A Teenager’s Take on Education

On Tumblr, I came across post regarding Finland’s education system. After some research of my own, I discovered that the post is true- Finland excels in education but follows a relaxed atmosphere in classrooms.

I am an Honor student. I have been in the highest math class possible since 4th grade. I have always scored Advanced on my state tests, except for a high Proficient in 5th grade science. From August 2011 to December 2013, I took the highest English available to me. I am typically one of the highest ranking students in my non-Honors (regular) classes, and I scored very well in both of the years I took the biology/earth science state test (9th grade Biology STAR and No Child Left Behind Earth Science). What this means is that I have my share of the best and the average that this school has to offer.

You do not need to know a teenager from this decade to tell you that school is one of the biggest sources of stress; we constantly post on social networks how much we hate school. However, you, assuming you are a parent or faculty member, do need a student to tell you how horrible certain teachers can be.

A teacher should be personable. No student wants to learn from a smart ass. We are self-conscious adolescents who cling onto our pride. We do not want a teacher to outsmart us or encourage others to outsmart us. We want a safe environment to learn in. My dad, a man who attended high school in the early 60’s, dealt with smart ass teachers whom he hated. This is a problem that has affected many generations. We expect the teacher to teach us, to assume that we do not know what they do. They are paid to share their knowledge.

Our culture is a problem. The American Dream was originally to come to the USA and get rich quickly. We see reality shows and celebrities. We do not see them as educated figures, we see them as people who signed a contract and made millions. For actors and actresses, we do not consider the degrees they studied for, we see them as people who have good agents. Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg are two of the biggest science-related celebrities we kids see, and they did not finish college. What people do not know is that these guys had the skills and ideas that people go to college for. They were not stupid, they were educated. (Stupid, in this case, means an uneducated person who has no interest in learning.) We go to college to be educated and learn the same skills these computer geniuses have; we could even improve them! Not only are the most popular role models not known for their education, but we have this attitude to hate math and science. Yes, I am a hypocrite for detesting English, but the hostility stems from personal experience and is not fueled by my fellow peers. English comes in three forms- analyzing, reading, and writing. Math is so complex; it is the language that the universe revolves around. Math opens so many doors. Without math, we would not have science, which produced computers, buildings, and medicine. It allowed the human race to take control of reproduction, feed an overpopulated Earth, and cure cancer. Scientists and mathematicians are labeled “lame geeks”. English majors are labeled “book nerds”. Some girls believe that by playing stupid, they will be worthy of a man. This “stupid” culture is one of the biggest problems. We need to embrace knowledge and the drive to learn it.

Disclaimer for the following paragraph and rest of the post: All students who wish to learn and try their best should be admired. Some students are gifted, others had the opportunity to learn material long before others, and the rest, who are average, are no less of a person than the previous students mentioned.

The Honors program is a wonderful program for high achievers (those who have a thirst for knowledge, who yearn to learn). My father would have liked to take algebra earlier than 9th grade. I took it in 7th grade, but my brother, who is beginning Common Core, will officially take it in 8th, the same year that the average students of my generation took algebra. The problem with these higher learning programs is that it builds a huge gap between the high and low achievers in American education. Students enter the world with competition already on their minds. I believe that a little competition is inevitable, so instead of placing the high achievers in one class and the average students in another, they should be mixed together. As long as the teachers do not sustain the competition, it will stay healthy and all students will build upon it. The high achievers will be admired by the average students. They can readily help each other in class. As a high achiever in regular classes, the average students would sometimes comment on my intelligence. This means that these kids really do want to learn! This current separation makes the average student feel hopeless, that they are the school’s trash. America is so busy perfecting the Honors/AP student that they are leaving the average child behind.
Just because a child is average does not mean they will never amount to anything. I cannot stress how important it is to improve them. When they are inspired, they gain the motivation to learn. Even a high achiever is not guaranteed this inspiration. I believe that the intelligence (math-wise) of the average student who took calculus is worth more than the high achiever who stopped at Algebra 2. The majority of the country is made up of those kids who rarely took Honors or AP classes. The future is in their hands. Let us say you gave birth to a pair of twins. One twin was independent, inquisitive, and interested in the world around them because they easily understood it. The other twin was confused, scared, and doubtful of their worth because they felt they were inferior to their sibling. Which twin would you spend more time with?

In the beginning, I was interested in Common Core. I thought it would be wonderful to have every student in the country on the same track, learning the same standards. Now that I am more informed about the standards, it seems that Common Core is a joke. It prepares students to write essays for everything they do, including science and math. Perhaps it is helpful to prove one’s knowledge by writing an essay on it, but not everyone is cut out for essay writing nor plans to . I made my efforts in essays, and within the past 3 years, I have only received no more than 4 A’s on the dozens of essays I’ve written. Additionally, Common Core requires lots of technology for online textbooks and testing. According to one of my teachers, every student will receive an iPad from the district by 2016. Not that this access is bad, but the curriculum is based upon an expensive device with limited JavaScript and Flash Player limitations that has a circulation lifetime of 2 years. Couldn’t the government partner up with a company to create a cheaper, school-friendly tablet that provides permanent virtual textbooks opposed to a subscription? I think it is vital to expose 21st century students to modern technology, considering the direction the human race is advancing.
If this is the government’s approach to education, they’re not fulfilling our true needs. They are digging themselves into more debt. It is hard to say what I think of Common Core, though, as it has not been taught officially, yet, and I will not be following the standards.

Here are some resources about Finland’s education system.
Smithsonian: Educating Americans for the 21st Century
The Atlantic: What Americans Keep Ignoring About Finland’s School Success

One of my biggest concerns with school is the hours. I attend school from 7am to 12:18pm. I wake up around 6am, but the majority of the students who live 15 minutes away from school wake up earlier. Some people wake up at 5am. (Some kids attend at 8am, but my main focus is the 7am time slot). Almost every Wednesday, school starts at 8:49am (for me). I believe that with the same amount of sleep, I will have more energy waking up for Late Start Wednesday than any other day.

It is crucial for adolescents to sleep well enough, for our bodies are constantly growing and changing and we need to have energy to perform daily tasks. Some studies suggest that adolescent bodies secrete melatonin (our body’s natural sleeping chemical) between 11pm and 8am. When we wake up earlier than 8, it disrupts our internal clocks and affects our focus in class. I’m a huge believer in later school times. I would rather go to school at 8 or 9:35 and come home at 3 instead of my current schedule. The sky is dark for the first 30 minutes after I wake up.

Here are some sources on sleep.

Nation Sleep Foundation: Later School Start Times
CEHD: Later Start Times for High School Students

tl;dr For better success in school, change the learning environment, culture, and hours.

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