I’m an American High School Student and My Education System is Broken


The way I have been told to learn does not work. I don’t have a PhD in education, but what I do have is over ten years of firsthand experience in America’s education system.  Ten years of No Child Left Behind but still feeling acutely left behind.  Ten years of CST’S, CAHSEE’S, AP’S and every letter in between.  And ten years of watching some of my closest friends lose interest in what they had previously loved to do every day.

On paper, the system works for me.  I’ve almost always received high grades and I’ve successfully discerned how to distinguish between A, B, C or D.  But intelligence encompasses much more than being able to succeed on multiple choice tests, and my peers suffer from this generalized viewpoint every day.  As much as officials have adopted a one-size fits all attitude, they’ve also increasingly turned to corporate entities to decide the future for myself and my peers.. In a recent speech I attended by education reformer Sir Ken Robinson, he brought up the fact that the testing industry has become larger than the NFL, with over sixteen billion dollars in revenue in a single year. Mega-businesses such as British scoring company Pearson Education have racked up billions in sales while paying their essay scorers close to minimum wage to read over two hundred essays a day.  Essays that students have slaved over, reduced to a thirty-second skim through and a snap decision.   So yes, I’m technically good at the standardized tests I’m forced to take.  Yet, that doesn’t mean my education should suffer so that a handful of large foreign corporations can get their paycheck.

Unfortunately, many of the people I’m closest to simply can’t adapt to this system, no matter how hard they try.  My sister is only ten years old, faces unique challenges when it comes to learning, and almost every day of the school year she comes home feeling worthless or upset about her abilities.  She’ll spend hours at home studying math, spend countless more with expensive tutors, and she’ll still be told her math skills are subpar at best.  My sister is one of the most creative, artistic and intelligent people I know, but her worth is only defined at her school by the results of a math test.  The system is failing her, and it’s failing millions of others too.

Is it really any wonder that one in four freshmen will fail to complete high school on time?  Or that every twenty-six seconds a student calls it quits and decides to drop out?  Learning itself is an intrinsic part of a child’s life, but by the time they’ve reached high school or even middle school the love they once had for learning has been irreplaceably stolen from them. As a student,  I see this constantly.  I’ve seen this since I was in the  sixth grade, and it only gets worse each year.  It’s a look in their eyes, a blank expression, a silent admittance of defeat that has become the unspoken normality in education today.  We’ve been told to stay quiet, sit down, and stay like that for the next six hours, and this is the unsurprising end result.

My education stands squarely at the crossroads of change and complacency, with no clear answer in sight.  There’s no magic fix-all solution, even though some policy makers would like to think otherwise.  Oftentimes, the voice that gets lost in the din of solutions is the most important.  Students’ voices have been continuously marginalized even though we’re the ones affected most by this issue.

My education system shouldn’t force me to take standardized test after standardized test until my standardized self becomes a standardized member of society.  My education system shouldn’t make my sister or countless others feel worthless because they don’t fit the cookie-cutter image of success.  And my education system shouldn’t turn my best friends into kids just waiting for the final release bell.  My education system is broken.  I just hope it doesn’t stay that way for long.

Written By: Sam Gorman

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45 thoughts on “I’m an American High School Student and My Education System is Broken

  1. Excellent article, and I agree your voice has been lost in the beaurecratic education system. So what does a quality education look like to you? We need students who want to brainstorm on what would challenge them and engage them, what it would look like and how it would work. Parents will listen and stand behind you for change. You can start the conversation about what you want – and those of us who have been working for years to turn education to something more creative and more engaging will listen and help.

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  2. The education system is broken but there still should remain a standard that needs to be reached by everyone. The problem is that we try to reach that standard for each student in a cookie cutter manner. Standardized tests should be diagnostic and should point to how to better serve each student. Your sister, for instance, needs to meet a certain level of math skill just like everyone else. But the test should point to her strengths in other areas and should be leveraged to better her math skills. If it takes one student 2 years to reach a certain standard level and another student 4 years, who cares? The student shouldn’t be made to feel bad like standardized tests make you feel. They should feel proud that they reached the goal, even if it took them a little longer to get there. Thoughts?

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    1. I like your idea of applying more of an individualized approach to learning in schools. Personally, I would prefer a system where students, especially younger students in elementary schools such as my sister, would not need to constantly worry about the next standardized or mandatory state test and could instead focus on actually learning and retaining worthwhile knowledge. If I looked at this issue from a pragmatic standpoint, then your idea of a more personalized testing experience would be more likely to be accepted by administrators than simply dismantling statewide standardized testing altogether. It is definitely a complicated issue with no clear cut solutions, but I feel that the voices of individuals like yourself and especially my fellow students’ voices have the power to enact meaningful change in this system. Thank you for taking the time to write such an insightful comment and please feel free to follow the blog itself or like us on Facebook or Twitter at Youngchange-Bestchange to stay updated on the campaign.

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    2. I agree David, ‘Standardized tests should be diagnostic and should point to how to better serve each student’. This is how exams were originally set up, to see how to better serve the student. Now they are a competitive race which leaves a swathe of devastation in its wake. Education is more, much more than this, and could go to depths of beauty and amazingness that we have hardly dreamt of yet.

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    3. David I love what you have shared in the truth that students should feel proud with the steps they take to reach their goals. No matter how big or small its a step in the right direction.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I am a UK primary school teacher and I agree with every word you wrote, Sam! What a well-written blog. I look into the faces of the children I teach and I can see how the system grinds them down year by year because the system dictates that results are everything. What if we shifted the focus to children being everything who then learn? Lack of self-esteem and lack of confidence is prevalent for most, even with students who succeed. If students are met for who they are, not what they can do, ironically they might achieve more because they will have self-value and will feel they are all they need to be. Sam, it is not just students who are feeling the pinch of the system; teachers also feel the unrealistic expectations and demands placed on students and themselves to perform to unrealistic and dogmatic targets. Just how powerful are the voices of students and teachers combined who share the same view. What calm ground-swell could be achieved by honest sharing such as yours? How powerful to be expressing the same message together. We have all kept silent for too long perhaps with a little give-up-ness. Thank you for writing, expressing and sharing!

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    1. Thanks for writing such an insightful comment Rachel. I couldn’t agree more that in such a results oriented system, students are often left behind in this relentless pursuit for results. And just like students, I also feel that teachers are often left behind in this system and the vast majority of educators I’ve spoken with have felt the same way. I think what we have here is that students, teachers and parents are all becoming fed up with the unrealistic targets you describe and I’m just a small part of a larger movement that has already began to take shape. Thank you so much for sharing as well and if we can stay vocal about what matters, I think we can enact serious change. Feel free to subscribe to the site as well so you can stay updated on the campaign and what we plan to do!

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      1. Great article, I just read it! I see this firsthand every day that I go to school and I think you summed it up perfectly. Constant testing is not good for anyone’s health, let alone teenagers. I look forward to reading more of your work!

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      2. Beautifully blown way by your article, Sam, and the dialogue that has followed. I teach in a primary school in the UK and know with all my heart that relationships, connection, respect and care underpin education. Without these ingredients we are fighting an uphill battle, teachers and students alike, trying to deliver and absorb knowledge with no foundation. Your sister, Sam, is one of many children whose great qualities are being overlooked as the system imposes a framework that does not honour and nurture individuals. Writing like this, communicating openly is the key to change. Thank you.

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    2. So great Rachel that you have shared how teachers are also experiencing the same things about the system as the students. Most teachers I know are very dedicated, can see right through the system and would like it to be otherwise. As you say, the very expressing of how this way of educating feels and looks, is so crucial. Let our voices join together in saying what we all know to be true, that people come first, that the system needs to serve the people not grind them into the ground. Intelligence without love is worth nothing. And we can say this without reaction, but simply because it is true, we can feel it, and we know it.

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      1. Yes, Lyndy what you share is true… ‘that people come first, that the system needs to serve the people not grind them into the ground.’ This is what needs to change. As a teacher I truly love the children I teach and I can see the effects of the system in their eyes and in their expression just like your sister, Sam. To support children to know they are gorgeous as they are, that they are enough and they will learn in their own time, naturally is important. Children have a love and joy of life, they love to learn, but this can be dulled as early as 6yrs or 7yrs. What if we supported students to remain in this openness all through their education?

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      2. Yes – what you have said Rachel, ‘What if we supported students to remain in this openness all through their education?’ is very important. Even if a teacher is feeling pressed on all sides by demands from the system, they can still opt to stay really connected to their own love and joy and support children to also stay connected to this and not lose it –if this connection is lost, this is how we are really robbed of our love of learning at an early age ad how students end up blank, given-up and devastated.

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    3. I love what you have shared Sam and Rachel. As a high school teacher I too see the crushed and given up expressions of students. And I love also Sam how you say that kids WANT to learn – I can feel in my middle school students the passion and energy they have for learning but then all they get back is a system which defines them with grades. The sense of failure is profound and devastating for all. Thank you for raising the point that it is also devastating for teachers Rachel; my low moment in teaching is always when hand back the tests/tasks with the grades. I ALWAYS give a speech before hand about it is not what defines them, it is simply a hoop they have to jump through and it is corrupt that their success cannot be defined by other means. And then I try to teach in a way that celebrates that who they are is their greatest success and help them to connect to the strength they uniquely hold and which they can bring to societies in their lives. I could talk forever around this subject. Thank you so much for bringing this to our awareness.

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      1. That is great Gina that you affirm to the kids that it is not what they do that matters so much, but who they are – each one being amazing in their own right.

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  4. Sam, this is one of the best and most intelligent things I have ever read on the current education system, which applies equally in Australia. You certainly do not have to have a PhD in Education to see what is going on. You have seen the blank look in the eyes of the students robbed of their love of learning ad exploration, and you have felt your beautiful, intelligent sister come home feeling worthless no matter what effort she has put in. The system as it stands is heartless and cold and without integrity. (Thanks for the information about the multi-billion business of Pearson Education et al). The current system and mode of assessment is a form of intelligence that ignores that we are people first, and that all children have an innate intelligence about life. As you so well question . . .you can be ‘technically’ good at tests and exams but what about fulfilment, joy, expansion and the love of learning?
    I agree there is no quick fix solution. I have tweeted and face booked your article. Sites you might be interested in which discuss exactly what you are talking about are Unimedliving.com (see the Education Sphere section) and also there is some of the best stuff I’ve come across about true intelligence in a book called An Open Letter to Humanity by Serge Benhayon (Unimed Publishing) chapter 8 ‘Examining and Exposing our Current form of Intelligence’ and chapter 11 ‘Love in intelligence.’

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    1. Thank you so much for your support and your kind words. It is fantastic to see people like you agreeing with the message I’m trying to spread. I’m surprised that similar conditions exist in Australia, and I’ll definitely look into making more global connections in my articles in the future. I’ll also check out the book you mentioned, thanks for the recommendation. Feel free to subscribe to the site as well so you can stay updated on our next steps towards change. Thank you again for taking the time to write such a great comment!

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      1. Thank you Sam! Keep writing and expressing with your beautiful integrity. I will subscribe to this site to stay updated on our next steps.

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  5. This article to me demonstrates the human cost of turning the public education system into a forum for multi billion companies to execute their latest corporate agenda, an agenda that is always going to be based upon profit and greed. This agenda has absolutely nothing to do with the welfare of students, nor the preparation of students for a vital and active role in Society. Students and children, in the context of this agenda, are merely the cannon fodder for those who wish to dominate education of their own selfish ends. It is no better than using young men to war to serve the political aspirations of small few. I am familiar with the cavities of Pearson Education and several other multi national edu businesses also, recommend that we all speak out about the agendas they are imposing upon the education system and, hence, upon our young.

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    1. Thanks so much for commenting. It’s great to see so many intelligent people like yourself really taking the article in and wanting to make a difference. I completely agree with what you say, students and educators alike have been caught in the middle between political and corporate aspirations and this is the end result. If you’d like to stay updated on the next steps we try to take to address this issue, feel free to subscribe to the site!

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    2. I love the analogy you use here as this is exactly what the system feels like. Cannon fodder for universities (and in the case of the private companies – fodder for making money) and the rest can fall by the wayside feeling like they haven’t passed muster!

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  6. Sam I love what you have shared here, it is so insightful and grounded in first hand experience not theory! My daughter also struggles with the ‘system’ and is very creative much like you describe your sister as being. The fact that we base so much emphasis on maths and literacy and endlessly test means we skew the significance of what is important. What is truly important as Rachel shared in her comment that we first accept that children are whole, complete and everything already and THEN they learn. If we bring the focus back to the fact we are love, that we know all about being connected to ourselves and others learning becomes an extension of this connection. Much like a cup full of water adding drops it over flows but in our current system we assume the cup is empty with a holes in and needs to be endlessly filled up with information. We have it backwards, not just in the USA but here in the UK, Australia, NZ who have all followed this data based push.

    I found your facts about the amount of money involved in this data testing focus shocking, and it feels corrupt, it then made sense to me why there has been such a massive push in this area, profit before people.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thanks for commenting and sharing on Facebook! It seems like we both know personally how this system cheats the people who need it the most. I love your water cup analogy and in regards to how profitized it has become, I’m just as shocked as you are. I’m shocked that administrators would care more about filling their bottom line than filling the minds of their students, and I’m shocked that I have more significance as a statistic than as an individual. But unfortunately, it has reached that point, as you pointed out, across the world now and it will take a concerted effort to try and change this. But the fantastic dialogue we are starting here is an important step towards change and I can’t thank you enough for sharing your opinion on here. If you’d like to stay updated on the next steps we take, please feel free to subscribe to Youngchange-Bestchange too!

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  7. Sam its great to hear this conversation being opened up from the student’s perspective. I and many teachers I know agree that there needs to be a big change in the way young people are educated. We measure success using very narrow criteria and I can see how the system can be crushing for many young people. As rachelmurtagh1 mentions the current system in not working for teachers either. How great would it be for students and teachers to collaborate to bring about the changes we feel are needed.

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    1. I’m so glad you enjoyed it! Teachers are just as angry at this system as students and I agree that together, we can make a difference. Thank you for commenting and I encourage you to seek out some of your students who feel similarly about this issue and work on addressing it, even if its just on a local scale! The smallest changes can make the biggest impacts, and I feel that we as a society are becoming increasingly fed up at the standards we are forced to maintain. Thanks again for leaving such a great comment and I invite you to subscribe to the site too, so you can stay updated on our next moves!

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  8. Sam, what you are discussing here can be felt the world over within education. I am a secondary school teacher in England and am very familiar with the frustrations involved of working within a system that demands teaching to a set of data. This takes the heart out of education as there is little room for the development of relationships and allowing students to progress at their own pace. What you raise here is a truly important discussion we need to be having in order to turn things around. There needs to be a deep understanding of the hurt this is causing to students on a personal level. To live with a lifetime of lack of self worth and confidence issues because a student fails to meet the ever changing goal posts of testing, to me feels corrupt in the extreme, especially if it is done for profit. Probably everyone in the system can relate to what you are sharing. Your insight and the way you express is awesome – so great that you have started this discussion.

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    1. Absolutely Michelle: ‘To live with a lifetime of lack of self worth and confidence issues because a student fails to meet the ever changing goal posts of testing, to me feels corrupt in the extreme, especially if it is done for profit.’ You have nailed it. True education ( ‘a bringing up: a rearing’) would be to support children to know how amazing and valuable each one is to the whole, to be able to back themselves,to be able to confident and speak up about how they feel. It is total corruption for business to be profiting by a system that kills all this off in student and teachers alike.

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  9. Hi Sam reading your article rang so true to me as a teacher working with students who have felt the “giving up-ness”. Administering many of these tests myself and watching children look at me puzzled and confused due to the complicated and long worded questions shows the lengths these
    standardized tests will go to “dumb down” children’s results. Your sharing is wonderful to read
    and shows that children are inquisitive, playful and open little beings who thrive on challenges that are based on developmentally appropriate standards. Teachers are feeling the broken system you have so wonderfully shared. There are a number of other sites which support your view unimedliving (education sphere) that rings true the concern many others in the field are feeling. I am blown away with the level of data driven commercialism with multi-million dollar funding that lies underneath. Sam keep writing and sharing your feelings on education. This is much needed.

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  10. Sam thank you for sharing your feelings on this. It’s a very sad state of affairs when the system created to “make and build a nation” is actually leading to hopelessness and helplessness and issues with self-esteem, as we grow up thinking that being ourselves is not ok and that we have to live this ideal that is set by something outside of us. This clearly shows that creating a system that does not include the people using the system, does not work. We are human being and not robots. We are so consumed by finding solutions to our woes and when they don’t work trying to find more solutions. It’s time to get off the roundabout. The more that people express as you have, the more inspired everyone will be to stand up and say this is not the way. I work in health and although different, there are many shared parallels with health and education. The main one is that we work with people…all the time and that people do not ever fit into a box. When systems are created that are not for people, all of a sudden they don’t work so well and we struggle…in fact everyone struggles. So we try to re-create, re-brand, re-name the system in the hope that it will all magically be fine. Which it doesn’t. So you keep going Sam for what you are opening up here will equally apply to many areas of service.

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  11. Thanks for getting back about having read that article Sam – you are amazing!
    There are lots more articles about education on that Unimediving.com site where that article about Exam Stress is. You are speaking exactly about what is being expressed on this site and it is brilliant to know that we are all feeling the same way and can see how damaging the present way of Education is. Speaking about it as you are doing Sam makes a huge difference even if we can’t yet see the ‘visible’ change. Every expression makes an invisible but tangible footprint for humanity to begin to get and follow.

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  12. Sam, you have so opened my eyes to what is going on in education. I had naively assumed markers really read the content of students’ papers diligently and respectfully. Yet you’ve said, ‘Essays that students have slaved over, reduced to a thirty-second skim through and a snap decision.’ This is corrupt beyond belief, as no one can do that with a speck of integrity or truth.

    The other thing that really stands out for me is that ‘the testing industry has become larger than the NFL, with over sixteen billion dollars in revenue in a single year. Mega-businesses such as British scoring company Pearson Education have racked up billions in sales while paying their essay scorers close to minimum wage to read over two hundred essays a day.’ Spending this amount of money is beyond obscene when so many schools are being run on ‘close to the bone’ budgets….and that’s before you even factor in all the standardised testing that is being imposed on students in many, many countries around the world and the huge costs this intense testing also entails.

    What you have said about education really exposes how heartless and disregarding it is of the fact that it is dealing with people’s futures and their emotional health and wellbeing. We all know there is another way, a more caring and nurturing way of educating young people and valuing them for the awesome beings they already are and it is only by raising our voices as you have, that more people get to see what is really going on and add their voices as well. Thank you.

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    1. I’m so glad you enjoyed my article Judith! It’s great to hear such kind words and I’m happy that the message I’m trying to share has been received so positively. The sad fact is that this system is prioritizing test scores over retaining worthwhile knowledge and the students are paying the price. Like you brought up, many people do not know of these issues but would be shocked if they found out the truth. Thanks again for commentating and I would encourage you to subscribe to the site as well so you can stay updated on our next moves towards this crucial issue!

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  13. Thanks for this perspective, Sam! I teach English to high school seniors, and they have such trouble grasping the concept that their voices matter after being treated otherwise for so long. It is easy to stand by and let others make decisions, passively absorbing enough information to just get by, but that is not the point of learning.I plan to share this excellent piece with them in the hope that your words, intelligence, and enduring sense of hope will inspire them as much as they’ve inspired me!

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  14. This was just brought to my attention, and I applaud theis perspective. There are alternative approaches that work and I’d urge anyone concerned about the “one size fits all” approach that is described in this essay to look at the Sudbury Valley School ( http://www.sudval.org ) for a description of an approach that is nearing 50 years of operation and validation for its alums. Thanks for writing this, Sam.

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