Why schools should reform learning

Opinion

During your application process for KO, the words college prep school probably came up. In fact, it was probably one of the things that enticed you to come here. In those three words is an implication: the courses are harder, the schedule is busier, the grading is tougher. After all, that’s why you pay 40K a year to go here, right? To be prepared for college, and for life beyond.

That’s why every grade level gets just a little more difficult, and it’s not because the teachers are mean; it’s because they just want you to do well in college… right? I’m just here to ask a simple question: Why? How did school transition from a place students felt lucky to attend every day, to prepare them for life beyond academics, to a place many students dread walking into every day because of stress, overwork, and sleep deprivation?

To be clear, I don’t intend to say the flaws in the system are a product of how KO is run, nor do I mean to deny that receiving an education is a privilege I am lucky to have. I’m saying in many ways, the educational system has lost sight of what should be its true focus.

This summer, my AP Biology teacher told us that staying curious was the key to being successful on the AP exam. At Commencement last year, my advisor told the student body to follow their core happy while pursuing their passions. The only way to find your true passion is to explore as many different areas as possible. This should be what students associate when they think of school: the place they go to foster their curiosity and find their passion, where discover their dream job and learn how to be successful in adulthood.

Contrary to popular opinion, I think you have a grasp of what type of person you are (academically) by freshman year of high school. Personally, I don’t like math. I haven’t liked it since letters got involved, and I don’t expect that to change in the foreseeable future. Yet I have to take math through senior year instead of exploring an area that has begun to intrigue me more: physical and social sciences. Why am I doing this? Because four years of math looks good on your transcript.

But I should be able to explore the things I enjoy without fear of being rejected by my ideal college. Additionally, the laser focus on grades is not even contained to high school anymore. My six year old sister comes home from school telling me that she had a math test that day, the results of which are posted on her PowerSchool account. Yes, you read that correctly. PowerSchool accounts in first grade, before most kids can even tie their shoes. Not only is this completely ridiculous, it teaches kids to associate tests with anxiety from a very young age.

This anxiety just compounds with age. It’s furthered by the (what seems like) inevitable poking of your arm and somebody whispering “what’d you get?” in your ear. In 2016, nearly two-thirds of college students reported overwhelming anxiety, according to a PEW survey. This is hardly a surprise, as they’re burned out from feeling that same stress and anxiety since they were literally five years old.

Many students, including myself, don’t even find tests to be the most effective method of learning. I’m not going to pretend that they can be completely eradicated; in fact, I think they are necessary in a fair amount of situations. However, there could be some changes made in the way they are administered.

Recently, I’ve heard of classes only having one or two grades comprising the entire marking period. This means if you mess up once, you’re out for the rest of the semester. I’m sure that knowing half of your grade lies in one assessment doesn’t do much to alleviate the test-taking anxiety many students feel. What is there to lose by giving students multiple assessments and offering alternative ways for them to show their knowledge? Another problem to be addressed is the growing resentment of reading among students. Many students feel that the literature selected to be read in school is not relevant to our culture or life today. The time spent on analysis of books for school often leaves little or no time to read for pleasure, giving students virtually no way to enjoy the activity. Reading aids in development into a well-rounded person, as it exposes you to different vocabulary, writing styles, and situations.

Although there are many more flaws in the educational system, these are the ones that have become painfully obvious to me recently. The takeaway from this is that schools have lost their true focus: setting students up to succeed in life by introducing them to their true passion. If this goal could become the heart of school again, many secondary problems such as anxiety, stress, and sleep deprivation would be cured.