Yesterday was Veterans Day. I would like to take a moment to express my gratitude for all those who have served and are serving for their country. I truly am grateful for their courage and honor.
On a different note, there was an event yesterday on campus called “Education Around The World.” It was a panel of students from 5 countries talking about how the education system in their countries work. The students represented France, Afghanistan, Egypt, Bosnia, and the good old United States. It was very interesting to hear each person’s perspective on his or her own education system, including the American student. I found it interesting how the focus on standardized education is generally very different abroad. Nearly every speaker mentioned how a single test would determine what he or she could do in the future. Here in the United States there is standardized testing, but it doesn’t have that kind of weight. A common thread between Afghanistan and Egypt was in the impact of money on education. This is partially true here too, but the education level you can get in those countries largely depends on how much you can afford to spend on it. One thing that was mentioned that I wish I had was the way that foreign education is often more diverse. Many of the students spoke of how they would take many subjects at once, many more than I did in high school. Particularly in the area of languages, I feel that this would be very valuable, and I wish our education system had that aspect. Hearing the stories of places abroad and travelling for school makes me wish I had done the same, and I can’t wait for my trip to Italy!
I would like to add my own perspective on the education system here in the United States. I know that education here varies greatly around the nation, often dependent on urban/rural status as well as the state. I grew up in Idaho (a rural state), and by most standards my school was fairly small. It was right between being what we called a 3A and a 4A school, which affected nothing but sports, and mostly just means that there were 500-600 students total in the high school. I do not know how much of my perspective is from being in the United States, and how much is from my particular hometown. However, there were definitely some things that bothered me while growing up.
One of the most frustrating things for me was when teachers and other school leaders would try to put me in the cookie-cutter mold. It always felt to me that the goal of the teacher was to have everybody pass the standardized test, rather than have us really learn anything. They didn’t seem to care if we were progressing or not, as long as we were able to move on at the end of the year. I call this the cookie-cutter mold because I was always too smart for them. I would be all done with my assignments and start something that I wanted to do, then get in trouble because I needed to “be productive.” So, I would move ahead in the lessons. Then I would get in trouble for being ahead of where the teacher wanted me to be. I often had to reinvent methods of keeping myself occupied while staying out of trouble. The most common was putting a fiction book inside of a school book. Once in 5th grade I had a teacher who would let me make paper airplanes, and I spent an entire school year running experiments on which designs would fly farthest. I probably should have skipped that class, but I wasn’t allowed to try to break the mold.
Another thing that bothered me throughout high school was the lack of funding in the school system. I had many conversations with a math teacher about the poor pay that teachers receive, and how it was difficult to support a family on such a tight budget. Teachers are not the only sector that lacks funding. Many school programs, both core requirements and extracurricular, struggled to get by in my school. The ones most pressing on my mind were the art and music divisions. It has been proven in many studies that such classes help students improve, but they are often among the first programs cut. This is unfair to the students who participate in such organizations. Also inhibited by lack of funding is the variety of classes available. At my school, many subjects that are considered core high school requirements by most universities were not available at my school. We did not have World History, for instance. We also did not have enough teachers for the foreign languages to be able to require any foreign language courses; there simply wasn’t enough class time to fit everybody.
I do know that many of these problems are not nationally present. They are altered by the particular school that I happened to attend. However, I do have to ask- if I had had more options available to me as a child, if I had truly been challenged, how much more could my potential have spread? Where could I be right now? What could I have accomplished in those years of boredom and paper airplanes? I will never know, because I never had a choice.