Delusional Obedience: The Checklist Childhood

Obediently written for a school assignment


Note: I refer to Saratoga High School only because I go there, but you can substitute it with any other high performing high school. Also, keep in mind that this was originally written for a school assignment and is exaggerated for effect.

In the classrooms of Saratoga High School, the youths sat in uniform obedience — obedient to those senior to them, to rows and rows of lettered bubbles, and most of all, obedient to some sort of principle checklist universal to those pushed into the overarching bubble. The naive freshmen enter the bubble as entitled, privileged, and animated youth, and four years later, the “successful” ones exit the bubble still entitled and privileged, only now with a completed checklist and often times a cookie cutter soul.

The youth put in literally countless hours studying, cramming, and memorizing. Read, memorize, regurgitate, repeat. As the material gets harder to cram and harder to memorize, even more time is spent– just to be on the same page as peers.

“Bro, I’m so tired. I pulled an all nighter last night studying for this physics test.”
“Wow dude… That’s impressive. I wish I was that hard working.”

At a recent college information session at Saratoga, an admissions officer asked a particular student, “When do you plan on going to sleep tonight?”

The student responded, “Uh… probably 12?”

The rest of the room immediately descended into disbelief, then laughter, then long “nooo’s” as if sleeping as early as 12 AM was some foreign occurrence that only slackers were lucky enough to experience.

It’s gotten to the point where sleeping at 2 AM is a shared traumatic experience that grants you entry into some quasi elite club — a club of pissing contests to see who can get the least amount of sleep and still function.

It’s such a hypercompetitive environment that student go to surreptitious lengths to gain just a slight advantage. It isn’t too uncommon to see students at Saratoga High School sell test knowledge, lie to classmates for personal gain, or even take part in bribery and blackmail.

The result? A cut-throat, uncomfortable, and overall dry environment that is artificially overshadowed by the pressure to dogma — as Steve Jobs said, “living with the results of other people’s thinking.”

The youths, teachers, and parents all worry and complain about the “high stress” the youths are subject to. And in attempt to mitigate the unsurprisingly prevalent issue, all three (none of which are truly involved) all point fingers at each other.

“It’s the students’ fault because they subject themselves to challenging courses; they do it to themselves. It’s the parents’ fault because they subject their children to challenging courses and a challenging schedule. It’s the teachers’ fault because they subject students to their own challenging courses; if the teacher had not made the course so challenging, students wouldn’t be ‘stressed’.”

Heck, it’s Saratoga High School’s fault. In other words, the big brother “system”.

This general atmospheric pressure of America’s self-proclaimed “number one high school” coupled with the static pressure of hoop jumping obedience ultimately destroys the humanity of what otherwise would be innocent, immaculate teenagers. Stress, they call it. But what is it really? An eternal sense of hypercompetition that was spawned when all the moving pieces of the community align. The sense of competition that drives misguided obedience to a checklist — the wrong checklist.

There is always a desire to eliminate as much uncertainty as possible, and youth behavior is no exception. Most youths don’t really know who they are — yet — so they fall back onto a cognitively simple yet physically and mentally demanding plan: the checklist.

Start a club. Volunteer 100 hours. Get a summer research internship. Get a 2400. You get the idea.

I previously wrote a (satirical) guide that is a more thorough checklist of sorts — check it out.


Often times parents obedient to the checklist can be heard saying something along the lines of: “I heard your son was accepted to Stanford! Congrats! I’m sure he will become very successful in the future. All that hard work in high school definitely paid off!”

And on the generalized contrary, “Oh, your son is going to De Anza? Cool?” *thinks to self: this kid is stupid and didn’t work hard in high school*

Elitism based obedience tricks students and parents into thinking that hard work always pays off in the “end”. Hard work pays off, but there is no end. There is no such thing as “making it”, no such thing as reaching the end. The entitled and privileged youths of Saratoga seem to not realize that it does not plateau after climbing one hill. Hills come after hills, and gradual development always beats out sprinting and burning out.

“After climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb”
-Nelson Mandela

The youths seem to have some impression that a completed checklist can be exchanged for a golden ticket to the future, and this is as a result of the same delusional obedience. There is no such thing as a golden ticket, and the delusional obedience of many youth at the high school has made themselves nearsighted anywhere past schooling. It is unfortunate that the youth going through high school are not farsighted regarding education. The teenage years are a time for early discovery, gradual independence, and learning. Spending four years of precious youth hood fulfilling what someone else supposedly wants is a great way to destroy the creative and beautifully human aspect of life.

To quote Steve Jobs again, “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life.”


Thanks for reading — I wrote this for an assignment last year that was supposed to mimic a Grapes of Wrath interchapter. Don’t think that style worked out, but whatever. I also must note that much of what I describe is exaggerated and over-generalized from what I currently see at school — a good amount of peers I interact with are genuine and do not live under such a commanding checklist (but of course some hoop jumping is always needed). Saratoga High is a fantastic school with many intellectually curious students, and the trend I’ve been seeing has actually been steering away from what I described.

The term “checklisted childhood” that I use comes from former Stanford Dean of Freshman Julie Lythcott-Haims’s fantastic TEDx talk given earlier this year. I recommend you take 20 minutes to watch it.

Show your support

Clapping shows how much you appreciated Spencer Yen’s story.