Dear the United States Secretary of Education, John King,
“If you judge a fish by it’s ability to climb a tree it will grow up thinking it’s an idiot” -Albert Einstein
I, along with many others feel strongly that our current, (or not so current), education system, strips students of their passion and individuality. I feel it adds destructive pressure to our youth. As somebody who has gone through the system for 19 years, I can tell you that it didn’t set me up for success. Rather I lived in a perpetually judgmental system that was radically flawed in every aspect. From what is taught, to with what tools it is taught with, to how long it’s taught and when it’s taught are all things that need to be fundamentally revolutionized. In contrast, the school system in Finland is successful in many of the ways our system is failing, and though Finland is a smaller country, it’s ideas are totally scalable to the Unites States. With the implementation of a similar system, we would allow our society to fulfil its full potential by allowing our future generation to thrive.
Let me explain:
What is wrong:
Being drunk on red bull and prescription pills to battle the depression inevitably caused in our school hallways, our brains spinning from illegally bought Adderall to make us focus better at cramming information in your head that will be forgotten 20 minutes after you are tested on it, getting 5 hours of sleep, entirely ready to ignore the sunshine of the day and enclose yourself into a building of 2000 other struggling teens, is not the way to “educate” a society. Our youth gets scolded for any form of self expression that is not entirely formatted, but limiting creativity entirely limits potential. Which in turn, is destructive to society. Our education system is 150 years old, and these theories of how to teach the younger generation are no longer (if they ever were) relevant. This is destructive. And I am not the only one saying that.
Our modern education doesn’t allow students to find their gifts. It makes students feel they are useless if their mind can’t show their unique abilities through the limited and narrow tests they are forced to take, and worse, forced to take personally, from a very young age. Everybody has a unique gift to contribute to the world that they won’t find through narrow standardized tests. It’s really beyond me that those algorithms are giving any validity to question our qualifications to do certain things because it’s all just a game. My parents had the thousands of dollars to get me SAT prep classes to learn the tricks on the SAT, so I did well. Because my family has money. That says NOTHING about my innate intellect or potential. Nonetheless was I tested on anything I am passionate about- an area where I would want to contribute to society and could genuinely test well on. That doesn’t serve me, and that certainly doesn’t serve the youth in poverty that is supposed to use education as a means to get out of poverty.
Morphing intellect and wisdom into useless facts and soon to be forgotten algorithms does NOT educate our youth. Everything in our world has revolutionized and modernized to fit our ever evolving world but education. Which is the basis of what creates minds that do things like invent the iphone, google maps, and electric stoves, microwaves and disposable cameras. So, we ought to keep up with evolution. Our schools were literally built with the purpose to teach students how to work in factories. During the industrial revolution. Which was forever ago. Which is absurd. Because continuing to teach using such strategies limits our abilities, and diminishes the fundamental purpose of a the existence of passion, to absolutely nothing.
Look up “school makes me” on google and let the suggestions speak for themselves. (Look at Google screenshot at bottom of post)
“Educated” or “prepared” or “successful” or even “happy” are nowhere to be seen. The information we learn will do little other than crown us the winners of Jeopardy, and you know that is true when nobody remembers the information. Our brains know it’s not important. We are being educated to be good at making somebody else’s dream come true. And that doesn’t benefit anybody.
What Should be Done:
We need to be taught to think independently, are more than anything not be seen as empty until filled. We are filled. We are not meant to be morphed or told what to do. Everybody is different. Created to do different things, our minds, our bodies, our experiences are all unfathomably different. And we have to recognize the beauty in that and know it is a GOOD thing that we are all different. So why should we all try and be the same? Think the same things, react the same way? That isn’t real. And that isn’t right. Prince Ea gave the example of a doctor prescribing every patient with the same medicine. That’s easy, that’s maybe cheap, but that doesn’t solve the problem; and certainly doesn’t create a healthy, able society.
Coming together instead of competing with one another is the answer. Teaching people to work together instead of against each other.
We have to treat teachers better so that people who are really qualified for the job, and would be good at teaching, will also want the job because they will be respected and paid well. Because being an educator is so important, and in my experience there are a lot of educators who don’t want to be there, or shouldnt be there.
What is Finland doing right:
Let’s now move on to what can be DONE about what. (Look at Global Education Diagram at bottom of post)
This shows Finland (our world leader in education) and the United States’s education rankings. As you can see Finland and the United State were side by side, for years, but then Finland realized they didn’t like… sucking… at education. So, they revolutionized their process. What did they do? They removed homework. They shortened school days. Finland makes sure that their students have more time to be kids and to – god forbid- be themselves. And the rewards are obvious. The students go to school 3-4 hours a day, and that includes lunch hour. That means as little as 2 hours a day. And those hours change weekly. When our brain get a break, it retains information way better. More than that, our brains are healthy. This then brings about happier students who struggle less with depression, and anxiety. Which hinder our youth immensely from being able to learn, socialize well with one another, and be excited about learning. And more than anything, we don’t want our kids to be sad and wake up each morning absolutely dreading going to school. That isn’t right. We can’t send kids to a institution for 7 hours a day that they despise going to. THAT isn’t healthy or beneficial and has horrible psychological consequences. I would go cry in the bathroom, pretend to be sick, ditch class… anything… to get away from my school environment. And I went to the 7th best public school in the country. The teachers in Finland, when asked their purpose, won’t tell you that they are there to “teach math,” or make sure the students know how to sentence diagram, but they will tell you that they are there to make sure the students are happy. This sounds revolutionary, but it should be so fundamental that we consider the students wellbeing before the curriculum. We are people before we are machines meant to retain arbitrary information.
These improvements are extremely scalable in the U.S. because they have nothing to do with the number of students or teachers or any other quantifiable variables. Yes, Finland is much smaller than the U.S., but saying these principles of education won’t translate successfully to the U.S. is like saying therapy won’t work on people in larger countries because it’s a larger country. Finland’s school system is very implementable in the U.S.
The answer is that we need to go to school less, make sure school happens in school (no homework), and that what students are taught in school isn’t MADE to be relevant in real life (“well algebra is actually relevant because my friend’s Uncle once used it in his carpentry business because he didn’t believe in phones so he couldn’t look it up, so yeah all of you should devote 100’s of hours learning it,”) but what we learn is innately interesting and important because it was DERIVED from what we need to know to be successful human beings. For example, how to drive. How to do taxes. How to boil an egg. All those things I use a whole lot more than calculus, but I wasn’t taught them in school. I’ll be honest, I cheated my way through math since 8th grade and I’ve never, ever been living my daily life like “shit I should have tried in trigonometry because it would be really useful right now!” We live in a day and age where carrying a phone with a calculator on it and with Google, is more common than having a pen and paper. So yeah, keep up, education.
Finland also helps out families that are low income by giving everybody services, so the middle class is way bigger than the lower and upper class. And because schools and districts aren’t competing against each other for limited resources, there isn’t a correlation between low achieving and high achieving and low and and high income students, as we can see in the U.S. (Look at Income/Performance Diagram at bottom of post)
On top of that Finnish students only have to take 1 standardized text and it’s at the end of High School. Where I’ve been taking standardized tests multiple times a year since I’ve been in elementary school. And I can guarantee you that what I was tested on, and what scores I got (good and bad) said absolutely nothing about my abilities and potential and intelligence.
What do I think about it all of this:
Don’t tell me I am a number. I a not 85% right and 15% wrong. And don’t say what you are doing is not lethal, because I’ve seen cuts on my friends arms, the suicide numbers raise…. All because people see a very real shadow on their future due to the grade they got on the SAT that you claim defines them.
It’s funny because in my experience if students are “under performing” without understanding what could be happening in their life, or considering the fundamentals of how students are taught/what is taught, the schools end up paying millions to build prettier buildings or fire teachers, trying to fix the problem, when the problem is really that it’s a just BROKEN system. To blame an ugly building or bad teachers is absurd.
It’s like Einstein’s saying “if you judge a fish by it’s ability to climb a tree it will grow up thinking it’s an idiot.” Why are we all being judged on the same scale? We are suppressing opportunity and limiting expression to a single formatted style. When we were all made individual for a reason- so why shouldn’t we embrace and show off our unique vision of how we can change the world? If a few numbers I receive can no longer determine who I can be or what I can become, I would feel so much more like a person capable of success.
I remember when I was going through a crisis in high school and only after it got out did the school come to me to see if they could help. First of all, it’s ironic when the very insitution that insuinated the crisis, all of a sudden wants to “be there in any way they can.” But, I figured I’ll take advantage of this irony. I told my counseler ways the school could help me, and maybe anybody else going through what I was going through. He kept saying “we are here for you in any way possible… but I can’t do that because I’m not allowed to.” I ended up yelling at the guy because I didn’t care how sinserely he wanted to help, if he couldn’t do anything to help the guesture was empty. He emailed my parents saying I was the rudest student he had ever had, for which I replied “I’m just the only student who isn’t sucking up to you to get a good letter of rec.”
I was happy I got into college.
You see, the problem with this is that we try and make black and white rules for everybody. But such walls allow people to slip through the cracks. Because we can’t all fit inside of this mold modern education has us fitting into. And people kill themselves over it because it all feels so impossible, and it’s all so tiring and feels never ending and day after day, year after year, it really takes a toll on our youth. And that is serious. And really needs to change, in my opinion.
We should learn through hands on learning is experience. Experience is remembered. Lectures are forgotten because they only engage a small part of our minds. Making students memorize information quickly and in ways that aren’t long-term retainable so that they can spit out that information on a standardized test, so that the teacher and school can score well and get some of the limited resources our system has to offer is no no no NO way to educate our future leaders generation. And that is proven by our world rank in education in comparison to countries who do have revolutionized this old system to one that serves future generations. So, let’s start a revolution.
Check out these links:
Batt, Shawn “Keeping Company in Controversy: Education Reform, Spheres of Argument, and Ethical Criticism.”
Riley, Kathryn A. “Leadership for Change and School Reform.” : Kathryn A. Riley : 9780415227926. Taylor & Francis Ltd, 13 June 2005.
Harkins, Mary Jane; Singer, Sonya. “The Conundrum of Large Scale Standardized Testing: Making Sure Every Student Counts.”