Student Blogger, Zak Malamed, Adds His Voice

           Take a moment to think about your favorite book that you read as a child. Easy, right? How about your favorite textbook? If you remember it now, do you think you will in twenty years? Nope, didn’t think so. Now take a moment to remember the days when you enjoyed education. Think back to when you maximized your creativity and dreamed big without the strains of society weighing you down.

            Even by the time you reach sixth grade, stress is synonymous with school. Some say stress is a necessary evil, but it might be better characterized as an unnecessary facet of our struggle to the top. This can be more appropriately labeled as our “race to nowhere.”

            Our education system is not the product of modern teaching philosophies, but of Enlightenment scholars from the 19th century who wanted to meet the needs of industrialization. Additionally, the subjects we study today were chosen over a millennium ago with the institution of the trivium and quadrivium (or the seven Liberal Arts). At the time, the goal of education was to improve literacy. This is less of a concern today, but our system has failed to adapt to a new society.

            The system does not just encompass the policy makers, administrators, and teachers; it also includes the culture surround education. Parents put pressure on students to work for the brand-name school and participate in activities that would make for a superb application. There is a belief that students need to take x number of AP courses on top of doing y number of community service projects and being the captain of a certain number of sports teams, in order to get into a top-tier school; parents push this on their children to set them up for a successful career and ultimately a life full of happiness. It couldn’t be farther from the truth. In the end, high school is about finding yourself and developing your talents in order to go to a school that fits your personality. We must value individual talents rather than some model for what is classified as a “smart” person. Recognizing the uniqueness of each student is a needed step in transforming education.

            In many respects, our culture has moved past adherence to dogma and rigid ideology, but the educational system has, unfortunately, failed to evolve alongside it. Today’s job market values have shifted to endorse critical thinking and creativity, but American education struggles to accept this reality. To what degree is education more about test scores than the development of our minds? To what degree do we not trust our teachers enough that outsiders, and at times the College Board corporation, get to dictate to us our syllabi?

            Instead of our tax dollars going towards the improvement of education facilities and rewarding talented teachers, it goes toward the facilitation of unnecessary standardized testing that does nothing but punish the teachers that were set up for failure in impoverished and failing school districts. Why not take the billions of dollars that go towards standardized testing and invest them in the libraries, breakfast programs, and overall quality of life at impoverished schools? At the same time, affluent schools such as Great Neck South can afford departments the liberty to structure a curriculum that is tailored to the talents of the teachers without the constrains of preparing for a test that the school year revolves around. This concept invests in a child’s innate longing for knowledge and shows the child that society believes in students and that they can succeed. Unfortunately, today’s society is geared towards taking tests rather than successfully applying knowledge to the real world.

            Newsweeks’s annual high school rankings only add fuel to the fire. The rankings heavily reward schools that push their students to take college-level courses. This doesn’t evaluate schools that are educating students with material that will enable them to be significant contributors to society, but rather “challenging” themselves with standardized courses. So are these rankings accurate in evaluating the jobs done by public high schools? No. They simply reflect the numbers of AP courses students are taking. They don’t even measure their success on these exams. Somehow our school prides itself on the amount of kids “capable” of taking an AP exam. We have students with so many talents and the ability to take a test is what we value most? When you walk into William A. Shine Great Neck South High School the first thing you see are our Newsweek awards. Is our community really all about that plaque on a wall and those high scores? Some people think these awards increase property values. Why can’t we place a little more value on how many students enjoyed their classes today rather than how many kids got A’s on their tests this morning? It is time that we take a step back to decide whether we prefer high test scores or an education that will truly develop our children into the leaders and problem-solvers of tomorrow. I suggest that South start by disregarding the rankings. As a well-respected school, South has the power to pioneer an educational revolution – unless we are satisfied with our current values.

            It has been argued that students need to work harder in harder to keep up with the world. Students are working harder than ever before. But according to the American Council of Education, they are on pace to be the first generation in American history that is less educated than its parents. So what is all this stress accomplishing? It does not seem to be getting us anywhere.

            The problem lies in the fact that the university system’s interests do not fall in line with those of the public education system. In fact, it is the university system’s reputation that keeps our country afloat as a world power; but imagine what it could be like if the public education and university system’s worked together towards cultivating the innovation and creativity necessary for a better tomorrow. According to the documentary Race to Nowhere, 50% of students entering the University of California system have to take remedial classes despite many entering with 4.0 GPAs. This is because the public secondary education system fails to stimulate a mind ready for college. If the system were preparing students for college then the learning process would be much swifter and much more efficient. We have the ability to be creative thinkers from a young age. Luckily, we have not yet found a way to suck the intrinsic value of learning out of toddlers. Yet the more young children are trained to be obedient through our education system, the less capable they are of retaining their love of learning. We have enormous potential, but currently 81.5 million students are being thrown through an imperfect system, and many teachers’ talents are not being used to their best ability. We must work together to solve this crisis and we must act now.

            How we go about making these changes is not for me to decide. As a community, we must consider what we value and evaluate whether or not we are placing the appropriate emphasis on our education. Our future resides in the success of our education system, and mediocrity is not acceptable. For the sake of the children of tomorrow: let’s fix this mess.