work through it. Rather than switching to a lowerlevel class, many continue to struggle in silence for the sake of conforming to Lawrenceville’s work culture.

          Our goal as a community should not be to push for more academic leniency and easier workloads; Lawrenceville’s rigor is what sets students up for successful college and even workplace careers. However, we should strive to redefine the culture within our community, to support each other more, and prioritize wellness before performance, to become a school that works hard and plays hard rather than one that just works, works, works. There is no doubt that this realignment of priorities is easier said than done in a world that parallels, if not even exacerbates, the work culture at Lawrenceville. By simply taking on a mindset of support over competitiveness and being willing to extend a helping hand to our peers when we see them struggling, we can work towards cultivating a less demanding work culture.