Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The Pitfalls of Public Education

It's that time of year again. The time of standardized testing. Sure, here in Pennsylvania, they might call it a different name now for high schoolers but it's still pretty much the same thing. Being as I already wrote about that last year, though, I thought that I would explore a different side of things: the pitfalls of public education.

Of course, being of one of the better schools in the country, I get to avoid many of these down sides. While I have the occasional shitty teacher, for the most part, I'm able to understand what my teachers are teaching me, however boring it might be. Also, my school is also generally clean and free of vandalism (no thanks to the students that go there but to the money we have to clean it. Thanks, janitors! I know they don't make it easy). My school is also free of crime and gangs and all that minus the few drug deals that happen to go on in, near or off campus that the faculty seems oblivious too; to prevent said crime though, we have security on campus. So, yes being an upper middle class girl has caused me to avoid many of the problems many other American kids have to deal with in their public schools. I'm certainly better off than my parents, who had to work their asses off to get away from a school with police dogs, gangs and race riots.

That in mind, I'm sure I've lost the respect of most of my readers. Because really what have I got to be complaining about? Why do I have the right to complain about a shitty high school experience when everyone else has had it much worse?

To answer the above questions, it's because a lot of the shitty experiences of high school are universal. I still have standardized testing to worry about, still have 180 days of school I'm legally required to get through, still have to pack my lunch because of the shitty quality of my school lunches. Did I mention all that college prep that really doesn't prepare us for college?

It's also all within a traditional school model, which, however well done, is still immensely flawed. I'll say this before and I'll say it again, I love education but I hate school. It's meant to mirror a prison with its beige walls and its bells and its tracking of you wherever you go. The teachers mostly act like prison guards.

With a few notable exceptions, most of my teachers teach to the textbook, causing their lessons to be ultimately uninspired and forgettable. Instead of learning life skills and information I'll actually need, I learn complex but ultimately useless information. I'm tested on that information mostly with multiple choice and the occasional short response questions (which is the same format of the state tests. What a coincidence!). The strange thing is that I'm actually considered smart just because I'm able to cram well and happen to be a good test taker. Will I remember that information and apply it? Probably not. But no matter, because at that time the teacher has already gone on to teach the next bit of useless information they're supposed to cram in before the end of the school year. The only place my lack of proficiency shows is math, where I actually have to learn the concept.

Despite this, we're never taught any practical skills. Basic grammar? No. Study skills? No. Stress and time management? No. We're never required to do anything great, either. We're required to volunteer but only to look good for colleges. Even our gym class is made as boring and useless as possible when that might actually be useful under the right circumstances.

Did I mention that it's so huge, it's so easy to be lost in the crowd? To be unnoticed, just considered a number? Rather than treated as individuals and caring about us, the school stamps a number on us and then smiles with a fake grin and pretends everything is alright. Our problems, whatever they are, are largely unnoticed in such a huge place and we're not given the attention we need. Instead, we're scurried along in the most efficient way possible. Really, it would be impossible to improve this considering the sheer volume of students the system has to deal with but still. The fact remains that you're not noticed unless you're a problem, unless you're a cog on the machine that only gets caught and creates problems for the other cogs. You're practically dehumanized.

Oh and did I mention how awful the kids are? Teenagers are awful despite socioeconomic background everywhere but where I live they're a special kind of awful. The star students make sure to be the best cog possible, walk right along clutching their Vera Bradley handbags and Juicy Couture jeans. They're mostly crude and cruel but they get a pat on the back because they seem to follow the formula best. Never mind how two-sided they are, viciously bullying and snorting drugs behind the backs of faculty. No, they're stars, their honor students, unless they happen to put something stupid on Facebook.

Now, I know this post was essentially a lot of whining. I shouldn't be one of those people who bitch but never actually do anything about it. But the thing is, I don't know what to do about it except pack up and leave for private school. There's so much to fix that it's practically impossible. To fix the system, you have to fix the people in the system but that probably won't happen unless they want it to (which they won't).

Yes, I sound bitter and whiny in this post. I know I do. And I'm not trying to take on the victim mentality because i am so not the victim here. Really, I'm just one of many people who aren't getting as much out of public education as they should. And I'm just sick of everyone in my school acting like peaches and sunshine because it's not.

Something needs to change. Students need to be inspired to learn, not uninspired. They should be free to explore, not closed off and closed in. Their creativity needs to be honed not stifled. Yet in the race for efficiency, somewhere along the line this isn't done because we become a number rather than an individual. Standardized testing just pretty much sums up so much that's wrong with the public education system.

(Note: as I briefly touched on, there are still a lot of benefits of public education and I've had a number of good experiences. I'll write about those if requested and/or a comparison between the private, Catholic and public schools I've attended over the years).

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