Attitude. It’s something our teachers tell us to work on, our parents tell us to fix, and our friends tell us to watch. Attitude is the thing that differentiates an optimist from a pessimist, a try-er from a doer. But what is it exactly? And why is it so important?

Our attitude determines the way we approach any challenge or issue that we may come across. By having a good attitude, we can overcome difficulties which may prevent us from achieving things we are definitely capable of. In contrast, however, a bad attitude can negatively impact our performance and our general feeling towards certain things, which bring me to today’s topic: students’ attitude towards school. More specifically, science.

For the past few weeks, I’ve been researching students’ attitude towards their scientific education from elementary to high school. I surveyed 18 college students about what their thoughts, feelings, and, yes, attitude towards science in general. What I discovered was that most students pursuing non-scientific degrees in college had a negative experience, which most students pursuing STEM subjects had a positive experience. While this is certainly interesting information, that begs the question: Did students have a positive experience because they had a positive attitude or did they have a positive attitude because they had a positive experience?

I think most of us will agree that we tend to like things better when we’re good at them, but I’m under the firm belief that we can still enjoy things we aren’t necessarily good at so long as we experience those things in a supportive, engaging environment. It’s difficult to say for certain what the true cause of academic success is simply because it is reliant on so many different factors. That being said, regardless of personal talent or skill, I believe that every student should have a generally positive educational experience. However, this is difficult because attitude is such a varying factor.

It’s easy for us to go around telling students to just have a better attitude in school when you’re not the one bogged down by back-to-back midterms or strict teachers. It’s easy to lecture students about the value of education when you’re already done with that stage of your life. What I’m trying to say is that it’s easy to criticize others when you yourself are not in that situation.

So while it’s one thing to tell students to just have a better attitude in school, we need to consider why they even have a negative attitude in the first place. Yes, the fault is partially the student’s, but to what extent? How many times have we heard or even experienced a suffocating and unhealthy environment? How many times have we seen students cramming for tests, foregoing sleep and food for the sake of just an extra hour of studying?

I believe that our current system of education is the reason for modern students’ negative attitude towards school for the sole reason that a students should never have to choose between their health and their education. With this kind of environment, how are students ever going to be able to foster a positive relationship with science? And in that vein, how are students ever going to develop a respect for those subjects when all it has ever caused was stress? In this way, students find it difficult to look past the negative and remember the true purpose of their scientific education in the first place.

I understand that our education system is a complex thing. I understand that poor attitudes are also partially the fault of students. But I stand firm in my belief that school is not helping, and if we are to make any sort of significant strides in improving our nation’s overall scientific literacy, we need to start somewhere.

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