Yes, you’re right. Now please stop.

Advanced Placement (AP) tests are a pressure cooker of anxiety for high school students, so back when I was a full-time youth minister, my church gave me permission to go to the high school up the street and be the most calming and encouraging proctor those students could ever have. Of course, not every proctor shared this mentality.

One of my co-proctors for the AP Calculus exam described herself as a psychologist, but based on her actions that day, someone may need to have the ethics conversation with her again. During the entire set-up process before the students entered the room, she talked about the needless stress around standardized tests (which, in fairness, I agree with), but as the students began to enter the room, she moved into a more toxic refrain, “I mean, really, what are most of these students even going to use calculus for? They’re just trying to look good for colleges.” She then approached a student and asked, “Excuse me, do you even know what calculus is used for in the real world?”

Now, there are some things that, no matter how true, you should never say to someone preparing to take a standardized test, and “Do you even know what this is used for?” tops the list. Real world application is usually covered on the first day of class, and by test day months later, students are just focused on retaining techniques and terminology. This psychologist was cranking up the stress on these poor teens. Luckily, the student she asked was a particularly brilliant member of our youth group, and he responded without missing a beat, “Calculus is the bedrock of every field of engineering, and I think everyone should take it to better understand the world around us.” The psychologist stood there dumbfounded as the student nodded politely and found his seat.

Sometimes you can be right about something and still be unhelpful.
The other proctor was right about the AP system being highly flawed. It rewards students for taking classes they’ll never use, and it inflates course difficulties and GPAs, making them more difficult to track and compare. It rewards knowledge without teaching application, and it creates unmanageable levels of stress, burning students out on education before they even get to the fun stuff. It’s a system born from unhealthy competition, and it needs an overhaul.

At the same time, students going into a high-pressure AP exam don’t need to hear all this. They need encouragement and companionship, and they need the reassurance that a low score won’t be the end of the world. The proctor was completely correct in her assessment, but she was completely incorrect in choosing to voice it right then and there.

Picking your battles isn’t just about picking ones you think you’ll win. More often, it’s about figuring out whether you are doing good or causing damage with the words you speak. John Wesley had a helpful rule that can help us determine when to speak and when to offer silent support instead. It’s just three simple words:

Do no harm.

Sometimes, even when we’re right, our actions can be damaging to others.
Sometimes, an important truth may need to be saved for another time.
Sometimes, the more helpful thing is just to show up and shut up and bear with someone.
That’s great that you have a correct, properly formed perspective.
Now stop. Think. Take a breath. And ask:
Is hearing what I think really going to help this person right now?

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