Want to fix our education system? Ask the students being educated for ideas and answers.
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America, the beacon of democracy, the most powerful nation to ever exist, and what some proclaim to be the greatest country in the world, has and is continuously failing spectacularly in the one thing it should be doing best: educating its children.
How to go about solving this issue of great importance has received commentary from Democrats, Republicans, Independents, and pretty much everyone else over the age of 40. It is because of this intense and heated debate that it becomes so easy to overlook arguably the most important part of any education system, the students. It has become a regular occurrence to turn the television to MSNBC, CNN, or Fox News and see a commentator and their "panel of experts" argue over the best possible solution for public schools. The question I always wait for in these instances never seems to be asked: "What do the kids think of your proposal?"
I have never heard that question asked before, and I'm not sure why. Maybe it's because the current system of education has rendered all of us students incapable of producing a logical response to any question if it isn't in proper SAT format. It sure does seem like any question that is given to us needs to be immediately followed by multiple-choice answers so we can pick the one that fits best. However, even though most have given in and accepted the current state of "education", there are still a few of us that are capable of formulating a complete sentence--and although the question "what do you think of the current education system?" isn't being asked to any of us, we still have an answer to that question.
Education should involve freedom of expression and foster original, creative ideas. Currently, it seems that there can only be one answer to every question posed with very few alternatives. This doesn't prepare students for the real world, because in all practicality everything is open to interpretation. The most profitable and successful companies (Google, Apple, etc.) certainly foster creativity because creativity is what makes them successful. Inside those companies, the world is not in black-and-white, right-or-wrong format like it is inside a brick-and-mortar high school.
For example, many students enrolled in English classes will also take poetry. Students are always told at the beginning of the unit that poetry is "open to suggestion", meaning that these poems can have more than one correct interpretation. However, the test that all students must take at the end of the unit will ask blatantly "what does this poem mean?" with multiple-choice suggestions following. There will only be one "right" answer and multiple "wrong" answers, even though we were all told initially whatever we interpreted this poem to mean was correct. To me, this type of "education"--where there is only one right answer to every question--seems more like brainwashing than enlightenment.
The current culture of testing with there being only one right answer, when in the real world there could be multiple right answers, is not beneficial to anyone going through this poorly put-together system. It teaches us to think inside the box and not out of it, which in no way assists in building a young generation of creative and innovative students. Instead, it creates an exclusive hierarchical system where some students can exceed and others cannot.
In order to exceed in today's learning organization it can often take a lot of money and extra time, something that isn't afforded to every student going through the public-school system. Tutors for certain classes mean both time and money. Test-taking prep books again mean more money and time spent on classes. What about those students who must balance multiple jobs in order to help their own family? For these kids, most times school is understandably pushed aside. Education is often coined the key to success, yet it is becoming more and more exclusive, often only successful for people who can afford to put in the money and time necessary to be successful.
However there are some highlights that can be built upon to truly begin to educate everyone in the public-school system.
First, classrooms should teach through trial and error when applicable to allow students to fix their own mistakes. This should involve allowing for more one-on-one question-and-answer sessions between students and teachers, with these conferences taking the place of excessive quizzes and tests. Not only does this allow for more individual time between teachers and their pupils; it simultaneously enhances important communication skills students need.
Also, perhaps in a bit more practical sense, curricula should include regular public-speaking activities and projects. Public speaking is an essential skill in the real world yet it is neglected in most public-school settings. The ability to speak in front of other people often takes a lot of practice that many will not receive until well into their adult lives and few are able to effectively master. In addition, giving kids the opportunity to teach their peers something new not only educates everyone in the class, but also solidifies in memory what that particular student is teaching. Some say that the best way to learn a subject is to teach it.
Overall, it's a well-known fact that the American education system needs to be completely overhauled. It would just be nice if the students whose own futures are the ones in jeopardy would be included in this conversation as well.