By: Peyton Lawson
At their core, every human loves to learn. Children brag about being able to count to a high number or read a big word like “because” or “understanding”. Young kids ask so many questions and want to know about everything, “Mommy, what are you doing?” Even babies prefer to watch a colorful mobile dance above their crib over a solid white one. The babies are curious about the colors just as the young child is interested in the mysterious object. On the first day of Kindergarten, parents send their eager five-year-olds to school to feed their child’s hunger for learning and provide them with all the answers to their questions. School starts this way; children come excited to learn and interact with other kids their age.
At the start, they learn teamwork, respect, and how to write their name. As a first grader, I was an Upward cheerleader. I can remember proudly walking up to my first grade teacher the day after my basketball game and exclaiming, “I know how to spell rebound.” I then proceeded to clap and stomp while spelling out the big-kid word I had learned, as I could not spell it without the beat of the cheer. By this time, humans are proud of the things they learn and are curious to learn more. Fast forward to fourth grade. I’m sitting at my kitchen table studying for my mandatory spelling quiz, crying because I could not remember how to spell “telephone” or “through.” Now, as a senior in high school that has taken way too many AP classes, I have several questions.
I was once an eager seven-year-old, excited to spell a new word for a teacher, feeling proud of my ability to do so. In three years time, I became a crying ten-year-old being forced to spell new words for a teacher, feeling like a disappointment and failure for not being able to do so. What happened in those years that made learning such a pressure? The problem with our education system is this: not all kids are interested in learning how to spell “rebound” like I was. Some kids may have been proud to count to 100 or name all of the continents on the planet.
Feelings of disappointment and frustration associated with learning arise when children are denied the ability to explore their own interests and are expected to be naturally interested in spelling AND counting AND global geography. I understand that all subjects need to be taught. The world wouldn’t function with illiterate mathematicians or writers who can’t count money. What I am saying is, allow the kid who loves to spell to learn about writing and explore their passion until their heart’s content. Additionally, teach them science, math, and history-but don’t label them with number grades on their ability to do so. By placing a grading scale on third graders, students develop an idea that they are either smart or stupid. They get the idea that you go to school to get good grades rather than to learn. A writer as talented as George Orwell could be working at McDonald’s right now as a result of someone during their childhood making them feel stupid because they couldn’t write down the multiples of 7 in under a minute. If the education system provided a platform for young children to explore subjects they are naturally interested in and replaced number and letter grades with growth evaluations, students could once again enjoy learning. I have no doubt that the quality of education would be better. I dream of a world where questions asked at school aren’t answered with A, B, C,or D, but rather with research and a new list of questions.
Students have passions and when given the ability to explore them, we could accomplish great things. The school system has failed us. If grades were based on growth and gave room for students to reflect on failure rather than being punished for it, we would all still be proudly sharing our abilities as I did in first grade. Instead, we are bending over backwards and shedding tears to get the A, a label of success from our school system. The reality is, I’ve gotten A’s in classes which I memorized information to pass a test rather than learning anything. I’ve gotten participation grades in class seminars that changed my entire perspective on a topic, truly educating me of other points of view. Transcripts fail to show learning. Transcripts show a student’s ability to memorize formulas, complete a worksheet out of a book, or write an essay about another essay. The whole system is flawed.
That being said, I understand the thought process behind standardized learning and harsh grading scales based on knowledge instead of growth. It would be hard to distinguish and rank students across the country without a standardized measurement of learning. I propose a system which proves growth through discussions or presentations with standardized rubrics or unbiased “judges”. I can’t claim to have a perfect solution, but something should change. Students who learn to associate learning with stress and pressure have limited their potential to grow.
Why is it that kindergarteners are happily learning the real-life skills, such as teamwork and communication, while high schoolers are being judged on how well we can memorize? At our core, we are all smart and capable. The point is summarized best in a quote by Albert Einstein:“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” The minute the education system realizes this, students will change the world.