Is School for Learning?

I have been fortunate enough to experience a high caliber education my entire life. From kindergarten through high school, I attended one of the top private schools in Michigan, and I now have the privilege of attending one of the most prestigious universities in the nation. Having been continually surrounded by an academically rigorous environment, I have noticed some flaws of the contemporary school system.

We work hard in high school to prepare for college, and to extend our opportunities for after graduation. We are bred to aim for the ‘best’ university in terms of academic reputation, but that might not always be the best option for us. Schools are becoming increasingly competitive, disallowing and discouraging students to achieve their academic goals.

For example, college math is universally difficult, and these classes are particularly designed to weed students out of their intended majors or schools. I took calculus in high school, and decided to take pre-calculus in college for an easy credit. Despite already taking a higher-level math and studying hard to understand the material, I found myself struggling in this class. Each exam presented difficult problems that translated into 60 or 70 percentile scores. But, because colleges purposely design their math classes to be difficult, the curves would miraculously change a 60/100 to a B+ grade.

I cannot understand why college courses would prefer to make exams nearly impossible, discouraging their students, just to round their failing scores into better ones after the fact. Would it not be easier and best for everyone to simply write the exams in a way that is fair from the beginning?

Scenarios like these represent a huge flaw I have noticed in rigorous school systems: they are much too focused on obtaining elite status rather than their student’s education. All top schools strive to have the best reputation, and to ensure that, they create an academic environment so intense and competitive that education ends up being about earning a 4.0 rather than learning. Colleges want to be viewed as exclusive and elite in their academic programs, and students in those programs are forced to accommodate to that goal, rather than focusing on themselves and their individual academic growth.

Students hope to attend a great school in order to earn the best education possible in the fields we are passionate about. As a sophomore who has to apply to my school and major of choice by the end of this year, my education and grades are increasingly important, yet I have never felt more discouraged. I am finally confident in what I want to study, but have to worry about even getting the chance to do so because of the unnecessarily intense system in place at my university.

Our grades are meant to represent our level of understanding on a given subject, but that has long been lost and replaced by a system of competition between students instead. Learning should be individual, and should make us feel proud and passionate, not hopeless. I truthfully see no real resolution to this issue, as colleges are only becoming more difficult to get into, but students should consider why they are at their university, and try to keep the broader goal of obtaining useful knowledge in mind. Although it is hard to not think in terms of a four-year plan, with the end goal being to convince future employers of our worth based on a sheet of paper that presents the statistics on that worth, it is so important to remember that we are not determined to be a success or a failure based on our grades. Define success in school as the amount of meaningful information you have learned, and the amount of meaningful information you have learned to love.



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