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