Sunday, November 10, 2013

An Opinion on Modern Education in America

Let me preface this post by saying I am very grateful to have had the educational opportunities in my life and value the experiences of my academic career. This is not an attempt to bash the American school system. I love learning so much, but I have a problem when academic institutions get in the way of it.

High school throughout the years in America has evolved to become a preparatory institution for higher education. Keeping this perspective in mind, I think back on my high school experience. I had teachers that yelled at students for walking in thirty seconds passed the bell or handed out countless sheets of busy work and claimed it as homework. Security guards roamed my campus for students ditching class and there was constant emphasis placed on authority and punishment for straying away from policies. I remember getting kicked out of an anatomy class my senior year because I expressed that not all students need busy work in order to learn material and that some students absorb material differently. The biggest flaw that I can see about the high school institution is that it has placed too much focus on following the rules, submitting to authority, and getting higher grades and less on the actual material being learned. Students begin caring less about the quality of the work handed in and start caring more about the fact that they receive credit for completing their work. This is why cheating is such a prevalent problem in the high school system. When the education system places too much focus on grades, students will take any measure in order to ensure that their value is defined and justified by it. Some may say that we were treated as children because we behaved like them, but very rarely were we ever treated like adults when we acted like them. I now think of my experience at university and how maybe two of my classes in my high school career actually prepared me for higher education. This was because the teachers of those classes had great expectations for students, had flexible methods of how students could learn the material, and treated students like adults instead of children.

I think of my university experience now and how different it is from high school. There is so much responsibility placed on the student. In most of my classes, attendance is not checked, busy work does not exist, and good grades are earned by students that demonstrate the quality of their work. I love the expectations placed on student's shoulders for their success and really enjoy how professors see students as scholars pursuing an education. I don't have to raise my hand to receive permission to go to the bathroom.

With that said, I have a few problems with the structure of universities in America. At most universities, students are required to take general education classes in order to graduate. Although there may be value in some of these courses and benefits to taking them if one is unsure of what to pursue, I find it difficult to reconcile the fact that art majors are required to take a math class that will probably never be relevant to them in order to fulfill a requirement, or that chemistry majors have to enroll in social science courses that they have no interest in because some greater authority believes this provides for a more well rounded education. Students are forced to take classes that they will never find applicable in their lives in order to receive a piece of paper that says they completed a comprehensive education in fields that have no relevance to them. This is dangerous, in my opinion, because students are being herded in a particular direction in these institutions by boards of education that believe this is the best way to receive an education and prepare scholars for real life.

Let me tell you something, I've never felt more unprepared for the real world in my entire life. In university, we are taught about the study of a subject. We are taught about theory and research and the most recent developments of a subject. This is fantastic for learning purposes. However, due to the nature of how college institutions run their programs, a university diploma has become something to check off one's list. We do not live in the same society as our parents or grandparents, where an undergraduate degree would get you a great job and pay. Today, if one wants a decent job, odds are he or she will need some form of formal education beyond an undergraduate degree. Finding a job that is actually relevant to one's field of study solely with an undergraduate degree is becoming more and more rare. This is the way the job market has evolved in the last fifty years, and the university institution has not evolved with it. Students are graduating with thousands of dollars in debt that is becoming increasingly more difficult to pay off because education does not pay off the way it used to.

Speaking of debt, I have a serious problem with the cost of pursuing a higher education in this country. I know some friends that are graduating with $30k hanging over their heads because they decided to seek a public university education. This blows my mind. How are young adults supposed to be motivated to seek a college education with the costs associated with it? I remember reviewing my first college textbook list that I needed to purchase as a freshman and my heart dropping (along with my savings account) because of the ridiculous prices. My professors over the years constantly apologized for the prices of textbooks while half of them were writing the textbooks we were using. Who is higher education really being catered to now? This is not closing the education gap in different socioeconomic groups, regardless of scholarships and grants. There is so much that government can do about the cost of education, and it's a shame this issue in particular has not been as well addressed by our government as I feel it should.

I just have a few final notes before I sell my textbooks for a fraction of the price that I paid for them. We're expected to have it all figured in a quarter of a lifetime. We're supposed to know what on earth we're doing with our lives, when we're going to do it by, how we're going to get there, and how much we're going to make. If we can't answer these questions, we're labeled as being lazy and not having it together. It's hard to have it all figured out at this age, and the pressure placed on us by older adults who lived in a different time is misguided.

I've never had a class in my entire life that taught me how to buy a car, how to properly fight with the bank, or how to ask for a raise at work. I'm lucky that I have a mother who has taken the time to explain 401k to me and how mortgages work, but not everyone has resources to help them jump into the real world after their educational experiences.

We'll get it together, but not because school taught us how.

(I also rode a horse this weekend for the first time in my life and didn't fall off. It's the little things, man)