I hate school.
This may sound like a ridiculous and perhaps ironic statement considering that I plan to do at least 5 years of college and hope to become a high school teacher. Just wait though, and hear me out.
Ever since I was a kid, I loved learning. At a young age I remember writing reports on animals I found interesting. These reports were a page and a half long, and of my own choice. Then I got to school age and found that learning was required. It became forced on me to do assignments, learn about new things, and read books. Like many things children encounter that they like to do, when it becomes forced on them they learn to hate it. For some kids this takes the form of learning to hate anything from eating vegetables, practicing piano, or vacuuming the house. For me, the desire to learn gave way to the desire to skip school and avoid school work at all costs.
Granted, some degree of this desire probably came from the social and cultural pressures of my interactions with my peers. It seems that there is a general attitude that to hate school and complain about homework is cool. Still, the biggest factor for me hating school was a lack of my own contribution to my learning. I loved history, in yet when I was forced to answer questions in a work book about American history, I fell behind. This all took its peak in middle school and high school, but the foundation of this attitude had always been there.
Another contribution to this attitude was that I found loopholes in the system. I learned that daily work like worksheets and quizzes didn't require a whole lot of learning of the topics. I could pay attention in class, do the worksheets from memory, and skate by with not much absorption of the material at all. It didn't take me very long to abandon busywork all together, ace the tests, and move on with life content with a C. I liked learning but hated schoolwork.
Coming to college, I have been delighted to have the responsibility of my learning given to me. I have the encouragement to learn the material to do well on tests and quizzes, without the pointless worksheets of my past. College, in part, is supposed to be the ultimate introduction into the scholastic world, and that is what I have found here at Walla Walla University.
Still, I worry about current and future generations of students that perhaps are feeling much like me. I got lucky because I like learning and it comes easy to me, but for a lot of people that isn't true. I couldn't imagine going through school not understanding the topic, plus not getting any help through a mountain of work and assessments. No wonder the drop-out rate of schools is so high these days.
I would like to propose a solution that hopefully can make some progress towards inspiring kids to enjoy learning and going to school once more. While no single method may make a whole lot of difference, the method of standards-based learning has promise. This method involves students being graded based on the amount of knowledge learned, not just the amount of busywork done. If they understand the topics and illustrate that through their own methods of assessment and assignments that compliment their individual learning styles, then students receive top grades. This method of grading would put the focus of school not on homework, but on learning the important and fascinating topics of history, writing, math, science, etc.
Building on this, in order to understand the topics, students could design some of their own methods to reach their goal. If the goal of a grade level is to understand fractions and master long division and decimals, then the student could decide the problems for homework, types of assessment and the questions involved, and the methods of studying for those assessments. If they got something wrong on their assessment, they could take it as many times as it took to understand the topic.
Instead of handing out review questions from the book or quizzes on the reading, let's allow students to choose to learn through unconventional means including art, experimentation, and hands-on projects. This can also result in increasing the confidence of students and encouraging them to take on harder tasks. If they have fully grasped the necessary topics in their current year of school, they can even take on tasks of the next grade level. The biggest gain and goal of this method is to change the students' attitudes towards learning, and what is wrong with that?
I for one look forward to when I have my own classroom to inspire others to enjoy learning once more. Perhaps one way to do that is through standards-based learning, and I would highly suggest at least taking a look at it further. I hope that one day, going to school and learning subjects can be considered cool and fun and that students won't have to go through the struggles of schooling I did and am still dealing with.