The American high school system is a rapidly deteriorating institution, and one that does not foster the development of students.
One of the most common words heard in high school is, “college.” When this word is used in schools, it is primarily to describe universities, at which a four-year degree is attainable. The word “college” is rarely used in reference to alternative education options, such as trade schools or community colleges. At such institutions, degrees can be earned in a shorter amount of time, while giving students the same value of education as a four-year university. Universities are often emphasized as the only viable option after high school, causing the coursework to focus on that idea. This means that for those who know that they would like to train for a trade job, the majority of high school can be useless and a waste of time. If a student knows that they would like to become a plumber, what would be the benefit of taking classes such as European History, or Trigonometry?
In my high school experience, I was told countless times that I was being prepared for college, when in reality I feel that nothing could be further from the truth. Yes, high school attempts to teach fundamental information so that colleges do not have to. However, they go about it entirely wrong. I had teachers who assigned vocabulary quizzes and ridiculously simple worksheets with the sole purpose of having, “supplemental points to offset tests.” Now, being a college student almost half-way through my degree, I see the flaw in that logic as I have yet to have a teacher give any substantial amount of supplemental points. The idea of college classes, in my experience, is to see how well students truly know the material, rather than to see who can manipulate the system most effectively, like high school.
The lack of preparation for college is evident in every class. Reading, comprehension and writing are very useful skills but are marred heavily by the teaching practices in high schools. Learning the parts of speech beyond nouns, adjectives, and verbs is preposterous and I found nothing more useless than learning that the word “working” is a participle and therefore is an adjective rather than a verb. Only reading and writing truly allow one to learn how to correctly structure a sentence. Furthermore, “writing guides” are not conducive for learning to write as they confine the creative process of writing. General guidelines on how to write a paper should be taught but not enforced, as teaching only one style quells creativity, prohibiting students from developing their own writing styles. Additionally, reading guides offer too much assistance for students in the realm of comprehension. In my experience, teachers would give students a reading guide to fill in as they read, slowing the reading process and giving students unrealistic expectations about reading comprehension.
The primary focus of high school is to graduate as many students as possible with the highest GPA. This gives the school a good reputation but ultimately provides no benefit to its students. Even those who do not take school seriously are graduating with the general population. There is no real punishment for students, for detentions are not given frequently and a suspension is more along the lines of positive reinforcement than a punishment. Furthermore, I had many classes in which students had the opportunity to retake a test for a better score. This practice is not an accurate representation of college or of life and is utterly unfair.
Tests in high school further delude and degrade students as they are often comprehensive and require students to cram information at the last minute to prepare. This coupled with the fact that most tests do not allow for use of notes makes for an entirely unrealistic situation. The purpose of notes is to look back on for assistance at a later time, but in high school it is believed that students should be able to memorize all of the information for the tests. Recent studies show that distributed practice, learning things in small amounts but on a more frequent basis, is the best way to retain information. This is rarely used in schools as students feel the need to attempt to study everything in one night. This likely accounts for the fact that most students study information for a test but forget it shortly after. I am a prime example of this as, although I passed AP Calculus in high school with A’s in the class and a 4 on the AP exam (sufficient to receive college credit), I retained hardly any information. I supposedly know enough about calculus to have college credit for it, but if asked how to use the chain rule I would likely laugh and give a sarcastic response as that is the most intelligent answer that I could give to that question.
In order to stop the degradation of our youth, high schools must work to foster creativity rather than uniformity if students are expected to improve themselves in high school. Teaching standards must stray away from supplemental points and ridiculously comprehensive tests and rather focus on the gradual and consistent retention of useful information. High schools must stop teaching students that universities are the only route for post-secondary education, for many people who attend an alternative college are now earning far more money and have far less debt than those with a 4-year degree. Most importantly, schools must turn the focus away from the image of the school and towards the development of their students’ social, emotional and mental abilities.