The Only Way Forward

The track is simple: pre-school, kindergarten, elementary school, middle school, high school, and college next. As high school students, this seems to be universally understood as the one and only path to our future, but why does it have to be? After all, learning is something that should be individual and unique.

Our unfortunate reality, however, is that this rigid path of formal education ultimately diminishes our love for learning and destroys our creativity, while failing to equip us with the knowledge and skills we need to be successful in the 21st century, given that the modern education system was originally concocted by Horace Mann back in 1837 and has changed alarmingly little since its inception. These are my greatest frustrations that I have always felt toward the education system, and especially with the increasing difficulty of classes that I have taken during my school career, I have felt my anger grow. I no longer feel that education provides authentic learning, but rather excessive memorization that doesn’t benefit us in the long run. This is my honest attitude, and I am a dedicated Honors and AP student, supposedly getting the most out of my education. A large part of my frustration also comes from the lack of choice that I have when it comes to selecting classes that I want to take as a high school student.

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When I was a young elementary student, I used to remember school as something that I thoroughly enjoyed. Learning back then was exciting and refreshing. We had time to relax, read as a class, and even go to outdoor recess. However, slowly but surely, the system got to me. Each year since since sixth grade has been more of the same: an agonizingly boring routine causing me to question why I have to be another product of the education machine. Classes have turned into a checklist that I want to get done with.

The drill repeats itself daily: we sit in a desk, raise our hands, scramble to write down notes, and do our assigned homework. It is a straightforward routine that we become numb to and do not question. This is the danger of formal education. When we become robotic in our daily education routines, we no longer enjoy learning anymore. As for tests, striving for the A grade, rather than actually learning and retaining the material, is my approach, and I know that I am not alone in this regard. Of course there are some topics that I remember and continue to love learning about, but my overall attitude toward education is consistent with that of most students, which is the fact that we prioritize our grades before learning.

The letter grade we strive for in our classes dictates our approach to academics. If this means cramming information into our heads and regurgitating memorized answers on the test to get an A, so be it. The ends justify the means. However, if the letter grade is taken away, we instantly lose any last ounce of motivation, and this is precisely why the education system is failing us. We aim for success as students, but our successes only show up in the form of a letter grade. The funniest part of it all is the numbers game students love to play, as we always run over to see what others scored on their tests, essays, or projects.

Don’t get me wrong, I still love many aspects of my education—including my friends and teachers—but I can’t say the same about the structured learning that I have come to despise. Education is a powerful tool and something I am thankful to have been fortunate enough to receive, but there is plenty of room for improvement. We are ill-prepared for the workplace, even after the countless years we spend in the classroom. As negative as I may sound, I see potential solutions. A foundational education should be in place up until high school, meaning that high school students would be able to narrow down the classes they take in order to focus on their strengths in school.

That way, students could be better prepared for the professions that they have interest in, and since the economy of the 21st century is highly specialized, this could potentially benefit the entire education system. Additionally, high school students should have a required course in personal finance, so they can be financially literate adults with knowledge of basic principles: managing a checkbook, understanding loans, and an ability to manage their money and expenses in a smart manner. Computers and technology dominate the economy today, so another great option for schools would be to provide an elective course in computer science. Programming is a skill that can open up a vast array of opportunities, and schools would be wise to offer these types of opportunities to help students looking to get ahead. There is certainly potential for change, but the slow-evolving education system will continue to be a barrier.

Students, it’s up to us to push for that change.