The Focus on the Numbers
Sitting next to each other in a ninth grade classroom are a boy and a girl. The girl rapidly writes down every word her teacher says, not actually listening, only copying down his exact words, flustered when she cannot remember the last sentence he said. Meanwhile, the boy listens without writing, soon realizing that nothing the teacher is saying interests him whatsoever. So instead, he takes out his workout plan, determining when he should take his next protein shake in order to be prepared for the weight room after school.
The next day tests are handed back. He receives a 59, while she receives a 99. When the bell rings, he throws out the test and makes his way to the weight room for the fourth time that week. Instead of doing homework that night, he researches nutrition information while she memorizes trigonometric identities which she will soon know by heart without understanding what they actually do or mean. He can now explain exactly what a trans fat is and how it affects your body and health, while she can list ten different ways to write the same equation.
But which of the two will have the chance to be accepted into an Ivy League college? Who will have a better chance of making more money as an adult? The one who has no passion, no true comprehension of what she is learning, and is memorizing information which she has no idea how to utilize in her own life. She can remember dates, equations, names, and facts for a few days, maybe weeks, and once the test is over, the process begins anew. After all, as Goethe said, "it's easy to be brilliant when you don't believe in anything" (Edmundson, Why Read?).
We judge these two very differently, very unfairly. The boy has no interest in the curriculum set by the school. Neither does the girl. However, she does it to maintain the reputation as being smart. He does not care whether or not other people know that he is smart. He does what he enjoys and works hard at it. As Abraham Joshua Heschel, one of the leading Jewish theologians and philosophers of the 20th century, says in The Insecurity of Freedom, we evaluate the student by his ability to answer questions rather than to understand problems. This boy dedicates himself to becoming stronger, more fit, healthier. He has a passion for it. He loves it. He strives to get better week after week, calculating how he can reach 225 pounds by Friday. But few people respect him for this struggle, few people even acknowledge his dedication.
We have lost sight of what is important. Our values need to be reevaluated. Children are living in a place where passion is not praised unless it will benefit education or their future. The present is lost in this focus on the future. The constant pressure to get good grades leaves children with little time to cultivate themselves, to find things that they enjoy, to dedicate time to their development. Of course, it is important for people to be well-rounded, educated and informed in mathematics, language, history. However, there are ways to teach these things without bluntly forcing it upon children. Simone Weil, a 20th century French philosopher, wrote in her Anthology that slavery is the work without any light from eternity, without poetry, without religion the only incentives are fear and gain. In order to be successful, students must want to do well. It is difficult for them to do things for a future which seems distant. They need support, not fear. They need options, opportunities to learn things that they want to learn, things that interest them. The set curriculums of school systems throughout the country are the major downfall of our education system. How can students be expected to have an interest in subjects that their own teachers show little interest in?
The mission of our education system is in need of reevaluation. Our children need to be given the opportunities and encouragement to find and develop their talents and interests. They are told that it is important to be unique, and that everybody is different. But then why is it that we try to force them all to fit one mold and to focus on the same thing? It is time to stop overlooking the importance of the individual. Remember the words of Socrates: "a man's first obligation is to care for his own inner self, his own soul."
Top image is sadly titled "High School Sucks", it is distributed under Creative Commons license from Flickr
Haley's essay is definitely thought provoking. Feel free to post your comments below.