Monday, December 30, 2013

What Was Your School Experience?

“A B C D E… uh… uh… What comes next again?” It sounds comical to hear this from a three of four year old, but what about when the speaker is an illiterate adult who, to add insult to injury, graduated from high school? There is much debate going on about how the education system is failing our children. Here are my worthless two cents on my high school experience.

When I was in high school, we hardly learned anything. I went to a performing and fine arts high school, so as long as we could play an instrument well and put on professional productions everything was fine. There were some good teachers like my history teacher, math teachers, and English teacher, but the rest hardly did anything. They were more concerned with the kids accepting them as cool adults, especially my science teacher, Spanish teacher, and music teacher. It was ridiculous! 

I earned a lot of awards at the end of my junior and senior years for being the top student in a number of classes, but the one achievement that has perplexed me to this day is the Physics award. My Physics teacher (the science teacher I mentioned earlier who only wanted to be cool) only taught physics the first week of school. The rest of the school year we just hung out in the classroom. In fact, I know that I would have excelled in science had I a competent teacher. 

Many teachers would also cut corners to make sure that we would succeed on a local level. For example, we had a spelling bee between our high school and two other local high schools that were equally academically inferior. I don't know about anyone else, but I have never heard of a spelling bee where a list is distributed beforehand for contestants to study. All three schools got it and, you guessed it, there was a three way tie. It was completely bogus! I love words, grammar, and etymology, so I was thrilled to finally be in a spelling bee, but the thrill of victory was stolen from me. Honestly, I still tell people that I won the spelling bee at my school, which is true, but only I know that all of the contestants won because the administrators of the event thought that we could not successfully prepare and compete on our own. 

Another example is midterms and final exams. In many classes such as history, English, and the different sciences, we were given a packet by the teachers of what would be on the test so we knew what to study. It was so thorough that they were practically giving us the test up front. I have never been to another high school to know for sure how they do it, but isn't a teacher supposed to say the chapters that would be on the midterms and finals and the students would have to make sure they have a firm grasp on everything? Well, it is like that on TV, anyway. I have yet to see a depiction on TV like what I experienced. I have not even heard someone say it was done the same way in their high school.

A third example is our performing and fine arts disciplines. One thing I am proud to say is that most students in my high school were top performers. The singers could go toe to toe with Angela Winbush and Aretha Franklin any day; the dancers, with Anna Pavlova and Mikhair Baryshnikov; the artists, with Monet and Rembrandt; and then there were the many different kinds of musicians. I excelled at playing the harp and was the principal harpist of about a dozen students. So what was the problem? The other kids wanted to play around and use that time as a free period. They did not want to learn music theory or add new music to their repertoire, and my teacher would make allowances for them to act up. She would allow second to fifth year students to write notes in on the sheet music and she made their already rinky-dink parts in ensemble music even simpler. The good thing that came out of this is that I learned to combine aggregated ensemble pieces into a solo. The students were so amazed and some were even jealous about how well I would play, but the reason why is because I was seriously about being a performer. I even took the first chair at a college summer string conference and was allowed to play a solo before hundreds of my musical peers, including many who had already made big names for themselves within the classical music circle.

My last example was the science fair. Instead of helping us to investigate things we wanted to learn more about through experimentation, we were given the same book of science fair experiments each year and told to pick one. I guess it comes as no surprise that my school never won at the district science fair, at least not while I was a student.

When I went to college, I was so unprepared. Sure, I graduated as the salutatorian, but college level courses went over my head. I was so frustrated at first because I could not pull a grade higher than a C for most courses. That is when I realized that I was competing with other students who had covered my high school curriculum in middle school. It is a pretty crappy feeling to be an excellent high school student, considered to be the cream of the crop, only to be labeled intellectually mediocre on a college level. 

Do you feel like schools deserve an F for the way they have been “teaching” children? How was your academic experience in school? Do you feel like your child is getting a good education? Would you like to see anything done differently?

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