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The Education System Is Broken

Unraveling the Challenges and Seeking Solutions

Everyone hates school, but for a good reason. The systems of standardized testing and conformity have negatively impacted the mental health of students for decades. The United States experiences a daunting dropout level of 40% every year. Additionally, average scores between the years 2020 and 2022 in math fell by 7 points and reading by 5 points. Is school really making us smarter? How valid are standardized tests? What are the alternatives we have to our current education system?

The education system has been bad for a long time, it is crucial that we rethink compulsory education and push for change. In Changing Our Minds: How Children Can Take Control of Their Own Learning, clinical psychologist Naomi Fisher writes, “Schools, in fact, exacerbate the inequalities which are already present. This is because they constantly compare children against each other, and the children know this. Those who do best get access to more interesting opportunities and are given awards. They are told that they are gifted and talented. Those who don’t do so well are doomed to spend their time repeating the material they didn’t learn the first time around, becoming disengaged and miserable in the process. They are told they have learning difficulties or special educational needs. These groups are associated with socio-economic status. Richer children are more likely to do well, while poorer children do less well.” As a result of the typecasting and labeling that happens in school, inequities among students are furthered. Children being labeled as “gifted” can be devastating in its own way. Children can internalize that label and can begin to put a lot of pressure on themselves to perform at a certain level. As a result, their identities become defined by their grades and test scores. Often, this relationship they have with school and learning becomes unhealthy and leads to burnout.

In the United States, we have normalized a system in which students take standardized tests and rank them based on their scores. Which subsequently predicts how well they do for the rest of their lives. Not only does standardized testing create an anxious and competitive school environment, but it is also not an accurate indicator of how smart a student is. In fact, standardized tests were pioneered by a eugenicist. As John Rosales and Tim Walker report for the National Education Association, “In his 1923 book, A Study of American Intelligence, Carl Bingham wrote that African Americans were on the low end of the racial, ethnic, and/or cultural spectrum. Testing, he believed, showed the superiority of “the Nordic race group” and warned of the “promiscuous intermingling” of new immigrants in the American gene pool.”

A solution that Naomi Fisher suggests is to propose self-directed learning as an alternative to the traditional school system. Self-directed learning is where students take responsibility for their own learning, which allows them to explore what they want to learn on their own motivations and their own time. Fisher advocates for this approach through her own knowledge of psychology, in her book she writes, “We can see from young children that it is not necessary to force children to learn. Humans are born curious and with a desire to learn from their environment. We can see from experiment and observational studied that children are motivated to learn complex skill without instruction.” For example, I know many who have gotten extremely good at their favorite video games despite the complicated mechanics because they spent hours playing and improving, without having to be pushed and pressured to do so.

In summary, the school system has proven to be inept at educating children. More and more, students are losing passion for education as a result of the pressure to learn and lack of mental health support for children. It is important that we push for upcoming generations to experience self-directed learning.

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