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The Journal Gazette

  • Tessa Garwood

Sunday, February 14, 2016 10:00 pm

Effective education?It's anyone's guess

Tessa Garwood

The last four years, I have walked the hallways of a high school where administrators do not know me by my name, but by my numbers.

Here, I am not a person. I am a statistic on a tiered, unyielding grading scale meant to condense my achievements into an orderly series of letters – bonus points if they’re accompanied by the sacred plus sign.

Don’t be fooled. School no longer rewards learning, but perfectionism. With little tolerance for slow learners or artistic souls, standardized lessons and gratuitous exams are forced upon students at an accelerated pace, a system rewarding those who superficially memorize information instead of students who take the time to become familiar with it.

Despite being an inevitable part of the learning process, academic errors are considered taboo in the halls of public high schools – even homework assignments, supposedly meant for practice, are often graded for accuracy.

If low scores are earned on a test or quiz, teachers encourage students to seek out tutoring but deny them the opportunity to earn credit on retakes of those exams. The grade earned on the first try is the grade they keep.

It’s perfectly human to make mistakes. Just don’t make them on homework, quizzes, tests or anywhere on school property.

What happens when students cannot live up to such rigid expectations? Well, they just learn to be better at guessing.

They can’t afford not to.

Because of constant pressure to retain massive amounts of information, many students have abandoned the process of learning altogether, too preoccupied with juggling extracurricular activities, familial responsibilities and even part-time jobs.

Students can no longer devote countless hours to perfecting subjects just for the sake of passing exams; instead, they cram information into their brains five minutes before a test and pray they remember just enough to avoid failure.

Based on this trend, it’s likely the mirage of academic excellence surrounding valedictorians and successful students is founded not on true dedication and perseverance, but on a carefully choreographed habit of relying on luck to maintain a winning streak. Regardless, the competitive drive to finish in the upper percentile of class rankings remains undeterred.

In such demanding academic environments, students have learned to live in fear of failure, numbed by the power it wields over their futures as collegiates and employees.

To earn a high school diploma, they must first standardize their minds and become cogs in the wheel of a machine programmed to produce an acceptable quota of passing grades – not authentic, quintessentially flawed young adults, but brainwashed, fearfully obedient robots.

No longer is it acceptable to have an "off" day, no longer can students be humans who make mistakes – after all, college representatives only see the grades on a transcript, not the person who earned them.

Can you imagine a college that focused on interviewing applicants face to face instead of reducing them to mere marks on a paper?

It sounds horrifying, treating students like actual people.

Instead of lifting up younger generations, adults incessantly bash teenagers for being unmotivated and apathetic, condemning high schoolers to a life of flipping burgers and working minimum-wage jobs if their academic performance falls below the status quo.

Don’t mistake the apparent callousness of students for the obvious dispassion of the academic bureaucracy that is controlling them – the same system that continues to venerate standardized testing as the only way to monitor the effectiveness of curriculum.

When guessing has replaced learning as the cornerstone of education, such markers of progress capture only the random successes of students gambling their way through exams.

They should not be relied upon as indications of academic efficacy.

However convenient they may be to administer, standardized tests and scantrons cannot mask the fact that holistic education has been placed on the back burner.

In school, students learn that class rankings, grade point averages and test scores take precedence over their passions, individuality and malleability.

What a disservice we have done to the children of this country.

Please, continue teaching them to wear the scarlet letters of failure with shame instead of determination, blaming their apathy on hormones instead of administrators who refuse to care about them, and instilling the fear of failure instead of preparing them to tackle the challenges of adulthood with confidence.

Just promise not to be surprised when they immortalize the failure of the public school system, just as the public school system immortalized theirs.