I was speaking to a frustrated and irritated high schooler about my thought that much of what is taught in high school is pretty useless… it’s for the most part time wasting busy work. Unfortunately when I make that argument, people seem to think I’m advocating the exact opposite, that I’m suggesting high schoolers should stay home and play the computer or start working at Burger King for the rest of their lives, that I’m suggesting that education itself is completely useless. I’m not! High school, as it is now, is mostly useless education-wise, but it’s extremely useful in that you need to have a high school diploma to get a decent college degree, which you need to get a decent job. Thus this problem of high school’s wastefulness is not just an education problem that can be solved by closing high schools; colleges and employers must use different criteria to evaluate applications, and law makers must… well… change laws.

Of course I don’t want an operation by a heart surgeon who flunked out of high school and never got a degree (or a license), but I certainly don’t care what grade he got on his Huckleberry Finn research paper. Relevance matters. You can learn a lot in high school if you pay attention and apply yourself. And you’ll probably forget a lot because you’ll never use it. You’ll learn a lot more during the rest of your life, when you have the opportunity (and requirement) to actually apply what you learn to something meaningful. Your knowledge base will probably become less eclectic, but much more vital. (And of course you should always pursue your interests even if they’re eclectic, but you’d be Peter Keating if you have to ask someone else what you should be interested in. Eclecticism need not be sought for its own sake.)

The high schooler I was talking to claimed that if students were not required to go to high school, they would just play Halo 3 all day, since that’s what they tend to do in their spare time anyway. Obviously if a teenager was to play video games all day, that would defeat the point of my argument. Yes, a lazy teenager might do just that, play Halo 3 all day, but high school isn’t going to increase his work ethic. High school should be replaced with meaningful responsibility. I’m not talking about clean-the-kitchen or take-out-the-trash house chores. High schoolers should be perfectly capable (mentally and physically, even if not legally) of working an entry-level job (I’m not talking Burger King patty flipping) and getting on-the-job training, education that is actually relevant. They should then be capable of making and spending the money they make. They might have to take classes to learn the specifics of the theoritical material involved in their work, but it will be much more meaningful (and probably easier to learn) when the applications of such material are fully known. From what I’ve seen, no doctor-in-training sits in a classroom and does bookwork until he graduates, and suddenly works at a hospital with real patients. Medical students must get the experience of actually working in the hospital before they graduate.

Our schooling system serves two purposes that often compete with each other: to teach, and to assess. (Bad teachers tend to be the ones that focus too much on assessment, often not being smart enough themselves to do any teaching. They often use a text book to do much of their work. They plan their lessons from it then use their “teacher edition” to grade work from it. Then they wonder why they don’t get paid much and advocate “teacher appreciation day”. In some cases, “teacher” may be a misnomer.) Teaching is most important of the two, is it not? My argument is that if grades are given the importance they are today by colleges and employers, they should better reflect what they’re meant to: what the student knows. Therefore, all teachers should allow every student to take unlimited make-up tests and turn in late homework at all times. Otherwise you’re grading more than you’re teaching. “But,” you say, “deadlines are important in the real world! Students need to turn things in on time if they want to make it in the working world!” And you’d be right, but late homework shouldn’t penalize the actual content of the homework. A separate grade should be given for timeliness, but without the incentive of money or life dependence (like there is in the real world), it’s hard for such a grade to have importance, which is why what I said before about getting work experience while taking relevant classes is a better education model. People fail their driver’s license exams all the time, but we don’t put an “Exam Failed x times” on their licenses that somehow impairs their legal driving privileges.

I could blather on about this for longer, but I’m tired. And I think you get the point… though if you disagree with me, you might not… :-Þ

With great responsibility should come great power! (Wouldn’t that be nice?)


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