Friday, September 4, 2009

College For Free 7: The United States School System

This blog is about due for a rant, and this is as good a topic as any. In fact, this may be the best topic.

Since the time we are entered into the system, we're told that next year things will get harder. School may not be that serious right now, but next year it will be harder. In second grade I was told I had to learn cursive because next year I wouldn't be allowed to turn in anything written in print. In third grade we were told we couldn't talk during the tests because if we did that sort of stuff next year our teacher would simply take it away and rip it up. Sure, slacking off in middle school seems fun, but once you get to high school it's a no nonsense, all business, fucking bloodbath of discipline and homework. Alright, so high school's not that hard, but college is no laughing matter. You at least have to pretend to try in college. I mean, it's college for God's sake. It must be hard, right?
Truth: School never gets harder.

I once saw an episode of Doug in which Skeeter told our hero that once they got to middle school, everything would change for worse. Specifically, I remember a theory about the tests being so hard that they wouldn't even have questions written on them. The students would be expected to write their answers unprompted on a blank piece of paper and, ultimately, fail. But of course, when they actually arrived and began their classes, they found that it wasn't so bad after all, nor was it very different from elementary school, and everyone went about their business as usual.
This is an absolutely perfect description of my experience in the public school system.

I think the fatal flaw in our school system is the same fatal flaw that exists everywhere else: Money. When you turn such a fundamental system as education (or health care for that matter, but I'll get to that some other time) into a business, it is doomed for failure. This is a long-standing problem, but No Child Left Behind really wrecked shit, let me tell you. The crime of No Child Left Behind is that it relies on standardized testing, which has very little to do with actual intelligence. Intelligence is better measured through creativity and inquisitiveness, not the ability to blindly memorize facts for the duration of an hour-long test.
Here's the ugly truth of the matter: some kids need to be left behind. Not left behind in the big picture, I mean left behind a grade. If a student isn't performing up to par with the rest of his peer group, if he isn't grasping basic concepts, if he hasn't shown mastery of the subjects needed to complete that level of education, he should be: a) shown special attention if these short-comings are not his fault or b) be held back if it is the student's unwillingness to learn that is slowing his progress. It seems to me that a vicious snow-balling phenomenon begins very early on in the education process, a phenomenon among teachers called "Not My Problem."
I'm not sure when this process starts, at what grade level a child shows up ill-equipped to deal with the most rudimentary tasks of education and the teacher simply shrugs it off, but I know it happens. Students that aren't performing at an acceptable level are pushed through the system with C's and D's, failing to comprehend the value of education and, in fact, feeling alienated from subject matter that they should have been helped with instead of scraping by in. Scraping by is not really acceptable anywhere, ever, so why is it acceptable when building the foundations of an educated society? I really, really wish I knew.
This is how we end up with a generation of people who do not understand the very most basic things about the English language, even when it is the only language they know how to read, write and speak. This is how we end with a generation of people who can't do multiplication in their heads and who don't have any awareness of the true nature of the world. The system dictates that the students must perform well in order for the school to receive funding. But the students aren't doing well, because all the teachers know that it is far too late to sit down with a high school student and explain the difference between "to," "too," and "two." So what do these teachers and school systems do? They lower the standards until the bare-minimum becomes acceptable work.

Let me say something that sounds like bragging but is actually regret: I did very well in school. I have never failed a class in my life. I was the English Laureate of my high school. I graduated college in 4 years with Magna Cum Laude honors and a 3.7 GPA. And, to be honest, I have never tried very hard at school. In fact, for the most part, I didn't try at all. The quality of basic public education has become so sub-par that a college essay written with fantastic grammar, spelling and vocabulary will receive an A every time REGARDLESS of content.

Why is this in the College For Free section? Because this is something that I've always known but didn't start to depress me until I came to college. In elementary school I thought middle school would be hard, and it wasn't. The same went for my transition for high school. In college, I really thought that the lie would be real this time, that I would be challenged, that I would be pushed, that the classes would be hard and my classmates would be smart and the material would be worth getting out of bed for. Sadly, that was not the case. As I sat in lecture halls surrounded by disinterested students checking their facebooks and playing games online, I realized that college is actually just high school part 2. A college degree has become so expected in our country that the standards have necessarily been lowered to greet all those high school graduates who, from day one, have been pushed through the system while teachers stood back and said "not my problem."

My conspiracy theorist side says that this all makes perfect sense, because it's really easy to govern a population that is more interested in celebrity gossip than the tyrannical abuse of power exhibited across the globe by their own country. It's very easy to control a group of people who can't even spell the word "government." When you don't teach empathy or world history or colonization as part of the K-12 agenda, it takes no effort at all to convince an entire nation of people that Muslims (all of them) hate our freedom. Man, the only thing that would make people easier to control would be to make them poor. You can't very well question the government when you're trying to feed your family and keep your house. You just don't have time.
But that's ridiculous, right?
I don't know. Nothing is certain, ever. It's turtles all the way down, didn't you know that?

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