Measured By The Wrong Metrics

I’ve been thinking about school lately.

When you’re in school you’re judged based on your grades. Your Parents, your teachers, your peers.

Parent: “Oh, you got an A! You’re so smart.”

Teacher: “An A. Nice work!”

Peers: “Nerd! Will you do my homework?”

First of all, the grading system is terribly flawed.

For example, when I wasn’t being lazy I visited teachers in University to get them to bump up my grade. It worked. Often. The strategy: “Hello Sir, I worked really hard on this and I don’t think my grade reflects that. I know you’re busy and you have to grade lots of papers, but do you think you could take another look?” Due to my general lack of interest in school I needed something to keep above a 3.0 grade point average so I wouldn’t lose my scholarship (graduated with a 3.1). (By the way, English and related classes were the easiest to get grades bumped higher since essays and the like are so subjective.)

Second, this grading system ignores important aspects of a student’s well-being.

Parent: “Oh, you got an A! You’re so smart. But you hate your life and sit at home all day without any friends. Ahh well, I’ll ignore that since you do so well in school.”

Teacher: “An A. Nice work! This kid looks sad and bored. I wonder if something’s wrong. It’s not my place. I’ll ignore that because he gets good grades.”

Peers: “Nerd! Will you do my homework?”

I think most people, most children, need some structure. But I also think the way the system is set up discourages any free thinking or exploration. “Oh, you like electronics? Well, here’s a 45 minute electronics class you can take for 1 semester even though you probably already know everything in it. On the plus side, all your other classes will bore you to death and won’t be relevant to your interests or personal growth.”

That is our educational environment in a nutshell.

And it all stems from measuring by the wrong metrics.

If we were judged by our own interests and guided towards developing those interests I think it would do future generations a world of good. Sure, certain students would probably fail at this kind of system, but I think more students would shine. Learning math for math’s sake is often pointless. But learn it in the context of an electronics, computer, or art project and a child interested in those subjects will excel.

When I think back to why I was so bored in school, it wasn’t necessarily because I didn’t like it. I actually enjoyed attending (prior to Uni), but it wasn’t much of a challenge and I often slept in classes (at least once/day). Learn some history facts, write a few english papers, take a few math tests, perform a few chemistry experiments. If it was easy you couldn’t go beyond the basics because for some people it was very difficult. The classes were taught based on the lowest common denominator. A horrible way to teach.

And yes, I know there are AP (Advanced Placement) classes, but they’re often only available once you’re almost out of high school. I remember having fun and learning by doing in my 12th grade AP Physics class, but those classes were few and far between (and only lasted 45 minutes per day). Additionally, they came almost too late to matter.

{ 13 comments… add yours }

Jonathan

Schools don’t teach you how to learn. Why? I don’t know. Probably because you can’t measure that easily. Plus, when you set up a bureaucracy, there is no room for imagination or intellectual exploration. Once you are out of school, you don’t know jack about real life or how to solve problems. Perhaps big employers like it this way because they have automatons who just do a task and don’t complain and can sit there for hours per day.

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Karol

Depends on the employer. Walmart and the like? Yes.

But a tech company or something of that sort? No way. The smart ones don’t want automatons.

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Kacper

Schools don’t teach you how to learn because they were not designed to do it.
I’m seeing it here, in Poland, too. The level of education gets lower and lower. Universities aren’t supposed to teach you to learn, they’re supposed to give you a job. Funny, right?

Once I’ve heard a very nice comparison (and explanation as well) of the public school system: there were times when there was a Master and a Slave. And the Master wanted the Slave to know enough to perform his job well. So he educated it.
The situation hasn’t changed very much. Now the Master is the State and Citizens are those Slaves. It’s much much easier to rule a dumb nation. Just do your job, do your homework, we’ll sort all of the things out for you. Just don’t think, please.

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Karol

In a way I agree with this, but it really depends on the company.

I think in general, for factory work, manual labor, and the general service business this holds true. I think for companies that are innovating it doesn’t work. Sure a company wants an employee that gets the shit done that needs to get done, but they also want employees who are exceptional.

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Kacper

Sure you’re right, but the problem is the system was designed a hundred years ago. Back then this was the Perfect Employee type. Things’ve changed, the system can’t really.
I believe the greatest flaw of the public school system is that it’s public.
I see it this way:
There was a time when if you went to school you could be sure you’d get a good job. So few people graduated from schools that an employer could be sure that this guy knows how to work with that machine.
So more and more people wanted to graduate plus the system’s started to change. Now you had to finish something like primary school to get a good job. The reason was simple: it was elitist. It meant something. So more and more people wanted to graduate.
That’s one of the clearest examples of the supply and demand game: people want something and they’re willing to pay for it, they get it. (From schools, ofc. In public system schools are given money by the state.)
So the level dropped again. It wasn’t enough to finish primary school. You had to finish high school. Then the level dropped again and you had to finish a University (college? I don’t really know the difference between those, we have Universities mostly here in Poland.)
Now when you finish the University, you can’t be sure of anything. If you want a cozy cubicle job that will let you become better etc., you need to finish a bunch of courses while studying.
/SIDENOTE: That’s not that bad, though. Universities were never supposed to give you a job, they were supposed to help people who want to learn expand their skills and horizons. Right?/

But I don’t see this as a bad thing. The truth is, one thing hasn’t changed at all: always, the whole fucking time, in order to succeed, in order to learn new things, you simply need to be willing to learn, open to ideas, smart and hard working. You need to be able to find balance in life etc. Those things don’t change. Simply now there’s hardly any diploma that says that for 100%.

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Karol

I understand what you’re saying. Truth is I think we need the public school system that churns out cogs. Lots of the jobs it creates are necessary, even if they are created for followers.

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Andrew

I’ve thought about this so many times. I’m so glad to hear that I and a few others I know aren’t the only ones to realize this. I also think schools don’t teach the correct subjects; It’s just basics. and for what, just to do it, it seems. I was bored as well, and like you Karl, not because I didn’t like school. I, and many others were not challenged. I slept in class too. It’s sad that there is such a strict standard and the students who want to learn and aren’t challenged are tied to basics because of the other students can’t understand the basics. I’m not saying the anyone is lesser or greater than anyone, but actually paying attention to the interests of the student will make them shine and not only care about what they’re learning, but also want to learn more. It’s a society I feel that doesn’t encourage adventurous thought and self-thinking, at least not as much as it should. It is also unfortunate that the few teachers who recognize some students’ potential or teach another way are scolded and told what they are doing is wrong and endangering the student body. It’s all catered too much toward the “body” and not the individual. People are different and have different ways that they need to be taught….whew, sorry about my super rambling, this is a frustrating subject.

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Karol

No worries about “super rambling.” I appreciate you sharing your thoughts with me. And I understand the frustration.

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Jonathan

I’ve been working for 20 years now after engineering graduate school, and I still am struggling to recover my sense of creativity and innovation. In high school, I was fortunate to attend where creativity was encouraged alongside academic rigor (art and music coupled with AP classes). However, college and subsequent graduate schooling in engineering were in sharp contrast.

I always have said that I believe engineering schools today truly desire to beat the creativity out of students as much as possible – apply the rules, follow the example, regurgitate the process. Classes in art, business, sociology or psychology were not encourage but for the basic requisite “dummy” classes that all engineering students were required to take to prove that they were receiving a “well rounded” education. Even after graduation, working for an engineering consultant, we still were unable to show creativity and innovation in our work. Clients are quick to verbalize their desire for innovation, but they are unwilling to pay for the mental rigor it requires. Thus, we revert to basic, cookie cutter designs and processes with no innovation at all. It’s all very disheartening.

Thank you for the posting. It does bring hope to me that others see this as well.

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Karol

Interesting. That’s worse than I thought for a field that I generally thought necessitated creativity. I guess that’s only for top people like Frank Gehry?

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Conner

I’m a teacher now and I agree with all that stuff, I want my class to be different, give them freedom and such but they’re already too indoctrinated in the systems way of doing things. Now, you give them an inch of freedom and they take a mile, it really depends on the students level of motivation to learn, some students just straight up do not care, others genuinely want to learn.

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Marion

I agree completely. If you have not seen it yet, I highly recommend the RSA animation on Sir Ken Robinson’s talk “Changing Education Paradigms” describing how the current education system mirrors the factory model of the industrial age. Also Daniel Pink’s “A Whole New Mind: Why Right Brainers Will Rule The Future” even more emphasizes that since we are living in a post industrial post-information age the skills that are most needed are the ones that are least cultivated in the current education paradigm, ie. creativity and divergent thinking. What would the alternative to the “factory” be? Not sure….. The most dynamic people I have met have been those that were largely “self-educated”, or which is to say they took the initiative to find the right mentors, educators and learning environments for them, rather than banking on any particular establishment.

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Karol

Thanks Marion. Yes, I’ve seen the RSA animation. Great stuff.

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