WHAT LEARNING IS TRULY ALL ABOUT

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Submitted Date 05/06/2020
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Famous Irish poet William Butler Yeats once remarked, "Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire." The public school system has lost sight of that.

I've been late to school many times over this current school year, and my mom constantly hassles me over it, talking about I can't be late since it is my "job." As a public school student for over a decade, I've begun to question the value of this system that I'm forced (yes, forced) to partake in. In two weeks, I'm going to take one of the most important exams of my entire life (the SAT) and I've never felt more unenthusiastic and uninspired about life, living, learning and the future. So has my fire, my drive and my passion been blown out at this young age or was it even lit to begin with?

Malcolm X made a well-known statement that education is a passport to the future and that "tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today." But with the curriculum structured as it is, are students really able to prepare for it?

As I see it now, the curriculum in public schools (emphasis on high school) runs on this buffet-food line arrangement structure, except you don't get to pick your meals, and you have to have a little of everything on your plate.

The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 was signed into law in the Bush Era (fitting). The law's primary goal was to close the achievement gaps in public schools and to empower parents; to give them more power and hold schools more accountable. It reinforced and tightened the national set of standards that created this "one-size-fits-all" system that we currently operate under. The act did promise to offer more school choice, which means students attending poor-performing schools could transfer to schools in better neighborhoods (since the act was passed in 2002, only 1.5 percent of students took advantage of that option). Many parents of students attending low-performing schools said they chose not to switch to a school of higher quality for reasons like long commutes and their contentedness with their current situation.

There is a limit to the impact school choice has on the quality of education every child receives. Every child functions differently, and has a different optimal school environment. That's why many special types of schools have been experimenting with alternative weekly schedules (such as school on Saturdays, longer school days, and year-round schooling).

Then again, that might be not answer needed right now as the U.S. already has higher hours than high-performing countries like Finland, Japan, and Korea, but has far lower student performance (as stated in a report called "Time in school: How does the U.S. Compare?" published by the Center for Public Education). California, New York, Texas, and Massachusetts all require over 900 hours of instruction per year. Finland, on the other hand, holds less than 600 hours per school year but scores close to the top of every major international assessment in education.

Does this mean we should shorten the school year? Not necessarily, but as a whole the public school system should be restructured to suit and match up better with students' abilities and interests, in a academic sense and beyond.

I suggest that from kindergarten to seventh grade, all kids learn the basics in the core subjects they need (arithmetic, reading, writing, etc) and have the regular buffet-style curriculum. But then in eighth grade, the year before kids begin high school, there should be a quick transition to a more specialized course. Students can have the opportunity to pick a field, occupation or topic that they could see themselves making a career out of. They would mostly study that specific occupation or topic and all other subjects closely related to it. Obviously kids could switch fields if they want as the average person at that age will not be sure of what they want to do when they're older. High school would transform into vocational school, and schools can teach multiple trades and disciplines depending on students' interests. Everyone can train in what they're good at or what to be good at, and schools don't have to lump everyone into the same category. With this format, new generations of potential innovators, entrepreneurs and future citizens' capabilities won't go to waste, and the government doesn't have to waste resources on programs no one asked for or needs. In this system, courses like art or philosophy must hold just as much importance in our society as math or science. Arts programs should not be defunded. If there's no space in the budget for them, space should be made.

Equality and the pursuit for equality is like anything else in life: it's good in moderation, and I feel like certain sects of our modern society can't acknowledge the unfair reality that everyone can't be good at everything. There will be a kid who's great at sports, and there'll be someone who's great at calculus or molecular biology. There'll be someone who is excellent at fashion design and someone is who is great at politics. All students have different strengths and weaknesses. Our education system should inherently respect that and act accordingly, as the true purpose of education is to make sure every kid learns and grows for the rest of their lives.

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