By Sohabe Mojaddidy, Courier Staff Writer
1776 - A new nation, a future uncertain, but freedom won.
In the midst of revolution and newfound liberties, there was much yet to be done. And so many individuals, including the likes of Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, and Benjamin Rush fought for what they believed was essential to the nation’s future. The freedom to speak, to revolt against government, to pursue happiness, and the right to have an education. It was at that time a novel idea, the purpose of education was questionable, yet even then, they recognized the importance of it. It was deemed that all people, regardless of social status, should have the opportunity to receive an education. It was treated not as a commodity, but as something essential for one's character. Education was the exploration of the self, to find a purpose, to find something you loved to think about or to do, and to pursue it.
2010 - centuries later, even with industrial development and recognition as a world superpower, I’m sure our forefathers would have been disheartened by the metamorphosis of education.
Today, the education system is broken, deteriorated into something entirely different. Philosopher John Dewey once wrote, “Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself.” It seems that far too many of us have forgotten that.
Let’s first examine how the system has become utterly standardized. Next let’s explore the implications, namely socioeconomic segregation, that has been perpetuated by the system, and finally, let’s analyze solutions that can possibly put an end to this distortion.
Not too long ago, I arrived home, unsure of what was yet to come, only to be told that my report card had come. I looked at it, and thought about 2 things. First, the fact that I’m getting A’s in my classes has to be a sign of the fact that our education system is in shambles. Secondly, I found it strange that over the years, I had received many report cards and progress reports, but I had never really thought of them as a reflection of my education.
Sadly, the ideals that once mattered, notions of curiosity, passion, and learning for the sake of finding oneself have been lost. In his book entitled Lost in the Meritocracy, author Walter Kirn explains how he conducted an experiment on the ivy-covered campus of Princeton University. There, Mr. Kirn found himself not in a temple of higher learning but rather in an arena for social climbing. Why? Because the point of literature classes was to mirror the instructor’s critical theories instead of exploring books and applying the students’ own reasoning abilities.
No wonder then, that according to a study conducted by the American Library Association, “Only 31% of college graduates can read a complex book and extrapolate from it.” All to often, students are asked to understand the specific approach, rather than actually learn why.
Aaron Klein, in an article published by the Washington Post explains the reason. He states that since the 1940s, American education has moved more and more toward becoming a machine that breeds workers, not one that stimulates young minds. The system today is standardized, revolving entirely around numbers and grades that hold no real meaning.
It seems that currently, the only way to preserve our intelligence is to embrace with the words of Mark Twain, who said that “I never let school get in the way of my education.”
The implications of standardization have resulted in the loss of curiosity, an idea far more devastating that most of us recognize. A study published by the University of Rochester in 2005 revealed that over 70% of students believe that the purpose of education is to acquire the prerequisites necessary for materialistic success. About 28% out of the other 30% have no clue as to why each and every day, they come in, do work, and are tested on memorized facts they will forget within a year. As Author Ken Robinson contests, students everyday are educated out of their creative capacities, and knowledge is treated simply as a commodity.
Robinson illustrates that students are pressured into believing that there is only one answer and one path to success.
Poetry, philosophy, art, and exploration are deemed as unnecessary for a child’s future while math consistently tops the curriculums hierarchy. But the results of such an education system are far from successful. A survey conducted by CBS News in the beginning of 2010 indicated that only 45% of American adults are content with their careers, the lowest percent in history Truly, when education is treated not as a development of the self and of passion, but rather as a means to make money and get a job, most of us end up spending our days stuck in a cubicle of lifelessness.
Unfortunately, the loss of curiosity, passion, and exploration isn’t the most prominent problem. Above all, what we see plaguing the system is socioeconomic segregation. Gary Orfield of the Civil Rights Project puts it this way; "Socioeconomic segregation is inequality between rich students and poor students spawning from resources, money, and environment. The problem as we see it is that only the richest students receive the best, most rewarding and intellectual education. To put this into statistical perspective, consider a study conducted by the University of California Berkeley which revealed that a 1,000 dollar increase in a student's household income raises his or her standardized test scores by over 4%. Perhaps most startling is that according to the same study, Three-quarters of the students at the country's top 146 colleges come from the richest socioeconomic fourth, compared with just 3% who come from the poorest fourth. In a nation that is founded upon the ideals of equality, justice, and freedom, in a nation that is called the land of opportunities, the sad but undeniable truth is that unless you are part of the upper class, you just won’t make it.
In a system stratified by social class, where people believe that kids turn to a life of crime because their parents didn’t raise them right, what do we expect when those same parents are working paycheck to paycheck only to see their child fail and throw away their future just because they couldn’t afford to send their child to a better school. For those of you who believe otherwise, I suggest you step out of your bubble of protection and comfort, that you take off the blindfold, and see the world for what it has become.
We cannot deny that our education system is broken, but I do not believe, nor will I ever, that all hope is lost. In order to remedy the problem, I advocate for the following piece of legislation. First, create more schools that have less reliance on grades, and offer free primary education. Such schools, specifically the ones in certain parts of Providence, Rhode Island are proven to have a higher graduation rate and smarter students as explained by the National Public Radio. Second, implement a more progressive funding system, in which a school’s performance on tests holds less importance than their need of funding. Examples of this more equalized education system can be seen throughout Finland, that consistently performs the best on worldwide tests.
Finally, increase funding for extracurricular activities. In public schools, perhaps the most educational aspect of the school is the extracurriculars they offer, such as speech and debate. These activities are key toward building fundamental skills and confidence, as well as intellectual stimulation.
I understand that I’m a high school student, and that the solution I propose won’t be heard by a politician. And so my call to action is not merely one of legislation, it is one of unity. This nation was created through great difficulty. It was only when the people recognized the importance of their common struggle did they unite, against all odds, to earn their freedom.
In the status quo, we see increased dissatisfaction, increasing dropouts, more youth violence. We see that only the richest students are given freedom and abundance. And so I say, let us unite. Let us fight for the student who believes his schooling is pointless. Let us fight for countless Americans who are forced to believe their education serves only to make money.
Let us fight for the parents who because they aren’t wealthy watch their children fail. Let us mend this education system, because if we do not, the future, as well as our right to equality and freedom, is lost.