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A Day in the Life
At about 7:25 in the morning, for 180 days a year, I’m trumping my weary way up to the second floor of my small town high school. Students are split up into different homerooms by grade and first letter of last name. I’m in the C to D homeroom, up in the language wing. Around me is the usual morning banter: sleepy and sometimes incoherent.
Homeroom can be a few different things, depending on how well each person fares early mornings. It can be social time, with the morning’s hottest gossip drifting sleepily from one mouth to another. It can be an extra few minutes of dozing before the bell. It can even be study time, ten or so minutes to cram last minute knowledge before first block’s trials and tribulations.
First block for me is history. We always begin with, “This day in history…” Some are relevant to recent course matter, while others we indolently guess at. Most days there will be one that comes up that we “should” know from the previous year’s history course, and our teacher rarely fails to be appalled at how little we remember. Most of us will reply, “We remember taking a test on it,” or “I don’t remember anything after I take the final.” He will just raise his eyebrows and shake his head. We are his Honors US History II class, what he calls some of the “best and the brightest,” yet we rarely retain information for very long.
Full of energy, there is never questioning his passion. He loves his job and the subject he teaches. He does what he can to make the class more interesting for us; he’ll change the routine up, give us different types of little projects that play up our talents from other subjects. Not everyone loves the class, but he rarely bores us. The more you decide to be involved, the more you get out of the class. Some kids copy exactly out of the book, meticulously doing homework and outlining their notes, but stay quiet through the class. They don’t take part in discussions and they often are frustrated when the teacher checks homework only a couple times a term. His evidence in how we do our homework is in our class discussions and the occasional pop quiz; he runs his class more similarly to a college class then a generic high school class.
Others do just enough work to scrape by with a halfway decent grade. They will say just enough and take just enough notes, seldom retaining information. Only a few are in a whole other category. They are not necessarily meticulous with notes, nor do they dispense copious amounts of their time into it. They do their work, but their do their work and comprehend, not just spit facts back and forth to attain a certain letter or number. They are the ones who do the best in the class.
He spouts the usual teacher comments on the importance of comprehension and carrying key points from year to year, however he often brings up a somewhat unrelated yet very applicable point. He believes in teaching us to follow current events, to apply our education to our life, to take part in what is happening in the world. He dares us to bring more to the classroom than just our homework and the appropriate materials, for having that is what will set us apart from an average student and possibly give us a one-up in the cut-throat world of college applications.
Towards the end of the block we are handed back our tests from the most recent chapter. Some are groaning at the sight of the scores, checking to see how it will affect their term grade. Others, such as myself, glance over the test, either satisfied with the grade or unbothered by the number. This one test in the middle of a term is not the ultimatum of my high school career, my college career either for that matter. By next week, most of us will have forgotten a good portion of the test. We cram as opposed to memorize much of the time.
On to study hall; second block, about 9:15. I’ve just settled into my usual seat, pulling out my iPod and whatever I am going to work on first. Much of the class is waiting by the door to go to the library or to the computer lab to play games or go on Facebook. Such is the way of study hall. Those that are left settle into their equally predictable routines. Behind me sits the Zoners. Earphones in, they stare blankly ahead of them. Maybe they think they are opossums; if they play dead, the big bad homework predator won’t devour them. Little do they know it is quite the opposite; homework is really only threatening when you let it build up. I guess doing something useful with their time is unfavorable.
To my right sits a few people that do seem to work all class. Probably their only study, they are usually doing what they need to, and if not, they are still just reading. In front of me a few girls just sit and chat. They are AP kids: in almost all AP classes, undoubtedly the top of the class. They obsess over grades and GPA decimal points, yet they spend most of this study talking. In an otherwise quiet study, it is hard to not hear them. They will argue incessantly about how they hate a certain class and who has a higher grade in one class as opposed to the other. They constantly question why they have to learn something, or why they need to take electives. They’d rather have more studies than be “well-rounded.” All academics all the time! Numbers and labs: who needs an art class? Pure science and math is the key to progress; no creativity or outside education needed. It’s their thing. They don’t have room for much else.
Out of the cafeteria I walk straight down the hallway to the art wing, where I have photography class. A nice break from the traditional learning, I’m often surprised why more students in higher-level classes don’t take art classes; at least the skill based ones like photography. It’s a mental break that you get credits for.
Sometimes it is because they just don’t have time. With college’s competition and fiscal burdens practically being a deal with the devil, higher-level academics and the score on standardized tests have taken more importance. It is also sometimes because art classes are “A” level, and can bring their GPA down. Electives are not always part of schedules: a balanced, well-rounded curriculum is not often ardently sought out around here.
Running perpendicular on one end of the art wing is the English wing. It’s there I’ll spend the last hour and a half of my day. We read, write, analyze, and discuss, whatever fits the day and the material. Everyone in the class is intelligent, some in different ways than others. A couple students are purely fueled by a creative muse and a talented hand; they naturally write well. Others are just plain English kids, they like to write and read; it is their favorite subject. Some analyze well, and can put their thought onto paper with ease. The last few have a more scientific, clear-cut approach to their work; and it works for them. We all write and learn in drastically different ways, but the class balances us out. At the start of the year, there were a few that were in the class for the grade and the AP level: but now I’m not so sure it is the case. We all like the class for our own separate reasons.
At 2:04, the bell rings to signal the end of the day. Today I’m after school to make up a test. Other students stay after to do the same as me, for extra help, or for detention. All mashed in one place, you get kids from every grade level and ability, some hard-working students who need to catch up, other students who frequently miss school, along with some who frankly don’t do very much of anything in class and are being forced to stay after school. There are a surprising amount of these students: in every class they throw their opportunities away, despite a teachers efforts at either motivation or threats of summer school.
Once upon a time, people fought to have an education. Nowadays, it is not always so common. Sure, there are under-privileged kids who still find themselves knee-deep in that potent search for an education, fueled by its promises of a better, more enriched life. There are whole countries that find themselves in the search as well. So how can it be that in the USA (and I’m sure it is not entirely alone), we find an exponentially less amount of people in the search? Why is that there are so many people who don’t like to learn, or who like to learn less and less? Are we taking our privilege of education for granted, or are there other factors? This is not to say all hope is lost: there is of course people who still love to learn, still have the motivation to educate and better themselves, even though they inhabit a place where education is a right. However, it is not what it once was.
Education, motivation, and taking action were all the means of gaining success, now reality television is creating drunk entertainment and propelling those unambitious rascals into fame and success. All across any media aimed at teenagers and pre-teens school often has a negative connotation. There are also countless distractions to our already easily distracted teenage brains. Facebook, texting, YouTube, video games: as our technology grows increasingly advanced, our distractions grow at an exponential rate. But is that really it? Mere distractions? Or do we really just take education for granted? There is a large amount of talk surrounding this issue, and as far as I’ve come across, nothing really being done about it.
There are countless articles written on the matter, with no actual studies done. Everyone seems to have a different opinion as to why there is such a chasm between those inclined to have academic vigor and those with more vigor to avoid academics. There is a definite agreement on there being an issue, but any causes or solutions are heavily dispersed.
Maybe that is part of the problem; everyone is catapulting their own opinions out to the world, but its all just hypothetical hot air. To begin to understand this problem and eventually solve it we need some more concrete answers. Until then, all I know is what I can connect from the things I observe first hand and what others involved in the academic world are saying.
Many people say that we have just begun to take our education for granted. A University of Connecticut student Maria Bartolotta began teaching at a school in South Africa. These kids did not have education handed to them. Many of them had to wake up at four or five in the morning just to get to a school with an amount of supplies that brings “bare minimum” to a whole new level. Maria recounted her own times in a Farmington, CT school system, “I myself was often unknowingly guilty of taking my privileged public education for granted… Despite somewhat rigid structure and standardization in some respects, I am still more and more proud of the Farmington, Conn. school system, and all of the knowledge I learned that I didn’t even realize wasn’t necessarily commonplace everywhere else.” While Bartolotta concurs that there are still problems with the American public school system, she still believes we are incredibly privileged and take it for granted, whereas the South African students have to struggle to attain one. That poses the question; does undervaluing an education lead to a loss of learning?
There is of course talk of technology’s impact on education. We are a generation plugged in to numerous gadgets and distractions that technology has to offer. While many schools are trying to incorporate technology into schools, does it really make things better? The New York Times published an article addressing this very issue. In the article, Matt Richel, the author, concurs that “Students have always faced distractions and time-wasters. But computers and cellphones, and the constant stream of stimuli they offer, pose a profound new challenge to focusing and learning.” The article displays a typical teenage boy who is knee deep in social media, YouTube, and the other generic distractions the Internet has to offer. He is just like the rest of us; he has grown up in a world where instant gratification is always at the click of a mouse or a swipe on a smartphone. Memorization isn’t a priority: any information can be looked up instantly. Many students feel the way he does, why go through the trouble to memorize information when you can just look it up online?
Of course there still is the issue of curriculum. Many classes teach towards a standardized test, especially in freshman and sophomore years. Not only is it exceptionally boring being taught to a test, but also there is often a lacking in general education is these classes. A standardized test is not an effective way to give a child an education. Life is not formulaic essays and multiple-choice questions. Life is being able to think.
From here I drew my conclusion. The loss of the love of learning is not explained away by one thing. I believe it is a combination or different factors that has progressively degraded the want for an education. However it is not completely gone. David McCullough spoke at the Boston College 2008 graduation about the very topic of loving to learn. He said “Learning is not to be found on a printout. It's not on call at the touch of the finger. Learning is acquired mainly from books, and most readily from great books. And from teachers, and the more learned and empathetic the better. And from work, concentrated work… Make the love of learning central to your life. What a difference it can mean.”