“Millennials are entitled narcissists,” claim the journalists. “They have no purpose and they don’t care.” Stupid kids.
Being a student starts at age five. For 180 days a year, you sit in a room for six hours a day and memorize facts and skills. You have no input on which skills you’ll be memorizing, of course, except that most quickly decide the question, “will this be on the test?” is very worthy of memorization.
This goes on for six or seven years, before you’re allowed some electives. These, it seems to you, are used as a filter: the students which want to get into college elect to take AP classes. (You also elect some extra-curriculars: mostly community service and academic clubs. Colleges like to see those.)
Repeat for another eight years. Some of your teachers will be better than the rest: they explain why some of these facts are important and exciting. Occasionally you get really lucky with some hands-on, real-world examples.
What would our world look like if students, instead of needing to worry about getting into selective schools and majors, could worry about actually learning instead?
Eventually, you make it to college, where you spend another year or two taking required classes. Finally, by the time you’re twenty, you declare your major, and take a year or so of classes which are interesting to you.
With all those math and humanities courses you took, you did find something which interests you, right? Oh, and your major better not be a humanity. You’ll end up as just another jobless Millennial. The journalists told you so.
“Teachers don’t teach,” claim the parents. “Our education system is failing our kids.” Stupid teachers.
Perhaps you’re a very idealistic Millennial. You believe you can make a difference in the next generation; help them discover what they’re passionate about. When you graduate, you become a teacher.
This is to the strong disapproval of your parents. “Teachers don’t make much.”
Being a teacher is actually more difficult than it seemed. For one, most students don’t actually want to learn, it’s just a requirement to get into college. Given that condition, many choose to do as little work as necessary.
So you start spending your nights grading homework and tests, and harassing students who are starting to fall behind.
What would our world look like if society thought of learning, not just as a path to a good career, but as something fun and exciting and worthwhile?
Oh, by the way, how are you doing? No, really, the government wants to know exactly how you’re doing. You’re directly shaping the futures of these students, so you better be good. The government, in the 2001 No Child Left Behind Act, decided testing would answer this question.
So, from the public perspective, your entire job boils down to how well the kids you teach do on a standardized test.
Standardized. It turns out that teaching really isn’t about helping students find their passions, because passions are individualized. We can’t measure individualized traits in a standardized test.
“NCLB killed education,” claim the education pundits. “We’re encouraging teaching to the test.” Stupid politicians.
But, as it turns out, there are very few Standardized Testing lobbyists, if any. No Child Left Behind isn’t a result of corruption. The politicians really do represent us.
Education reform isn’t possible until we change our priorities.
Society is responsible, because we know each of our own children is better than the rest, and we need to make sure the school system is doing a good job of educating them. So we measure it. To measure it, we assume everyone needs the same skills.
Society is responsible, because we don’t value learning, we value money and careers. Good careers: maybe a scientist, or a CEO. No one wants their child to be a waiter, or a hairdresser, even though we rely on these people hundreds of times each day.
Whether you blame the students, the teachers, or the government, you are encouraging the system, because you are a member of society.
You are responsible for education reform.