Does the system make the grade?

Much of Coca-Cola’s early success was due to the euphoric effects of one of the title ingredients known as cocaine. This highly addictive drug was also used in children’s cough drops. Morphine was used in over-the-counter medicinals in the late 19th century. Dentists used the poisonous metal mercury for tooth fillings.

Today, many people trust the experts of hospitals, car repair shops or even beauty salons in the same way they trusted soda companies or OTC medicine that was later proven to be extremely harmful.

The typical American now grows up learning in schools where they are forced to be dependent on their teacher for a good grade, which supposedly will lead to a good job and success in life. History has proven that trust in the experts should be questioned. Are the education experts of today just the cocaine cough drops of yesterday?

Leigh Chiarelott, retired professor in the education department at the University, said that the grading scale across the country is inconsistent and uneven from school to school, and it would be impossible to create a scale that would be considered fair for all.

“The grading scale [also] encourages working for the grade rather than encouraging learning the subject,” he said.

Another area of concern is the timing structure of the school day. As the student goes from one class to the next with no connection between the subjects, it can confuse or overwhelm the student. As soon as they get interested or curious, the bell rings and they have to go to their next class and listen to something completely different and unrelated. After years in this system, the student may become apathetic to the learning experience, or they may not be encouraged to reach their full potential.

“It develops a fragmented learning effect,” Chiarelott said. “Schools can do a good job of killing kids’ curiosity.”

Conformity and compliance to rules that are much stricter than in the outside world are also taught through this system. Raising the hand to speak, or asking permission to use the restroom indirectly teaches social etiquette to students.

These are not necessarily positive or negative things. A classroom without rules could easily become out of control and no child involved would be able to learn anything.

However, after spending their entire childhood under these conditions, the prison or factory-like qualities that this kind of system may carry over to adult life is a legitimate concern.

Kent Clements, a 2007 high school graduate from Riverdale High School, detailed his concerns about the education system.

“Was I satisfied with my education?” he asked. “No, but the fact that I am aware of all its shortcomings presents kind of a paradox: I’m educated enough to know that I wasn’t educated.”

“I believe both the teachers and the administration are guilty of not pushing kids like me,” he said. “Instead the smarter ones with more potential are held back, although this isn’t really the teacher’s fault. They are forced to look after the majority.”

Rachel Vannatta, professor in the education department at the University, believes that the system is not set up to unlock the full potential of every student. Its job is to provide basic and useful knowledge for as many people as possible, and any extra wisdom is in the hands of the individual student.

“Trying to educate all kids is a huge task,” she said. “I think the education system is doing a decent job under the circumstances.”

Though there is an obvious concern from the student perspective of the argument, there are also significant limitations among teachers.

“My teachers, for the most part, didn’t, and I suspect couldn’t, enjoy their work,” Clements said. “They were either the product of the ‘BA in education’ factory or they were burnt out from the constant struggle of actually trying to teach, for example: low salary, depressing results, student apathy, administrative apathy, and those f-ing state regulations; the list goes on.”

Angie Pohlman, a student-teacher at Northview High School, said, “The curriculum that teachers are forced to adhere to is becoming more and more standards-based, and at times, teachers’ job security depends on their ability to get their students through the state test.”

“There is much less focus on the discovery aspects of learning and much more on a student’s ability to passively absorb information, then turn around and vomit it back up word for word on a test,” she said.

“For almost my entire sophomore year, my classes were monopolized by an OGT [Ohio Graduation Test] agenda,” Clements said. “It’s a mechanical way of learning that strangles a classroom, and standardized tests are quickly beating the life out of any reason to be a good, motivated, inspiring teacher.”

The OGT is designed by the Ohio Department of Education for several reasons. It is created to ensure that students meet federal requirements for high school achievement and measure the level of reading, writing, mathematics and social studies skills expected of high school students. These tests are designed to assess any problems within individual schools in order to provide a better learning environment for students.

Pohlman, as a recent college graduate from the University, describes how she was educated to become a teacher while incorporating these tests.

“One thing we were taught in our college education classes was to teach with the test in mind,” she said. “While this is valuable advice, I think that lazy teachers take advantage of this concept, and their teaching style devolves into ‘teaching the test.'”

“If it isn’t going to be on the test, they aren’t going to talk about it, regardless of the interest students might express on the topic,” she said.

However, beyond high school education, there is much more freedom for self-discovery and the necessity of self-reliance and independence. Although most students still do not get this opportunity, or take advantage of this opportunity, to get a college-level education.

John Hoag, the chair of the economics department describes the usefulness of the college degree in today’s world.

“The big question is, what’s the return on the investment of a college education?” he asked. “Because of this, a dominant reason [that people go to college] is job related.”

College helps students gain specific knowledge, Hoag said. It also signifies key attributes, such as ambition and work ethic, to potential employers.

Another major reason that people go to college, according to Hoag, is the desire to do at least as well as their parents.

The Baby Boomer generation is the offspring of adults who grew up during the Great Depression. In comparison to their parents, the Baby Boomers as a whole were much more financially successful.

“This generation, as a whole, won’t do better than their parents,” Hoag said. “The incentives driving students to succeed are weakened because as an economy, we’re doing above average.”

However, financial success is not the only reason for the pursuit of an education or of a college degree.

“The bottom line is that college is about what happens to the student’s mind,” Hoag said. “Have we, at the university level, added to your abilities to more deeply and carefully consider a matter? Have we provided you with skills and attitudes to better appreciate both sides of an argument? Have we caused you to have second thoughts about what you once took for granted?”

“For me, this is the primary objective of the University,” he said. “As a side benefit, if we do this well, students will find a better job than they otherwise would have had, but from my point of view, that job is not the purpose of higher education