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The Problem with the School System

Spoiler Alert: It's the whole system.

Sometimes it felt like I learned more from the The Fault in Our Stars author than I did my own teacher

I will set this straight right off the bat: this isn't the ramblings of a high school dropout. I graduated from high school with a 4.36 GPA, I rarely skipped school, I found it to be very easy, and I had a lot of friends at school. But therein lies the problem—I hated every second of it. A more appropriate summary then would be the ramblings of the public school poster child.

Why would a guy who had everything going for him in high school hate going?

Besides the personal issue of getting up early, my belief is that the answer lies with how it is fundamentally set up. From my experience, schools are test-oriented, and to them, rightfully so. The better a school's standardized test results are, the more funding they get from the city. So, they push their students to do good on standardized tests. On the surface, this sounds like a great idea—higher tests scores mean smarter students, right? If the tests were written a certain way, then yes, but as it stands, this isn't the case. Most standardized tests, excluding AP tests and to a degree the SAT, are minimal knowledge tests that only require the regurgitation of facts to pass. The vast majority of final exams through high school do not require students to have a deep understanding of the material, just the basic facts that you can rattle off onto the paper and forget the next day. Since schools push for high test scores, this forces teachers to teach to the exam. They rarely have wiggle room to go in depth on any topic or to teach anything that isn't on the exam. Personally, this made for an empty experience that does not feel rewarding, as I felt that we only learned the "whats" and not the "whys." Granted, these are high school courses, which limits really how much in-depth you can go at all. But the sheer lack of any real substance in any of the classes is a real issue.

The other issue with the emphasis on standardized testing is that most standardized tests require the absolute minimum knowledge to pass. That's great and all for the "No Child Left Behind" folks, but this in reality just passes students that shouldn't be passing. For example, in my home state of Virginia, the end-of-course test was called the SOL. The SOL is a 40-60 question, strictly multiple choice exam that requires a score of 400 out of 600 to pass. Now while I'm no expert on exactly how these things are scored, assuming each question counts for exactly the same amount, this means a student only needs to get a 67 percent in order to be deemed knowledgeable enough in the course to be passed. This isn't failing on the traditional ten-point scale, but it also doesn't make you very knowledgeable in any sense of the word.

So you say, okay, the schools want more money, understandable. Schools are in fact horribly underfunded, but I'll get into that later. However, in pursuit of high test scores, schools really lose the whole critical thinking aspect of education. Opportunities for problem solving or abstract thinking are rare, while the recitation of facts from a PowerPoint happens just about every day. It gets so bare at times it feels like I could learn more from a ten-minute Crash Course video than I could from an hour and a half class period. (See attached video)

My next gripe with high school was the homework. Again, no, it wasn't just that I didn't want to do my homework, however true that may have been. The real problem was that most homework was just busy work. At least at my high school, the teachers were required to have a certain amount of homework grades in the gradebook, so they would just give us work not to further our knowledge in what we learned that day or to reinforce material, but just to have grades in the book. This defeats the sole purpose of what homework is meant to be. It was wholly and completely simply time-consuming busy work, so students received little to no benefit for doing it besides the actual grade they get for completing it.

Another slap in the face for me, and many other students, were the classes we were forced to take. Let's take English class for example. Although many students could easily test out of English their freshman year, it is a requirement for all students to take four years. If a student is deemed proficient enough in 9th grade to pass a 12th grade exam, why should they have to sit through all of the associated classes? This is a blatant waste of the school's money and time. Staying with English as an example, say you are now able to test out of English in your freshman year by passing an exam. This would give you the option to either opt out of future English classes - be it due to lack of interest, it is not necessary for your intended career, etc., or to continue taking English classes if you so choose. This would not only save those who wish to opt out many headaches, but also would help the classes specialize to the needs of those who are not able to test out and those who choose to stay in. (I pick on English in this paragraph, but that's just because of my own personal bias. I am a STEM guy through and through.)

To touch on my final point, public schools are terribly underfunded. I went through school with 10+ year old textbooks, many of which we could not even take home due to there only being enough for a class set. Teachers, though I hear in other states this is better, are underpaid to the highest degree. They really are doing God's work by choosing to teach public school. Between their poor pay and all the nonsense they have to deal with on a daily basis, they really do have to be the best kind of people. Many schools have to choose what to invest in due to their limited budgets, whether that be new books or equipment or whatever. Mine chose football, much to the chagrin of the theater and music departments. (This also made no sense with my school being a theater and arts school, but that's neither here nor there.) 

So, basically all I'm trying to say here is that public schooling needs a huge overhaul. I know that's not likely to happen anytime soon with all of the political red tape you'd have to go through, but hopefully if there's enough disgruntled students going into government, something will eventually change. But that's just my two cents.

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The Problem with the School System
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