The Real Problem With America’s Schools

Once upon a time, an American education was a gift to be treasured. An education meant a higher-paying job, and with a superior job came security and prosperity. Those fortunate enough to have the privilege of an education were sure to take advantage of it and be thankful for the chance to succeed. Fast forward to the twenty-first century: on the last day of school every year, children across the country burst out of the prison gates that have confined them for so many long months, breathing in the fertile scent of freedom and abandoning their schools without even a backward glance. The few kids who actually somewhat enjoy school peek sheepishly at the building before changing their minds and joining their friends, laughing and saying how glad they are that it’s all over.

The students can finally stop counting down the days until the end; there are school parties and parties with friends and sleepovers and family dinners and every kind of celebration you can imagine, all because they don’t have to go to school for a few months. And during the summer, they’re left with such a horrible impression of learning that most regress significantly, making the first few weeks of the next year essentially wasted on recovery. What happened in between now and then? Why do today’s students show such a strong distaste for the education system? Well, for one, today’s youth are certainly very different from those of decades past, and yet the education system has remained largely unchanged during those years. In order to maintain interest, it must change as well. One potential change in its principles could involve the implementation of more active learning; rather than promoting activities such as lectures and simple factual recall exercises, students should participate in active problem solving that involves synthesis and analysis. Active learning (which has ironically been advocated by famous educational philosophers such as John Dewey for many decades) is not only more engaging, but has also been theorized to be a more effective means of learning.

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Active learning can include activities such as laboratory activities, real building projects, and field experience. One more method of increasing student interest in school is to provide them with more opportunities for enjoyable learning activities in specific fields in which they are interested. In many middle schools and even high schools across the country, students have little opportunity to pursue their interests, and are instead forced into regular classes such as language and history. Instead of restricting students, the administration must allow them to make their own choices about courses. For example, in my school, there is a class in which students are permitted to work a shift in a local hospital during the school day.

These types of active learning activities allow students to expand upon their desires, and therefore capitalize on the interests of students to promote stronger long-term learning. There are certainly students who learn well in and enjoy the current system, but the point is that a large number detest school, and that represents a fundamental failure in the system. A student who enjoys learning is a student who will pursue learning outside of school, and who will be more motivated inside of school. Rather than trying to fix America’s schools with unproven legislation such as the No Child Left Behind Act that effectively reinforce students’ dislike for school, high educators should learn a lesson from pre-schools: just have fun.