Is our education failing us?

Since day one of High School, the importance of a thesis driven five-paragraph essay and test-taking strategies have been force fed to me. And for what purpose? I love school, and I love learning, but I do not love the way I am being taught. I want this school to embody academic excellence just as much as anyone, but in order to get there, some things need to change.

When I am studying in one of my academic classes, and I ask my teacher, “How do these two things relate?” and their response is “Oh, don’t worry, that is not going to be on the test,” I wonder what the point is in me being here at all. Just preparing to pass a test is not the point of coming to school.

In nearly all of my classes, with only a few exceptions, my teachers are preparing me to pass tests, not to truly master the material. Of course to a degree passing a test requires mastery of some level, but mastery is also often misconstrued with memorization. I believe wholeheartedly the shift in academic emphasis towards passing tests is a direct response to the fear of failure that pervades most students. Because of our strained college preparatory environment the focus in the classroom has taken a shift for the worse.

Because of this when I leave high school I will have no idea how to vote for the next president of the United States, or pay taxes. These critically important life skills have been put on the back burner at the expense of preparing me to mindlessly spew information so I can get into the best university possible. While I will be unable to do essential tasks, I will be able to write an excellent argumentative essay in 80 minutes.

Last I checked few jobs have this in their job description. I fully acknowledge that deadlines are important, as a journalist there is little I value more, but can anybody produce their best work in such a constrained time?

To avoid the possibility of failure, too much emphasis has been placed on how to pass tests, at the expense of undermining what we are really trying to learn. A dangerous mentality has began to take over our academic world, a mentality where we treat high school more like a test of survival than a place to learn.

Halfway through high school, I have not failed any major assessments, and very few small assignments. For some reason I’m not skipping through the hallways dancing at this idea, but rather I am questioning how I could go four years without really failing? I should have failed; multiple times. But because failure is no longer acceptable, as a result of the emphasis on perfection in our college-preparatory environment, I will never properly experience failure in High School. I am not suggesting teachers should start grading harsher, that would solve nothing; but rather we need to foster a community where I can look at an F and think, “Okay I need to work on this” instead of, “Now I will never get into this college.”

Beyond the issue of academic motivation within the High School, there’s also a sense of college resumé building that detracts from the learning experience.

Entering high school as a nervous freshman the plethora of opportunity that surrounded me was thrilling. But the longer I walk through the hallways of the High School the more I realize the expectation is that every decision I make for my extra curricular choices should be made based off of a cold and calculated commitment to my college résumé. When a cringe wrinkles across my parents’ faces because I do not want to overbear myself with highly academic activities over the summer, I question the culture I am being raised in.

My solution to the issue at hand is not easy. The bottom line is the pressure for what comes “after” high school should be on the back burner. Focus on the four years you are currently in, and most importantly, enjoy them. Our academic system would also benefit from offering feedback to students that extends beyond the raw score. Assessments that offer a clearer benchmark of learning, with written feedback and possibly meetings would cause students to focus more where they need to improve rather than the impact of the score. Most importantly though, academics are not a competition. Your academic achievements should not be comparable to anybody else’s, we are all individual learners, so learn to become your own person.