Our education system isn’t enough: We want change now

Image provided by the Guardian. Top: A teacher with a pupil at the Evangelical School Berlin Centre.

In America, education is incredibly powerful because it enables upwards mobility; with an education, you can do anything and go anywhere. The goal of an education is to prepare students for their futures by helping us gain some sense of direction and teaching valuable life skills. Education should train us for survival and success. Our current system, however, fails to do both.

To begin with, Washington students have limited freedom in regards to the courses we take. Stringent requirements—3 years of math, 2 years of a language, etc.—make it difficult for students to fully explore the subjects we’re interested in. Though some may argue that requirements make us more well-rounded, this is hard to justify past a certain level. It’s highly unlikely that the Pythagorean theorem will come in handy while grocery shopping or filing taxes. As such, students should only have to take subjects up till the level that will be useful to them in the real world; in the case of math, Algebra 1 should be the highest required level. It’s important that students have agency and independence over what they’re learning, so they can create their own curriculum—a style of education that fits them—and actually look forward to and enjoy school. 

It’s also necessary to address the argument that the subjects we don’t necessarily use in real life help us develop certain key skills that are crucial to our future success. Math teaches us logic. English trains our minds to analyze and look beyond the surface. Science enables us to view the world objectively. But what’s the point of teaching subjects that aren’t helpful in the real world just to learn these skills? Why don’t we have classes centered on these skills? For example, in a course focused on logic, we’d play card games, watch and solve murder mysteries, and do coding exercises to develop our analytical skills.

Key skills aren’t the only topics missing from the current curriculum. It’s ironic that students are taught antiderivatives and forced to memorize the names and locations of all 50 states but aren’t taught basic life skills. Though required courses aren’t preferred, they’re essential when it comes to teaching survival. We need mandatory courses on cooking, managing finances, using resources efficiently, budgeting, and more. 

It’s important that students have agency and independence over what they’re learning, so they can create their own curriculum—a style of education that fits them—and actually look forward to and enjoy school. 

Existing high school courses—‘English 10 Honors’, ‘AP Computer Science A’, and ‘AP Government’—are both titled broadly and have a wide scope, whereas in college, after getting past the core courses, education becomes incredibly specialized with classes like ‘Fairytales and Fear Tales’, ‘Games Development’, and ‘Game Theory.’ A student might be passionate about English, but being forced to study aspects of the subject they don’t enjoy in high school may lead them to lose interest completely. Specialization is key because it allows students to key in on parts of subjects they’re excited about while allowing them to understand a smaller portion of the subject at a much deeper level. 

When we first begin school, teaching methods are often very interactive. Kindergartners don’t have to sit through dull lectures; they get to play with clay and organize blocks and letters to form shapes and words. They learn through touch, experience. As we grow older, learning becomes more professional, formal. Schools make the incorrect assumption that what’s working when we’re five doesn’t work when we’re older because as age increases, maturity is supposed to as well. But interactivity shouldn’t be associated with a lack of maturity. Students want teachers who take the extra mile and put in the work to make their classes fun. Chemistry teacher Mr. Hovenier has Arab sitting pillows, sings cringy songs for his students, and pretends he’s a mad scientist. CJHS teacher Mr. Hollister has students play adventure games and go on quests. We want nontraditional teaching methods that make school worth looking forward to.

However, it’s important to acknowledge that it’s difficult for teachers to constantly come up with innovative ways to teach, and sometimes lessons and even entire courses require traditional teaching methods. With traditional methods, higher degrees of specialization can often make the courses more engaging. Additionally, AP Government teacher Mr. Block, who prepares incredibly well for his lessons and fully understands what he is talking about, and English teachers Mr. Dimitriou and Mr. McGrath, who make an effort to create connections with students, are more likely to keep us engrossed and make us eager to learn.

Beyond nontraditional teaching methods, classes should also be more application-based. Instead of taking notes, listening to lectures, and regurgitating theory, we want to actually apply our knowledge and do things. Programs like ROP—Regional Occupational Program—allow students to explore specific fields, from nursing to education, through real world experience. In the biomedical science ROP, there is no textbook; students dissect, perform surgeries, meet various professionals, are introduced to different career paths, regularly go on field trips, and engage in externships. Unique course offerings such as journalism, AutoShop, theater, music, culinary, and ceramics are all hands-on and allow students some sense of control over their learning. 

Agency is a key factor that we often don’t have. We may be offered as many hands-on opportunities as possible, but if there’s no choice involved, we won’t want to participate in them. Self-directed learning—perhaps having students come together, decide on an issue they want to solve, and centering curriculum around it as the ESBC (Evangelical School Berlin Centre) does—would give us the control and the satisfaction of being able to say I came up with that myself.

Though key reforms are needed in our education system, there’s one factor that could potentially hinder them: teachers. Teachers are underpaid and as a result, exhausted because the time and effort they put in often doesn’t result in a fitting reward. As districts place more and more requirements on them, they become more limited in what they can do. They need to meet the demands of standardized testing—state and AP, and ensure students are receiving baseline grades; on top of this, they are now expected to come up with creative teaching methods, while facing the knowledge that no matter what method they employ, they’ll never be able to reach every student. Some teachers just aren’t willing to try; they’re stuck in their ways. Perhaps we, as the students, need to change the way we approach school and learning overall. If schools aren’t teaching us the content we want, the Internet is only one click away. We can regain control of our education by pursuing topics that excite us and actively trying to learn in our free time. 

Currently, school feels pointless to many of us. We are struggling with being forced to learn quickly. Standardized measures of intelligence and knowledge—such as tests—are constraining us. We’re not able to truly digest any of the information being given. We’re no longer learning for ourselves but for the sake of getting a job. Instead of finding joy in our academics, we’re blindly striving for whatever’s next.

It’s time for concrete reform—comprehensive health and sex education programs, the removal of core requirements—especially for language and English, giving students the freedom to take whatever classes they want, specialized courses, semester long classes, block schedule, a shorter school week, year, or even reducing the duration of high school, nontraditional teaching methods, and courses centered on real-world survival. 

We want change now.

Srihitha Pallapothula is a senior at Washington High School. She has lived in Fremont, California for most of her life. This is her second year with the Hatchet. She is co-Editor-in-Chief as well as the lead website manager. As a journalist, she is currently interested in exploring technology’s impact on human behavior, whether healing in today’s political climate is possible, and the factors that lead people to choose their political party. In Srihitha’s free time, she enjoys reading, writing, and baking. In the future, she hopes to become an author or a journalist.

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