It was a synthesis essay - they had to include vivid descriptive narratives (in italics) alongside their arguments. Leila did a great job and I wanted to share her essay, unaltered (except for paragraphing to make it more readable on this blog).
Please leave comments - I'll pass them on to her.
Sitting down at my desk late at night - the once clear surface cluttered with textbooks, worksheets, and eraser shavings - I often contemplate, what is the purpose of all this? I imagine that in the inception of the concept of school, the creators had the best intentions in mind.
The idea is amazing - to be able to engage in a worldwide sharing of knowledge we have come to known as teaching.
They hoped to grow their community and world through education that would translate to scientists with great inventions, business leaders with wit and skill, and writers who scour the human soul and mind to expose our flaws and flatter our successes.
They hoped to enrich the lives of the people for the better of the community, and everyone would benefit.
After all these years, birthed from an idea that reflects true humanitarianism, where are we now?
I see students showing disdain as they make their way to their hard plastic desk in Pre-calculus, and dragging their feet into their chemistry class, knowing an hour long lecture is imminent. I see this and I ask why:
Why is it that these students don’t find beauty in education and learning?
Why don’t they see the bright colors and the actions of molecules of a chemical reaction dancing around their head?
Why don’t they marvel at the images that only the greatest writer can bring to their mind?
Where are we guiding the future world when most of the student population shows such disgust for learning?
Something has gone terribly wrong when the future CEO’s, doctors, and scientists dread the official institution of learning. Where is the inspiration? Our education system is plagued with insurmountable problems and no effective solutions.
The true purpose of school is to grow truly passionate people. The kind of people who look at a previously unsolvable, giant math problem with a sparkle in their eye. People whose lips curl into an excited grin when healing a patient back to health. People who gaze dreamily into literature and poetry, admiring the beauty in words that was carefully woven by the author. Any institution that does not inspire learning into the hearts and minds of students is one that murders education and is slowly killing the childish curiosity that lies within each of us.
The real flaws in the education system begin with its failure to spark the desire to learn in its students. The system as is must be mostly scrapped in order to grow true scholars who are worthy of the fantastic world they will be inheriting. The biggest problem nationwide with the system is the method of teaching ideas. All students have experienced first hand a teacher whom they grow to loathe after countless weeks of the same, boring instruction. Not really learning anything but instead cramming knowledge into their aching brain then releasing it into the air after a test. My experience with chemistry at this school has not been the best and it has been purely my personal love for the subject that I have cultivated myself that has kept me at it.
I remember walking timidly into class one morning only to expect that, yes, she was yelling at another kid again. Probably for no good reason. My 14 year-old heart beat rapidly as I passed the demon and scurried to my seat. The students on either sides blurred in my focused vision, extra peripheral details in the hope to make it to my seat without a snarky comment. I opened my notebook quickly so she could not pick on me for that fact and others rushed to do the same.
I didn’t realize it then but now, looking back, she had us all truly under her thumb. It was like a dictator to her subjects, you didn’t dare to ask her a question. The powerpoint lecture droned on, and I found myself looking up at the periodic patterns and trends with awe and the bonding types with curious eyes but I realised I wasn’t really learning. The teacher would click to the next slide, read the bullets with slightly different words, wait for us to copy down some important words, and then move on. It was a rhythmic beating; click, read, copy, click, read, copy... and on and on. It was synonymous with the pulse of the clock, ticking away the chance for a valuable lesson.
I imagine it was aimed to dig the concepts deep into our brains through some sort of repetition. No topic was ever explained and I can see how difficult it was for those who didn’t particularly like chemistry. I imagine they struggled with the lack of inspiration, the inability to ask a question for fear of the rage that would lash back at them. It was like a silent drowning. No student who wishes to understand should feel like this. Teachers must be people who enrich the learning process, who aim for true understanding instead of high marks on a standardized test. Questions should not be shut down because of a lack of “time” but instead entertained and deeply thought about for the expansion of our curiosity. Where will the world go when children are taught that questions are a nuisance and that they take time away from the “real” learning? This is something in the institution that must change. There is no way the children who are to handle the future can be trained with this low level of education. We must raise the standards of our teachers in order to get a higher level of knowledge and achievement out the other end.
Imagine sitting in English class, just like you have for the last 97 days and just like you will for the next 83. This class has become a rut, a routine, of reading a book then writing an analysis and then moving to a new book. The chosen material is boring and rarely stimulating, nothing you would have chosen on your own. There is no deep and beautiful language, no crazy cliffhangers that let you imagine, no real suspense that you used to enjoy in your personal reading. But there’s no time for that. You have hours of homework waiting for you at home, college research, SAT studying, ACT studying, summer internship applications, AP tests to start preparing for, SAT II Subject tests to choose and get ready for, Finals...It’s all too much. You find that this book in your hands is your only relationship with literature.
It is believed by some that the behavior of a person is a collection of their experiences. One can be changed, be moved by a single book - even a single line. One’s whole life can be put into perspective by an incredible novel. An English teacher holds more power than they may know. They have the power to inspire, to change, to enlighten, but also to distress and to discourage.
In my hands I hold Macbeth by Shakespeare. I know its reputation. It’s supposed to be one of the greatest pieces in literary history. It is by Shakespeare after all so it must be amazing, right? I open the old and cracking book to the right page and am completely blown away by the language. It is one of the most beautiful things I had ever read, but I only had a vague idea of what it all meant. And I felt that was what made it even more beautiful. I felt like the romantics felt, for the first time in my life - as a science geek - being perfectly fine with something I didn’t completely understand. My senses overwhelmed by the complexity in tongue, the meanings that drifted into my open mind that directly related to me. I felt the old worn covers between my fingers and felt like I was part of a long dynasty of readers who experienced this book, and each one in a different way. And that to me was absolutely incredible.
But my romantic idea of creativity in personal analysis did not last long. My teacher called the class to attention and began writing Shakespeare quotes on the board for the class to “translate.” My eyebrows ruffled in confusion. I knew what I thought it meant, but was that was he was looking for? I stumbled over the first couple, almost missing the meanings completely. “To The Last syllable of recorded time, And all our yesterdays have lighted fools The way to dusty death. Out, out brief candle! Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player That struts and frets his hour upon the stage.” I see beauty in just that. There is no need to translate it into simple prose, it almost takes away from the loveliness. As the Macbeth unit went along, I got terrible grades on every single quiz because I couldn’t remember the color of Lady Macbeth’s robes or who Macbeth was directly talking to when he spoke a cryptic phrase in a room full of 3 others. I was so frustrated. So defeated. I vowed I would never pick up Shakespeare again for all the scars it had left me.
English class should be solely about creating more worldly and intelligent individuals, capable of analyzing themselves and the world around them. Exposing them to ideas and never-before-seen literary masterpieces and asking them what they think. Opening their eyes to new possibilities and making them passionate. We don’t raise a Hemingway by memorization of frivolous details. We don’t inspire a Bradbury by translating once beautiful, descriptive language into dumbed down prose. The English system must reevaluate its goals in order to breathe life back into the cooled coals of the curriculum.
Unfortunately for us students, the purpose of school is not always the reality. Instead our reality is clouded with the number one stress in a teenager’s life – grades. I constantly find my head throbbing with a headache after looking at my slowly dropping grade in AP US History. My terrifyingly fluctuating grade in AP Chemistry.
My fingers clutching the computer mouse as I slowly scroll down to the verdict of this week. Thousands of pixels rushing by my eyes, none bringing the reassurance that I so desperately need. Hoping that clicking refresh will somehow change the digitized disappointment. I sit in the dark at my desk, long past the bedtime my eyes and brain urge me to follow. My weak fluorescent light brightens a small circle on my desk, I feel like a fly, bound to that light for hours, even more glued to my computer screen now. The thought of a crabby college admissions officer looking over the few average marks and shrugging, throwing my entire life into the “meh” category.
This is the ultimate driving fear. The fear that keeps me up at my desk into the late hours of the night.
Working for a grade. A letter: A.
It is as if all of my existence in the school system can be described in a single letter. Is that all I am? Is that all I can show to colleges about who I am as a learner? I find myself getting discouraged with a B grade. There is no reason to try anymore if it is impossible for me to get the A. No longer is there a drive to learn. I can see that most kids come to school for credit and credit alone. The drive is for the grade to get into college so we can drive to get more good grades to get into graduate school and to eventually graduate and get a great job. There is no desire to be worldly or philosophical. No pull to be the best there ever was. Just to make it to that next small step directly in front of us. Schools today do not stress the ideas of true educational success in making your own path, in being innovative and a great thinker. If you do not fit in with their system you are an “average” person, if not worse.
Can students really be assessed with anything more humane than a scantron, or is everything merely black or white, true or false? In the face of a 1984-like classroom experience and unmemorable lessons on literature, what is expected to be left of the once curious child? I see a student beaten to the ground by the unfair system and although eager to learn, hindered by grades and inadequate teachers.
For me, these changes would mean the difference between heart-wrenching stress and enlightenment. I would mean a teacher who encourages their students to explore outside of the classroom with internships and educational opportunities, not just what they need to know for the next test.
I feel like my entire being revolves around my grades, they are what define me. And that is a sad and terrible way to think.
I want to be much more than a one page resumé, and the key to that is reform to the educational system.
Our children’s future - and sanity - depends on it.