My causing big problems in the education system.

               My nephew turned
nineteen in June of 2017. He’s fresh out of high school and has zero desire to
attend a four-year college. This isn’t too remarkable a sentiment among teens
in most modern countries. When he was sixteen years old he was already talking
to me about going straight into the entertainment industry working on the
production or crew side of things. At sixteen years old he was struggling to
maintain any interest at all in his education. He struggled to keep afloat
somewhere in the realm of the low C’s on his quarterly assessments. This
creative, industrious, inventive, witty, and wickedly smart kid at the age of
sixteen was bored out of his mind in school. And for all his youthful naivety
at that time, I could tell that he knew. He knew from the tips of his toes to
the end of every strand of his curly locks, that school was teaching him
nothing that he couldn’t learn from a quick google search… And he wanted

               Talk to any number of
kids or teens about what they’re learning in school and at a certain age you’ll
likely begin to notice a trend. At about the age of twelve a child’s
interest in school begins to waiver and eventually it wanes altogether
right around fourteen or fifteen. Somewhere between elementary school and high
school, there seems to be a mysterious shift. One might say it’s hormones, and
the rebelliousness of the young body and mind on the precipice of
young adulthood, also known as the teenage years. But if you look closely you
start to realize that it is right about at this time that learning in class
goes from discoveries and firsts, to rote memorization and repetition. “Teaching
to the test” rules the classroom from this point forward, all but killing any sort
of feeling of wonder or curiosity left in the act of learning by the age of
fifteen. And this is causing big problems in the education system. My nephew is
one of many millions of teens experiencing the sort of boredom and loss of true
critical thinking skills and exploration in which the education system should
be immersing them.

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    One of the keys to this problem
could be found in the current education system’s dependence on standardized testing.
The earliest record of standardized testing comes from China, where hopefuls
for government jobs were required to fill out examinations testing their
knowledge of Confucian philosophy and poetry. In the Western world, examiners
followed the Greek tradition’s affinity for the Socratic method, and typically
favored giving essays. The Industrial Revolution of the 1800s saw many
school-age kids leaving farms and factories and being put behind desks.
Standardized examinations emerged as an easy way to quickly test large numbers
of students.

               Today two major
standardized tests prevail. The SAT (Scholastic Aptitude Test) and the ACT
(American College Testing). The SAT is typically given as the final exam before graduating high
school. It was the first of the two, founded in 1926 by the College Board, a
nonprofit group of universities and other educational organizations. In its
original form the test lasted 90 minutes and consisted of 315 questions testing
knowledge of vocabulary and basic mathematics. By 1930 it had assumed its modern
day form, with separate verbal and math tests. It had remained largely
unchanged until 2005, when analogies were done away with and a writing section
was then added.

               The ACT was developed in
1959 as a competitor to the SAT. This exam included a section that guided
students toward a course of study by asking questions about their interests. In
addition to assessing math, reading and English skills, the ACT would assess a
student’s knowledge of scientific facts and principles. They are two distinct tests
favored in different parts of the country. The ACT is more commonly accepted in
the Midwest and South, while schools on the coasts show a preference for
the SAT. The SAT is geared toward logic, while the ACT is considered more a
test of accumulated knowledge.

               And these are just two
tests out of a gauntlet of tests students may face before even reaching
college. The marathon four-hour Advanced Placement examinations, SAT II tests,
and the PSAT taken in junior year are some examples. This only covers high
school. With the implementation of President George W. Bush’s 2001 No Child
Left Behind education reform, state mandated standardized testing is now used
as a means of assessing school performance as well. This has led to a culture
of cram-memorize-regurgitate-forget that is quickly killing all efforts to
teach students creative and critical thinking skills. It trades the seeking of
answers and true understanding of a given subject, for the simple, mind-numbing
memorization of what is predetermined to be the “right” answers.

               The result? It is not
the deep understanding of culture, history or science that you would hope, nor the
fulfilling career that teachers had hoped would be the result of all their hard
work and years of education. Students and teachers feel detached and frustrated
with the learning process. Teachers feel disconnected from their students, even
forced to “teach to the test”, and students feeling alienated and
disengaged from learning. Because so much of schooling is based on this dysfunctional
model of standardized testing, more professors are seeing students enter
college with little intellectual curiosity, much less a sense of academic
excitement. Students have forgotten how to be the self-directed and genuine
learners that they were when they first entered school as children. This has led
to an obvious and serious lack of critical thinking and requisite life-skills.

               The consequences are
felt the hardest by those young minds we are sending out into the world. We
have stopped challenging our children to think for themselves. It is leaving us
with a growing population of young adults who are leaving college and entering
the real world without an adequate ability to problem-solve or think outside
the box. They are unable to reach conclusions that would best suit the varying
situational obstacles or circumstances they face as adults outside of high
school or fresh out of college.

               Clearly the formula
of cram-memorize-regurgitate-forget and lackluster, nearly nonexistent critical
thinking and problem-solving skills are perpetuated by the dysfunctional
standardized testing model of education. It is a broken system. Parroting to
pass a test does not teach our children and young adults to seek their own
truths, to question everything and come up with their own creative solutions.
And though it is doubtful that my 19-year-old nephew can put a finger directly
on this conclusion when asked what was so flawed about his high school
education, there is no question in my mind that this is what was felt within
him at that tender age of sixteen. He is now attending classes at his local
city college to complete prerequisite courses with a focus on liberal arts. As
a budding young painter, he is now beginning to take responsibility for his
self-education as a young man where his “formal” education throughout
his childhood did not.