The Standardized Schooling System

By Meredyth Staunch on March 16, 2017

From the stringent 2000-calorie diet to the idealized body image represented so infamously by Victoria’s Secret models, society impressions both males and females into a single appropriate category of exactitude and uniformity — one without blemishes and perceived as “acceptable” for its time.

Whether this ideal stretches with body physique or knowledge each of us should exhibit, a sense of robotism is appealing increasingly to the majority, with the ideal weight, with the ideal quantity of money earned annually, with the ideal standard of measuring comprehension and learning in an educational setting.

As the daughter of an art educator, I have grown up valuing music, theater, and multimedia artistic platforms, such as pottery, painting, drawing, and the like. I was fortunate enough to attend a private school from kindergarten until eighth grade, where the curriculum was not bound to a specified standard of measuring the students’ achievements — I even attended a wealthier public high school which valued freelance thinking to some extent with the wide range of classes offered.

But as a college sophomore, I reassess my curriculum. I think back to kindergarten with my favorite teacher and how she instilled creativity and “money management” by taking us on a pretend extravaganza to Disney World, the students squirming impatiently in their seats and watching Mickey Mouse cartoons until the “plane” landed, only to arrive at the park where we took out our $100 Monopoly money to pay for our stay. If only Disney World was this cheap today.

Fast forward to middle school and even high school and college, where the students are all required to earn an explicit number of math, science, and reading/comprehension credits. Ideally, testing is an approach to measuring the students’ understanding of a topic — what happens if the child has learning disabilities or is slower at reading? Should he or she be penalized for not fitting into this “one-size-fits-all” educational criteria?

While I do not expect a college professor to stop class, explaining the topic further by setting up the room in the formation of an airplane and having each of us adults revert to juvenility by counting Monopoly money, I do not completely agree with the system of standardization that is so prevalent within the educational system.

There are at least three educationally-skewed actions (plus more I did not mention) in which I see the school system lagging.

1. The Common Core and Testing

Even writing this expression made me cringe, and I would be willing to put money down that other students display the same bitter taste in their mouths when saying this phrase as well. What makes the common core so appealing, though? Is it to ensure each pupil has at least some background in the following subjects of math, science, and reading? Or is it the fact that the teachers can expand upon their areas of expertise within these fields year after year to discover their best methods of approaching the topics?

While the common core admitted good intentions within the curriculum, I see its effects as more detrimental to the students — from primarily focusing on math and science to the stresses once subjected to educators because of the No Child Left Behind Act, no one is truly benefitting.

Within schools, there are disparate types of learners: take the aural learner who understands the material best by sound and music compared to that of logical learners, who prefer reasoning. How about the physical trainee who grasps information better through a “hands-on” approach?

Theoretically, will teacher-to-student PowerPoints primarily utilized and bubbling in circles for tests be the end-all be-all for all students? I only mentioned three contrasting learning styles, but there are seven plus. All juniors in high school are required to take either the ACT or SAT. I would be lying if I said that the knowledge I gained through my classes in high school assisted in my testing performance significantly. It was primarily a game against the clock which ultimately had a large determining factor in dictating which colleges I could attend and not get accepted into.

2. Creativity in Education

Unfortunately, schools are cutting their budgets, and the fine arts are the first to suffer the ramifications. The common core primarily values math and science, two subjects dominant within the left hemisphere of the brain. While incredibly important, they champion the black-and-white, wrong-and-right continuum, thereby withholding that of creativity so pertinent within the arts.

Children exhibit a natural inquiry to drawing and free-form, though usually irrational, thinking; squashing their imagination, even in first grade, is crucial because they might not be able to problem solve or think through various situations in a different light.

Rather, they will be constrained to what is correct and incorrect with addition and subtraction and why the earth is round and not flat. The unstructured thinking with the arts can be considered a “frivolity,” but it enhances collaboration and unregulated introspection which cannot be found within the core subjects.

3. Assessing Student Growth

Now, I am a little biased: I just completed midterms less than a week ago and am finally in the lackadaisical stage, resting my brain and catching up on sleep. I understand midterms and finals is a stressful time for all college students, but should it take such a toll on students’ bodies that they are up all night studying, only to roll out of bed after three hours of sleep and nearly twice as many cups of coffee in their systems?

I perceive it as ridiculous that students, such as myself, study, attend SI or tutoring sessions, and participate during class only to sit with pen and paper during the final and nearly fall to pieces because the professor contrived such a difficult exam. What joy does the teacher acquire from constructing such an arduous test — does he or she want us to attempt to utilize outside knowledge to magically construe the correct response?

Problem-solving is paramount within any class, but when the subject matter has not sufficiently been taught and is especially tested on a final exam, what good is it doing for the students? Not all my midterms or finals have panned out in such a way, but last semester my grade and that of my fellow classmates dropped nearly one to two letter grades in a class because of the unnecessary difficulty and weight of the exam.

This brings me to my last point: testing in general and the overall weight of the final exams on the students’ concluding grades. My midterms and finals were weighted anywhere between 20 to 35 percent while the rest of my grade exhibited primarily a concoction of smaller tests and about 10 percent due to homework and class participation.

If learning is a process and about the feedback acquired amidst this journey, why can the knowledge portrayed throughout the courses only be elucidated on a sheet of paper in a test format, which determines 80 to 90 percent of the overall grade? There should be more hands-on work, more points attributed to thought-provoking conversations which appeal to all learning styles.

School standards ultimately determine what is most important for the students to learn and how they should exhibit this knowledge. It is paramount to understand how to add, subtract, and formulate sentences correctly, but it is also difficult to prioritize which subjects should be raised on a pedestal over others.

Standards are necessary to some extent to assess a student’s progress, albeit a group project, or even an exam. However, the educational tools utilized should be specific for the area taught, with not the primary grade as that of only tests — each of us are different, with differing brains and modes of knowledge attainment. The educational system has still yet to revamp what is beneficial and what should be tossed out to help not only the majority of the students but almost if not all (if there is such a system).

Whether I'm in the lab, formulating some unknown concoction, laying out for a disk for my college Ultimate Frisbee team, muddied and sweat smeared in my eyes, or interviewing anyone from civil activist leaders to app programmers, you will always find a smile from ear-to-ear and a head of hair that Little Orphan Annie would be jealous of. As a Saint Louis University sophomore, you can say that I am in "dangerous territory" as the Cubs just won this past World Series, only to the demise of those loyal Cardinal fans. Even though sports are a touchy subject, I have wholeheartedly adopted the Saint Louis culture -- everything from Fitz's root beer floats to the oh so famous ooey gooey butter cake. However, Chicago's famous Lou Malnati's pizza is still number one in a far off dimension. Call me a foodie, call me a movie fanatic, but my ideal night would be making homemade seafood pasta with a nice glass of wine and curling up with my boo to "Rent" or "Annie" while chomping on those infamous (and deadly) Brookside dark chocolate covered bites. Yes, I know, quite basic, but I promise you I am far from the "ordinary white girl." After majoring in Biomedical Engineering for a year and a half, I realized this field was not my area of expertise; although I loved medicine for the simple reason that my older brother has a fair amount of mental health circumstances, I missed the free-form thinking that was so inherent in my life in high school as a Yearbook Committee editor. Therefore, I switched my major to Journalism with a minor in Biomedical Engineering, and have not regretted my decision yet. Maybe a medical writer in the future, or broadcasting/journalist/blogger extraordinaire? I'm only 20 and have at least 80 years left..yes I plan on living a kickin' life till I'm 100 years old, sassy and ready for a new adventure. Therefore, I have no rush, only an "unwritten" page ready to be filled.

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