Attending a public, four year state school for college was an incredible experience, but I often found myself secretly admitting to my friends later, “really, I felt like I learned how to get good grades.” To this day I have lost much of the academic knowledge I learned in school, be it high school, college, or post-grad, but I do not regret any of the choices I made in that area due to a wealth of extra-curricular knowledge I gained instead. Still, there is most likely room for improvement. One valedictorian took the system to task this year:
Between these cinderblock walls, we are all expected to be the same. We are trained to ace every standardized test, and those who deviate and see light through a different lens are worthless to the scheme of public education, and therefore viewed with contempt.
The student, Erica Goldson, graduated from a New York public high school in June and delivered a scathing, yet mildly optimistic valedictory speech to her fellow class mates and teachers (see Swift Kick’s “Valedictorian Speaks Out Against Schooling in Graduation Speech“). She slams the idea of mindless memorization, the motivation of money, and the this-will-be-on-the-test attitude that she believes her curriculum took.
In general, I agree, and kudos to Goldson for having the courage and eloquence to present her ideas at probably the perfect time (a valedictory speech about the problems of the educational system seems very “cool,” no?). During high school I do remember speaking up about what I felt was an inherent “know this or else” mentality, especially about subjects I had little interest in. At the time, I was told “well, that’s fine, but if you can’t even manage it on a test, then how can you know it in general?” which I took as the final rebuttal. I was the young naive student and needed to learn things, and this was the only way to do it. Goldson would most likely disagree and argue for a more creative approach:
While others sat in class and doodled to later become great artists, I sat in class to take notes and become a great test-taker. While others would come to class without their homework done because they were reading about an interest of theirs, I never missed an assignment. While others were creating music and writing lyrics, I decided to do extra credit, even though I never needed it. So, I wonder, why did I even want this position? Sure, I earned it, but what will come of it? When I leave educational institutionalism, will I be successful or forever lost? I have no clue about what I want to do with my life; I have no interests because I saw every subject of study as work, and I excelled at every subject just for the purpose of excelling, not learning.
Her point with this is that she was taught to seek a goal, and did so exceedingly well. This is why I say I learned how to get good grades – that was the goal. But I learned quite a bit about myself in college, and even in high school (though the self-discovery in high school is a bumpy, bumpy road). I fostered my interests in music, friendship, computers, all indirectly while trying to attain “good grades” in mathematics (my major of choice). I agree with Goldson that the system is probably too goal-oriented, but what if we made the “goal” turning students into “thinkers, dreamers, explorers, artists, writers, engineers” as she describes us, instead of good test-takers? I’m sure many teachers would orient themselves with that position.
Her speech is well thought-out and I recommend a quick read, but I don’t think it is 100% accurate. The educational system has its flaws, but every day I am reminded of the positive things I took away from it, and I do cherish many of the memories gained while spending 18+ years immersed. If you, your friends, and your parents approach it with the right mindset, creative, unique children can still arise; Goldson’s beautiful statement is a sure testament to that.