This blog post started as a comment in reply to ‘Of Reading and Random Things‘ original post ‘When School Becomes a Battlefield‘. I got a thousand words into my reply and thought posting about this myself was a better idea, because from experience of having been through the system, and looking at how far it managed to get me before I took control myself, it does need to be discussed, for both the USA and Britain.
The most impact from the original article is definitely this image!!!
I’m in my late twenties now, and I’m really glad that I didn’t go through the pressure that I hear kids go through now. The majority of my education was in Britain, but I did attend 3rd and 4th Grade when I lived in Virginia as a kid (and while I didn’t know it at the time I was in the class ahead of where I was supposed to be based on my age), and the difference in the education systems was immense.
I think Britain is more like America now than it was when I went through the system, and I am so glad I didn’t have to feel that pressure from the school when I was younger than 13 because I would have cracked. Equally, I would have liked to have been motivated more than I was, because once I got older and I was studying towards important tests I still didn’t get pressured by the school to pass my exams.
If anything I became de-motivated in school because I spend the vast majority of my time bored out of my mind. I came back from the more ‘pressured’ and standardised education in America, where being a smart and intelligent was praised, back to Britain where the smart ones were left to our own devices and ignored, except by the bullies who thought we were easy targets (and I was until they learnt I competed in Karate at a national level).
Here in Britain the aim is for schools to get students to pass their GCSEs (standard tests for 16yr olds) with a grade C or above which is the standard indicator that you’re competent in the subject. They concentrate on those students, and left me an A*-A student alone, with the expectation that if I didn’t get an A, I would easily be able to achieve a B without being helped. By the time I got to 16 all the motivation I had from America had been sucked out of me because I wasn’t challenged.
I was an all-rounder, very good at every subject, and I enjoyed most subjects, but instead of the school encouraging me, it actually killed my love of certain subjects just because they didn’t need to pay attention to me, because I was never one of those students that fell on the D to C boundary where their concerns fell. I also think that I received I lot less encouragement from certain subjects because I’m a girl.
I changed my mind from doing ‘boy’s’ (Maths and Science) subjects at A-level, to more traditional ‘girls’ subjects (English Language), and nobody thought to tell me different. I now really regret giving up Maths and Physics, because I loved them, and I struggle to understand astrophysics which I find fascinating because I didn’t keep up with my Maths skills. I work with a lot of Economists now as well, and I would like to understand better what they talk about, but once numbers get mentioned I’m clueless.
My parents always encouraged me to do my very best, and I did, but I was put off so much by the lack of encouragement I got from teachers, because I wondered what the point was in doing everything that I was doing. I was more than aware that all I was aiming for was a piece of paper that would let me to go on to do my A-Levels (standard tests for 18yr olds). I would then those to go onto University.
I knew I wanted to do History at University because it is the subject I am most passionate about. I knew I would never be able to use my degree to get a specific job, but it is a very well thought of subject to study in Britain, and opens a lot of doors to many jobs. As it turns out because I finished Uni in the middle of the recession I couldn’t even get a job once I’d finished. After two years going insane in a casual hour’s kitchen job, I used my life savings to do my MA, and then I was finally qualified for an entry level admin job.
Thinking of my experience over the years, I do understand the pressure that student undergo from schools who are looking to make their league table scores the very best, and from parents who know how tough it is, even for those students like me who coasted along the top without any problems. However, standardisation, schools and parents have missed the point of what the job market is all about; it is about having experience of working life.
Having a job is not like having a standardised test once a week which you have to pass in order to get your salary, and the world job market is a lot more diverse than what you are taught in schools and even at university. Not leaving student’s time to explore their own interests and explore experiences and knowledge is leaving them seriously under prepared for the real world.
I was lucky. My parents also encouraged me to be interested in Karate, in crafts, and in doing my writing which is where I am aiming my career to go. They also encouraged me to get paid work from when I was 16 to teach me financial independence and to learn about the real world. I nearly went insane with frustration and boredom working in a kitchen on a casual hours contract with a degree after having been told my entire life that if I achieved this piece of paper it would get me a job, a proper job with fixed hours and a salary that I could live off.
I might have gone back to university to get my MA because I love History, but while I was there I took on every opportunity I could to learn real life skills via the opportunities that I took take advantage of as a student. I sacrificed earning a piece of paper that said Distinction for a one that said Merit, and instead got experience sitting in an office doing administration where I practically applied the skills my degree taught me. I got involved in Student Politics as well in order to give myself and others a voice, and myself experience in communication. I took control, and within a week of finishing my dissertation, I had managed to get myself an entry level job, with fixed hours and a salary.
The system failed me, even though I achieved so much with them, because they have failed to understand what the real world is looking to employ. It wasn’t until I learnt that myself and I took control in order to educate myself to what the real world wants from the next generation that I was able to begin working towards what I want from life. Education desperately needs to pull itself from the Victorian way of thinking that standard tests are the only way to educate the next generation.
We aren’t living in the 19th Century any more, but the 21st, and the education system needs to catch up.
Now after university and after managed to get myself a job with my own ‘education’, my interests in learning are returning to languages (I’m learning Mandarin), and I read books on science and geography all the time. I’m even going back to try and teach myself Maths. It’s taken 12 years to get over the impact of ‘schooling’ for me to return to subjects that I love.