Have you ever thought about how much time we spend in school? It’s seven hours a day, five days a week, for at least twelve years of your life. And what exactly is the point? “Uh, learning, I guess.” Yes, hypothetical reader, that’s what I would guess too. School is meant to educate us so we don’t go running out into the world and blinding people with our ignorance. But a lot of school is simply about preparation. Preparing for the next test which prepares you for the final which prepares you for the next grade which prepares you for graduation which prepares you for college which prepares you for life? How much of school do we spend just waiting for the next thing to happen? Is looking so far into the future actually counterproductive to getting stuff done in the present?
Don’t get me wrong, I love learning. I love walking into a classroom and seeing my teacher get unapologetically over-enthusiastic about something they really care about. I love sitting outside with my friends at lunch as we exchange inside jokes and playfully make fun of each other. But I hate when one of my friends comes to me and says that they slept four hours because of copious amounts of homework or a test on a chapter they just can’t seem to grasp. I hate when someone says they’ll never be as talented as someone else or that they won’t get accepted by their dream school. School is supposed to teach us academically, but it also provides an ultra-competitive, high-stress environment that is not at all conductive to learning. I can’t tell you how many times my teachers have told us that they wished kids were less focused on grades and more about how much they actually understood what was being taught. How they wished students saw homework as a way to supplement their learning and not something to cheat their way through to get those “easy points.” I think there is something fundamentally wrong with an education system that puts every individual on a set path and expects everyone to succeed by the same methods.
So yes, the system is flawed. But I can honestly say that I enjoy school because my teachers all make such an effort to make what we’re learning apply outside of the classroom. Like learning a different language, how cool is that? How amazing is it to have the ability to communicate your ideas to people who would have never heard them otherwise? And biology. That stuff is going on inside of you, right now and forever. And the crazy thing is there is still so much we don’t know. History! Isn’t it great to know that there have always been people willing to change the world, to push for reform because they knew there was a better way? English. Just a couple days ago, my teacher put up a prompt that asked us if we could change school to accommodate our individual needs, what kind of classes and learning environment would there be?
In this kind of hypothetical situation, I think we would need to find the balance between classes that teach general knowledge and classes that teach about subjects you’re genuinely interested in. Give students a chance to explore different majors and skills. Have a class where you learn those random things that all adults just seem to know how to do. Like how to file your taxes or what the heck is a 401k. And then have classes that encourage creativity. There is nothing like the feeling of satisfaction you get when you look at something – whether it be woodwork, pottery, a painting, or a poem – stand back and say, “I made that.” And then I would have these one hour a week optional rant sessions where everyone could get together in the cafeteria and talk about everything they care about from the little things that bother them to the stuff that makes them question their existence and there would be snacks and bean-bags and everything would be okay. We would stop worrying about the future and concentrate on the present.
I hate when people refer to life after college or whatever constitutes adult life as “the real world.” Yeah, there’s an obvious difference between what it’s like to be in school all your life and getting a job where you’re presumably and expert in your field and paid for your work and under a whole new list of expectations. But I think we need to stop looking at school as a means to get somewhere and start looking it as a benefit in and of itself. When are you ever going to being in high school again? When are you ever going to have the chance to develop who you are while surrounded by a bunch of other people who are just as confused and plagued by hormones as you? Not ever. So we might as well make the most of it.