October 19, 2016
Dear Future President,
This country has many problems, and I know you’re most likely trying your best to fix them. However, I believe a great place to start is our school system, as the kids going through school right now are America’s future. Constantly, I hear many adults worrying about the younger generations becoming stupid as time goes on, but when using an education plan that hasn’t really changed since school was first begun, isn’t it just the world getting smarter?
The process of today’s learning is a student memorizing certain information, and then being tested on it. This method may work for some, but a lot of kids will never be able to apply what they “learn” to real life. Many people, usually those long graduated from school, refuse the idea that modern high school should adapt to the times. However, If you ask a group of students what should be changed about school, they would have much to say. Many would talk about the outdated ways of teaching, ruined textbooks with information no longer relevant, and the high standards to succeed in subjects not important to the individual. There are people, old and young, who want to change the school system, but going against the school board is something that many have tried, little have succeeded. This is why we need your help, Mr. or Mrs. President.
Communication and collaboration are key to a successful life, wouldn’t you agree? Not one person in today’s society can function properly without other humans. Modern day students work, for the most part, individually. While this is understandable for the grading system, real life demands interaction with other members of society. Adults tend to blame technology for the younger generation’s antisocial behavior, but few realize the impact schools are causing on kids. Students learn how to take responsibility for their own work, but not how to properly collaborate with their peers. There is not one job in America that is completely isolated from human interaction, even the most individualistic jobs still require you to connect with other people. So, what sense goes into the education of working alone?
If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my years of high school, is that having a bad memory can often lead me to failure. Notes are tremendously helpful, however most of the time notes are prohibited on tests and quizzes. It can be incredibly frustrating to kids who try their hardest, but are continually held back by something uncontrollable like a short memory, or attention span. Many “bad” kids dread school simply because their minds aren’t wired for the typical American classroom, they tend to feel stupid, even if it’s quite the opposite. The potential in so many kids is constantly left unreached as school prevents them from showing their true talents.
Plenty of graduated students would genuinely admit that they have never used a majority of the information taught to them in high school in their work lives. So, what’s the point of school then? Certainly not to educate kids for their future careers or lives; instead, it’s all about grades. Grades are the most important aspect of high school, coming in first before genuinely educating a young mind. Students learn how to work the system and receive good grades instead of, well, actually learning the information. School should be a warm place full of exposure to new things, but what it actually feels like is a cold, hard environment where everyone just wants a passing grade; it doesn’t matter if they learned anything or not.
I, along with many others, am scared to graduate. The reality is, high school does nothing to prepare seniors for life after we leave. How do I pay bills? What do I do when my car breaks down? How do I approach buying a house? These are all important things to know, and may be offered in a few elective classes, but are still treated as less than common core subjects. Sure, I know the pythagorean theorem, but do I know how to handle my basement flooding? Arguments to this are, “Well you’re parent should teach you these things, not the school.” How about those without parents or trusted guardians? Or Parents that don’t know these things themselves? Young adults all over America are left floundering in the real world, unsure of how to handle life after high school, and it’s a problem.
Deeper Learning, or Project Based Learning (PBL), is a new teaching technique that is steadily growing more popular. Schools using this technique have a significantly higher rate of success with students. Not to mention, the overall happiness level of the students is higher too. Can you imagine, a school full of kids actually excited to be there? Of course, not all students dislike the regular school system, but unfortunately, the majority of kids dread getting out of bed every single day. Deeper Learning schools are accomplishing what regular schools are failing at; educating students in an useful and fun way.
The greatest aspect of a PBL school is the application of information to real life. You may already know some of this, but I’d like to explain anyways. A student takes what they have learned, and collaborates with other kids in a large-scale project. For example, when studying about scientific research, kids are put into groups and asked to come up with a new scientific theory. This theory doesn’t have to be groundbreaking, or even correct; it just needs to be valid enough to create an experiment out of it. After doing an experiment and documenting the results, the students put together a full length paper in APA format with all of the information they’ve gathered. Lastly, they put together a powerpoint presentation, and present their work at a STEMposium, or something similar. This is the type of project that not only teaches students in a fun and challenging way, but helps prepare them for the future too.
Another great aspect, is that the grading system for PBL schools is on a completely different level than normal high schools. The traditional letter grade doesn’t exist, instead a student is judged, by their advisors, on how much they have grown and progressed over the year. Also, students are to call their teachers by their first names, because in these schools, students are treated as adults, with responsibilities and full capabilities. This not only creates a stronger bond between kids and adults, but creates a strong atmosphere that helps students to relax and simply look forward to learning. There are no standard tests in PBL schools, the final at the end of each semester is a self-presentation on what you have accomplished during the semester, and how much you have grown. This grading system is very successful in that it creates a relaxed environment in which students can focus on learning the information, instead of rushing to memorize it.
PBL requires large amounts of communication and collaboration with peers and the community. Some Deeper Learning schools require a certain number of community contacts, as well as an internship to graduate. At The Community School in Spokane Washington, each student is demanded to complete an independent project. This involves doing something for the community that will improve it overall, as well as connect with other community members. For example, one student created a film festival specifically for high school aged kids. Not only was it extremely successful, but it put his name out into the world of filmmaking, which he desperately wants to pursue. A huge amount of work goes into this project, and it’s a big part of a student's “grade”, but it also gives good life experience, and gives students good community contacts.
Not one adult would encourage another to pursue a job they find miserable, so why isn’t it the same way with schools? There are many students who are extremely successful in a normal high school environment, but the kids who cannot learn in that setting never get a chance to excel. In fact, one could say these students are more than ready for the real world, but are held back by restricting school standards. Rushing through units, memorizing information, tests and quizzes; these are all factors leading to the deterioration of potential in thousands of kids. There are many students with brilliant minds, they just can’t show it through the restricted box that is the American school system. Deeper Learning is just one of many solutions leading to the improvement of our school system, and I sincerely hope you consider it.
A Worried Teenager