Why we hate school and what we can do to fix it
Published: Friday, August 31, 2012
Updated: Friday, August 31, 2012 00:08
"I wish I could just hang out at school and not have to go to class."
It’s a familiar mantra groaned by students from grade school to college. With American students’ test scores consistently lower than their global counterparts, the future of our education system and economy appears worrisome.
People are quick to explain this phenomenon – "American kids are lazy and spoiled. They expect many things and don’t want to work for it."
It is true – post-Generation Y has lived in an era of technological dependence and instant gratification. However, many American students work passionately toward their interests – from video games, to fashion, to sports – investing time, energy and money.
Nevertheless, older generations’ frustrations seem legitimate. In America, educational and financial success appear to be a relatively easy, almost guaranteed process – go to class, do your work, earn a degree and get a well-paying job.
So, why don’t most American students like school? Why don’t many students care? The answer lies partly in feeling as though education or time spent in school is a meaningless pursuit. "It’s not very interesting. Except for my [insert standardized test, professional school entry], none of this actually matters."
Educators would be quick to offer rebuttal – a foundation of knowledge is vital, whether progressing through corporate ranks or sticking to a specialized field. When the average undergraduate student changes their major at least three times, graduation requirements such as the General Education Curriculum, or GECs, seem necessary to shape a well-rounded student.
However, the problem doesn’t actually lie with classroom content or graduation requirements. The problem is the way classes are taught, the way learning is tested and the way success is measured.
These problems are exacerbated by the increase in standardized testing. Students’ success is reduced to achieving a certain score. Although meaningful engagement is stressed, it often takes a backseat. Teachers must also fulfill classroom objectives and content standards required by the University. With large class sizes of students with diverse capabilities, standardized testing is the fastest and easiest means of evaluating and acquiring data.
However, standardized testing is detrimental to the very nature of learning because it enforces conformity. "There’s only one solution. It’s in the back of the book, but you can’t look. You can’t get help from others, either. That’s cheating." In the workplace, this would be considered brainstorming and collaboration – vital skills for any employee and the success of any organization.
There is a reason teachers encourage students to seek study groups. Some of the best ideas and depth of understanding comes from collaboration.
Quoting Sir Ken Robinson, a prominent speaker on education, "Collaboration is the stuff of learning. When you atomize people, you remove them from their natural learning environment."
This, along with critical thinking, creativity, communication and technological proficiency , is referred to as a 21st century skill. These skills are vital to cultivate in students, especially in the midst of increased global competition and technological advancement.
Unfortunately, 21st century learning is scarcely implemented in classrooms, and this is a reason students may not find their education meaningful. While our global economy desperately needs innovative ideas, our educational institutions continue to place value on the ability to conform and test well.
So how can we change this? How can we get students to stop hating school and maximize their potential?
First, we must dispel current notions about education – STEM versus the arts, abstract versus concrete – because they are a myth. All subjects are interconnected. We must recognize students learn differently. More importantly, we must cultivate students’ abilities to find different solutions to problems, or different ways to solve a problem.
We must recognize standardized testing does not evaluate all students fairly or meaningfully. Top universities such as Wake Forest have already removed SAT and ACT scores from their undergraduate admissions process. The National Bureau of Economic Research published a study in 2010, concluding, "Standardized test scores do not show significant correlation of a student’s ability to succeed."
Classrooms must incorporate hands-on activities, projects and portfolios into objectives and content standards. Research supports that students involved in project-based learning tend to outperform their nonparticipating peers and attend school more often. The goal is to evaluate students more wholly, rather than reducing them to numbers.
Degrees aren’t necessarily enough anymore, nor are they a guarantee of a job. On an institutional level, we must place equal, if not higher value on cultivating 21st century skills – they’re one of the only means Americans can define themselves and succeed in an unpredictable, technologically advancing global economy.
Do your part in making the most of your education. Think critically about why you may hate something and what can be done about it, and organize to make it happen.
Education is a privilege. Therefore, it is our responsibility to make it engaging and meaningful.
In the end, it’s only knowledge, skills and experience that genuinely matter and can successfully progress our nation into the next century.