Magic Smoothie

Trusting the System

Posted on: June 15, 2009

I have not had a good experience with the school system. I’m obviously no idiot, but I had been having trouble with some assignments ever since I was in first grade. In second and third grade, I was placed in an excellent gifted program, but I still didn’t complete all the work that was expected of me.

In fourth grade, I had moved to a different school, and we were learning how to divide. I had previously been learning basic algebra. My grades switched from the B’s of previous years to wildly dichotomous A’s and D’s. Mostly D’s. The class went at a snail’s pace. Very little was expected of the students. There was, though, an artsy program that I was placed in. We had an hour a week each of dance, drama, art, and music classes. I did enjoy those.

In the second semester, I got into a pull-out math program that I left school for, twice a week. I was the youngest in the class (I think?) The first thing we did in that class is build towers out of straws and tape, and we competed with each other by weight, height, and stability(tested by blowing on the tower.) Mine won in the height and weight categories. Apparently no one else thought to mimic the Eiffel tower? Anyways, despite being enjoyable, it did nothing for my grades. It didn’t stop my parents yelling at me.

Same story in Indiana. I got into an “Accelerated Challenge” program, which was basically the next grade’s work at the usual pace, and I’m pretty sure the only requirement for admittance was “ask nicely.” I found little to relate to in my would-be peers, just as in every other school. I barely passed 6th grade.

Through Junior High (in Colorado, thank goodness) I had almost stopped trying. I had the same dichotomous grades as before, same yelling from my parents. Same science and math material I’d been recycling for years now. I completely lost faith in the system because it had utterly failed me.

The instant a student loses faith in the school system, the instant they believe that it is not useful, they will no longer be receptive to its teachings. Let’s look at how our schools today try to keep student’s faith:

  • They show that they do not trust the student by constantly monitoring everything the student does and searching their possessions. (Clicks are tracked on school computers, students must be supervised constantly, lockers and bags are searched frequently, police officers are in schools, CC cameras are all over the place, some high schools have metal detectors at entrances. I can bring up citations if anyone wants me to.)
  • They show that they do not trust that the student is interested in learning by giving them a thoroughly structured, one-size-fits-all curriculum with very little freedom for the student to explore their own interests.
  • They take a paternalistic stance on all issues, saying that the administration knows best.
  • Any student who disagrees with a school’s policies has no power to change them and no power to initiate a need for their change. Boycotting any piece of the school system is nearly impossible- skipping classes or assignments leads to poor grades and later difficulty getting into a good college, skipping days leads to legal action, and it’s pretty much made clear that any defiance is a Bad Idea(tm).

Add all this up, and I bet the collective animosity of the US’s students could power New York.

Point #2 is one that especially bothers me. I don’t think there’s anyone who has actually thought about public education and said “Hey guys, this system seems pretty okay!” It assumes that nobody knows what they want to do with their lives and that the system can make their minds up for them by shoving requirements down their throats. I feel inclined to bring up an xkcd comic:A student needs to be able to explore their own interests in school because those interests will ultimately determine their career. Schools that do not do this will be resented by the student because the student is being forced to do essentially meaningless work.

A student who does not trust their school will reject its teachings. People are unlikely to trust those who do not trust them. Paternalism shows mistrust. Public schools are extremely paternalistic. The schools cause the students to reject them.

The fundamental difference between most alternative systems and traditional schooling is that in traditional schools, students are coerced into learning, whereas in alternative systems, students are expected to learn. Expecting that a student will learn or show good judgement and giving them freedom to do so shows and fosters trust and supports a more laid-back atmosphere conducive to learning.

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3 Responses to "Trusting the System"

Reminds me my experience, I just stopped putting any effort on school and even less in highschool, of course, the college system here is different, I can go wherever I want if I can pay the monthly fee, and if then I can’t follow the rythm, it’s my own problem.

And -even- in college I’ve spotted assignements that I consider “fillers” to fulfill the ammount of “cathedratic hours” a degree needs to be considered that by the Education Ministery, on those assignements I put minimal effort, saving it for the assignements that matter.

Of course, when on of those “unusefull” professors asks me why I go under the radar, I won’t commit “sincericide”, but will rather tell them that I didn’t had enough time (which is true, i’m spending it on other assignements).

See, in my case, when the teacher realized after I moved that I was considerably ahead of the kindergarten class, I got fast-tracked and ultimately put into the magnet gifted program. Ultimately this led to me entering a program whereby I entered college two years early (for diploma purposes this counted as the third and fourth years of high school), and I’m now entering college proper with seventy-eight credit hours. So I guess the system worked for me… :/

I guess, though, that I was allowed to explore my own interests to an extent, especially once I started the early college program. And I’m with you on the system having issues; the standardized tests (not the college entrance ones, the “make sure the school gets money” ones) are extremely simple and mostly seem to be a better test of student body apathy rather than aptitude.

I’ll save you the tl;dr. I gave up around year 5, and really gave up around halfway through year 12. I don’t know what was worse, the crushing feeling of failure, my utter disgust and barely contained rage at all of the idiots around me, the fact that I thought that I had in my blind rage thrown away my entire future or the fact that in reality, it didn’t matter at all and I got into the University degree I was going to pick anyway on the first try without so much as having to send a second email. I look back on my school years and all I can do is feel sad and wish things had turned out differently. Just do what you think is right while you’re still in the system, rather than what you think is required or expected. Do what makes you happy.

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