By: Catherine Alfonso Blogger – Los Angeles, CA 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 in itself 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 more. 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 that the education system should be immersing them in. 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. In came the Industrial Revolution of the 1800s, and you saw many school-age kids leaving farms and factories and being put behind desks.
Standardized examinations emerged as an easy way to test large numbers of students quickly. Today two major standardized tests prevail. The SAT (Scholastic Aptitude Test) and the ACT (American College Testing). The SAT, 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 it’s original form the test lasted 90 minutes and consisted of 315 questions testing knowledge of vocabulary and basic mathematics.
By 1930 it had assumed it’s 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.
Two very different 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; the PSAT taken in junior year are some examples. And this only covers high school. And 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.
All this leading to a culture of cram-memorize-regurgitate-forget that is very 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. Not 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. You have teachers feeling disconnected from their students, even forced to “teach to the test”, and students feeling alienated and disengaged from learning. And 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 lead to a very 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 and 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 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 that is perpetuated by the dysfunctional standardized testing model of education, is proving to be a broken system. Parroting does not constitute knowledge. 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 your 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. Pre-reqs of course, as he must, with a focus on liberal arts. A budding young painter who is now beginning to take responsibility for his self-education as a young man where his “formal” education throughout his childhood did not.