Someone told me some time ago that American high schools are lacking in comparison with others in other countries but that our universities are generally superior to others'. I wish I could cite this so it would be more than a 'he said, she said' statement, but I don't know where the information came from and don't even remember who told me it. But through my experience in the American high school, I believe that statement is absolutely true.
I've read quite a few musings of people questions why the American educational system is so lacking. What I think? The education part really isn't really lacking. Through my thirteen years in my school system, the schools have taught me to subtract and cite, read and research, create and question. I've loved school and, with a few very notable exceptions, I've loved my teachers. Upon reflection, most years, I grew and expanded my knowledge of the world.
This is one fact I can cite. Everywhere--in newspapers, news magazines, TV shows, news programs--people are questioning, "Why are American students failing where other countries' students are excelling?" Just search "Failing American Schools" on Google. Only one article on the first page stated that the failure of American schools is a myth. I'm a seventeen year old girl. I don't know what my generation will produce. I don't know what kind of people we'll create and what we'll do when we're adults and what kind of new technologies we'll make. What do I know then?
I know last year a classmate of mine (we were sixteen then), asked me what the baby boomers were.
Another classmate a month or two later asked another student what Al-Qaeda was.
A week or two ago, when Vote 2010 closed, my friends were sitting around looking at the results and what we thought about them. Nobody in this group was any older than eighteen. One boy asked the rest of us, "Why do you care about the government?"
This is why American students, not schools, are failing.
They are failing because parents don't care to tell their kids about baby boomers (or Social Security and our inability to depend on it) or Al-Qaeda (or its potential affect on their world and its inhabitants) or the importance of the government (and how they can effect change through internship even though they are not enfranchised).
I'm going to take myself as an example, and please excuse a bit of my vanity in the following words. My mother had the luxury of being a stay-at-home mom in the crucial time before I entered public school. In my house there was music and art and reading and writing - creativity in abundance. The playroom housed a TV, but that's not my most vivid memory of the playroom. With the inner cardboard roll of carpet, we made a totem pole, erected in the very center of the playroom. Around the Fourth of July, fireworks were created out of pom-pom thingys. The only memory I have of the television in that room is me, with a hairbrush, singing to LeAnn Rimes' concert on the TV behind me.
I was lucky. I could experience the love of education from my own home. I loved school. I loved learning. I loved my family (They are all connected). Others aren't so lucky, forced to spend their first five years learning from the boob tube. It gets worse, too. Once these deprived souls enter the school systems, they and their parents blame the teachers, blame the curriculum, blame the classmates, blame anything other than the origin of learning: home.
Yes, the parents who don't help with homework, don't foster learning and reading can certainly be a factor. But I feel that most of the one hundred students in my class had potential when they entered middle school. This is when the learning stopped.
High school and middle school center on the social factor. Pep assemblies, dances, gossip, oh my! Look at any movie about high school. Hannah Montana. Mean Girls. Never Been Kissed. Even the classics. Pretty In Pink. Sixteen Candles. Students fall in love, go to work, go to dances. They do go to school of course. And while in school, they talk so loud between one another you wonder if the teacher is deaf. This is not an exaggeration. High schools are not teaching. In the high school, we spend a great deal of time having fun to 'foster learning,' then teachers wonder why test scores are so low.
Not to say that test scores actually reflect the ability of a student. Me and my friend have created a game called the 'French Game' to practice our French vocabulary. It goes like this:
Me: la genou (points to knee)
Her: la main (holds up hand)
Me: la tete (points to head)
Her: le chemisier (points to shirt)
It goes on like that until one of us runs out of words and the other wins. My friend is very proficient in French. But she gets a D on every test because of test anxiety. She cannot do well in French because she FREAKS OUT on every test. It's not the teacher's fault. It's not her fault. It's the way it is.
As a final note (because this has become quite long), I would like to point some blame on teachers. I have had classes where I learned nothing. I have had classes where I taught every body, rather than the teacher teaching (now where's my friggin paycheck???). I have had classes where I was just filling a seat. I have had an entire year where I feel like I could have skipped that year and gone on to the next for all I learned.
College in the High School programs--like Running Start in Washington--really help students like me, who spent years learning and want to continue learning. I don't know how to fix faulty teachers or faulty parents and I don't foresee high schools taking the fun out of fundamentals. I'm a seventeen year old girl. I don't know how to fix it.
Maybe we can institute a community college-like atmosphere in high school. But would that really work with the student perception of high school?
Maybe we can heighten the expectations to get into universities? But would that really do anything other than lessen the possibility for high schools to get more than menial jobs?
I don't know what to do. I just know something's gotta change.