I have a really particular fight to pick with the American educational system. Before you groan, I’m not here to complain about school so I can sit back and think life would be a lot easier without it — But I can also say that there’s nothing in this system that incorporates those who don’t feel they belong with the lifestyle.
While I can understand that comprehensive and basic education is a necessity that builds critical thinking and analytical skills, the methods of assessment and testing do nothing but find a child’s ability for rote memorization. Tests like the SATs are particularly useless to deal with for someone who might be extremely intelligent, but just a horrible test-taker. I remember that my anxiety would always get the better of me during tests, because I wouldn’t be able to focus on the questions as much as the quietness in the room, someone tapping their pencil against a desk, someone sniffling, etc. It was impossible to focus for me, even if I had studied over and over for the past 3 weeks.
I remember graduating out of high school, and my friends and I all said the same thing: The only thing this place taught us is how to bullshit essays, homework assignments, and memorize vocab lists after procrastinating them until the last night.
And at the time, it was hilarious. But it shouldn’t be the sentiment that high schoolers should be expressing: Especially since the objective is to encourage students to pursue learning further. For me personally, all it did was stress and burn me out to the point that when I arrived in college — I just didn’t want to do anymore. I was so used to the procrastination and the bullshitting, that when I tried to apply it here, I failed miserably. And now I’m struggling to pick myself up from the unescapable habit. But how can I find interest in subjects again? How is it possible after my school has drilled it as useless and tedious in my head for so long?
Academics are only one side of the picture, though. The most irking example of elitism by these schools are the rewards for perfect attendance. What good does it do to give someone an award for coming to school everyday? For those who suffer with any type of mental disorders or even physical disorders that don’t allow them to come to school, these institutions have already singled them out. Think about this for a second: You’re directly causing a portion of your students more distress than they’re already under. Now, not only do they feel bad for something they can’t control, but it’s being shoved back in their faces.
You’ve already stripped any semblance of inspiration and passion within these students to create efficient, corporate bodies out of them, but what’s worse — they’re mocked for not enjoying this lifestyle. These teenagers, more interested in the arts or humanities, are looked down upon for not being as intelligent as those whose strengths lie in science and mathematics. This behavior is even more visible in college.
I used to be friends with this pre-med student who, granted, was probably smarter than me. But one day, we were having lunch and one of his friends came over — another pre-med major. I kind of immediately felt awkward, but that soon turned to embarrassment when my “friend” introduced me.
“Oh, hi! I don’t think I’ve seen you around before. What’s your name?”
“She’s Fasha. She’s not pre-med. She’s doing Communications — so you know, the complete bullshit major.”
Cue incessant laughter while I sat there, wanting to crawl in a hole and disappear. I later confronted him about this and I clearly said, “What the hell makes you think you’re better than everyone else in the world? Like what gives you the right to call what I’m working towards and dedicating my life to complete bullshit?”
This isn’t a singular instance, though. Even if it’s not as transparent as the above conversation, people like me have been known to be picked on for not choosing the traditional “doctor, engineer, lawyer” route.
Going back to the education system though, it does nothing to encourage these fields as equally significant or relevant. And even when they are, there’s always the offhanded jokes about them being less superior somehow. It’s ridiculous. Like I’m sorry that I don’t like to be confined to a square box of a room memorizing textbooks day and night to remember information for one morning. It totally makes more sense to feel superior for doing that than being more hands-on or passionate about something in the arts.
It’s fine if you enjoy the former type of environment, it might be for a lot of people. But I just despise that NO other type can be approved of or accepted. It’s not a matter of just having these pathways for access, it’s a matter of encouraging a student that it’s okay to want to excel in something nontraditional, and doesn’t mean one’s brighter or more intelligent. It simply means they’re intelligent according to their own routes and skills.
In the end, it all comes down to money-making. Obviously, it makes more sense to want to produce efficient money-makers than a whole lot of artists and songwriters. And wealth does contribute significantly to some people’s lives. But it’s not the biggest factor. Not all people with high wealth live a better quality of life — they might feel hollow or empty. Several peoples’ lives are richer in meaning, and they prefer to stay as they are in order to sustain that. As per Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, less than 3% of people reach the final stage of Self-Actualization, or living fully to one’s potential. This could be due to numerous reasons: A dead-end job, an unfulfilling job, constant stress, lack of self-esteem, lack of love/relational connections, or any other missing stages in within the hierarchy. Note, however, that an abundance of wealth does not necessarily lead to an abundance of happiness.
That pursuit is left up to the individual alone… or so they say, while enforcing all varying types of children into one system hoping they’ll survive and manage to retain their wonder of the world years after being stretched and pulled into discipline and castigation.