Updated: Jan 22, 2019
Author: Angela Yang
Throughout the course of my time ascending the rusty ladder of American public education, I had always been accustomed to just blindly trusting the system. However, in recent years, I have begun to open my eyes a little more to the not-so-hidden plethora of issues preventing it from achieving its full potential.
The institutionalization of education is inevitable when our national population is so massive, and that is understandable, but this current factory-based setup of schooling serves more to restrain young minds than to propel them forward. It limits inquisitivity and innovation, teaching students that conforming to an inflexible set of procedures is the only way to go.
Having attended public school in five different districts throughout childhood, each new institution I have encountered has unfailingly embedded in its students the same immutable routine: copy, memorize, recite. Want to think outside the box? Keep it to yourself unless you want to be labelled a troublemaker.
Sure, we discuss. We explore. Our opinions are asked for, but only as a formality. There is always that one answer an educator has in mind when a question is asked; it is simply the class’s task to “discover” through presumably independent discussion what is already predetermined.
Everyone is born entertaining a natural urge to learn; it just comes down to basic survival instinct. But so many public schools in the U.S. strip away that eagerness by continuously drilling material into their pupils primarily for the hope of seeing higher standardized test averages, all for the aim of landing the school a few slots higher on the ranking list. Students adapt to this technique of memorization, spitting out fact after formula, then—after it has been regurgitated onto a scantron—emptying their brains of the material in the same hour.
Is this really the kind of education we want our nation to strive for? It seems more like a wearied factory machine still tasked with reproducing the same product using vastly different molds each turn.
People who excel at mathematics have a different kind of intelligence than those whose talents lie in producing masterful pieces of literature. Then there are others charismatic enough to charm their way out of any situation, and still those who seem capable of bringing even the dullest of ideas to life on a canvas. All of these people are highly competent, though none are guided by the same blueprint. Yet we persist in trying to shape everybody into the same well-rounded person.
Society would benefit more from encouraging students to specialize in the skills they show interest in than force-feeding them the same level of advancement in all sorts of other nonessential skills they will never really use. Instead of examining students' proficiency in areas of their particular passion, universities reject high-potential young individuals for displaying weakness in fields relevant neither to everyday life nor to their own career aspirations.
U.S. public four-year colleges tend to place sizable emphasis on applicants’ GPAs and standardized test scores along with the quantity of varied courses they can load onto their plates at once. According to its website, the University of California school system—which includes UCLA, the current most applied-to university in the world—reviews candidates on the “number of and performance in UC-approved honors, Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate Higher Level and transferable college courses.”
Meanwhile, admissions processes at the University of Oxford manifests a contrast that would excite any student with a genuine passion. Ranking number one in the world, this U.K. school seeks to understand individuals, not simply to file folders of numbers and proper nouns into different cabinets based on statistics on paper.
A student applying for Oxford’s Department of Biochemistry would have to demonstrate through interview pronounced zeal for the subject and personality traits that would make him or her successful in the field, while one majoring in literary classics is subject to a “test [that] has been specially devised to assess [the] candidate's aptitude for learning Greek and/or Latin,” as stated on Oxford’s website. Applicants here are evaluated meticulously according to their personal areas of interest and receive assessments specifically relevant to them.
Old practices may prove difficult to alter, but today’s world has advanced far past the age of industrialization. I can only anticipate the day our country allows its education system to do the same.