Back Then: My “Ode” to Public Education
Back then school was fun and learning was something that gave you that adrenal feeling in the morning as you woke up and said, “I get to learn something new today!” Back then teachers were excited to reach you and teach you at whatever it took, your fellow students loved and accepted you for who you were, and your environment was supportive as you trekked your way through the forest of education. It isn’t so much that those teachers stopped caring, because those teachers still exist, however only in elementary school. It appears that as a student’s public education progresses onward the teachers seem to care less and your peers seem to care more. The schooling environment changes and not until it reaches the high school level does it peak to the most drastic change.
Earlier in my years of public education, I recognized that I was excited to go to school and excited to learn, and the teachers felt just the same. Teachers whose goals were to watch the seeds of knowledge they planted blossom in their students. This time period mainly exists as Elementary School, each day filled with projects, nap time, arts and crafts, imagination, Dr. Seuss, and field trips. Teachers at that time knew that in order to reach your students, learning had to be fun. Once I entered high school, all of that fun learning appeared to come to a dreary end, or at least was beaten down to a miniscule amount of “fun” that was unrecognizable. Most teachers in this new environment appeared to be less enthusiastic about teaching than those in elementary school. It was as though somewhere along the way they lost their love for the subject, or the love was there but teaching just wasn’t their forte. The older I became the more melancholy and mind-numbing school seemed to get. As Mike Rose mentioned, “All the hours in class tend to blend into one long, vague stretch of time” (18). If a class is interesting of course you’ll pay attention and excel or at least try harder. If you hate the class, without any effort placed by you, the class is more difficult to understand and most students tend to drift off to avoid their own inadequacies, as put by Mike Rose (19). So then it breaks down to labels such as if you’re a “good student” or a “poor student.” By that first week in high school, no matter what the grade, the unenthusiastic teachers already have a label picked out for each student, and each student in turn has a label for the teacher. The label on the teacher depicts what the student will have to do to skate on by; it’s a game and everyone knows how to play.
It is not only the teachers and classes who change and become uninteresting, but the students and atmosphere as well. In Sizer’s “What High School Is,” he goes through a play-by-play day routine of an 11th grade student by the name of Mark. In that entire description, or sheer observation, of the high school environment of this student’s day appears ordinary, every day, the same. However there is one difference today than all other days for Mark…it’s an assembly schedule; well that isn’t exactly the large and electrifying climatic change you expect for such an introduction. Nevertheless that is just the thing, that is how most high school days go throughout the entire year, they are routine and ordinary with the occasional wacky pajamas day or school spirit pep rallies which are only interesting to one type of crowd in the high school make-up of students, mainly consisting of jocks and cheerleaders. I’m not trying to submit to stereotypes because most stereotypes are inaccurate, however in the school setting, no matter what era in time is present the school environment is loaded with groups, cliques, posses, etc. Azure Burrell, a student in my class, provides in her first essay a prime example of what those groups and cliques consist of and about the lack of individualism,
To your left you spot exhibit a: repulsively skinny, overly priced jeans, crispy bleached blonde hair and an exquisite pallet for Monarch Vodka and Malt Liquor. Glance to your right; here you’ll see exhibit b: Nasty cut-offs, stereotypical high school humor and the perfect accessory; much younger girls who truly believe they are the next big thing to hit the streets since sliced bread and colored TV. If you continue further down the hallway nothing will change. It’s almost as if everyone is a carbon copy of everyone else.
Schools try to appeal and conform to students in that general mass (in learning and social school events), but that’s just it: students don’t come by the pack. They are individuals and eat, think, and live differently.
Mainly students handle all of those student affairs and those are the same students you see cheering at the assemblies, so anything that isn’t necessarily educational is geared towards that “general group”, which consists mainly of the popularity-seeking zombies. That singled out feeling is exactly the point I was originally trying to convey, the point of how school changes over the course of the time you graduate on up. Since I’ve already described the student example I’ll press on from there, but only to backtrack to the early nineties where a skinny little girl with big bushy hair was at the height of what she thought was her fashion career, consisting of a long oversized shirt, navy blue leggings, and worn tennis shoes. Now if anybody wore such an entity nowadays ridicule and commentary would explode from the mouths of your peers as if a political disaster had just occurred. Now, back then no one would have cared so much for what you wore or who you hung out with. That idea of “anything goes” is often referred to as childhood innocence, and somewhere along the way many kids loose that right before high school.
Once in high school you enter a haze of false maturities, not just of your own account but your peers as well, and those social aspects affect the way you navigate in your own life. You lose track of real life and things outside of that dwelling called “high school”, and not until you graduate does it actually hit you. During high school all your expenses are paid for because you live with your parents. Technically you don’t need to have a job although it’s “recommended,” and again everyone plays “the game.” One of the biggest aspects that hit me in high school is that you don’t know much about what lies beyond those walls socially, intellectually and economically. I was more aware than others, but the issue was friends. Freshman year, you all enter together and you think you’re all going to be friends forever, but as the years progress you and your friends change and grow, and often drift apart. What irritated me about high school socially was that false level of maturity everyone else took on. The idea of how someone could “front” and pretend to be your friend in front of your face, but in actuality they really aren’t. Foreign exchange students say the one thing they notice about the difference in their culture and the American culture is that no one takes the time to build friendships, people tend to say “Hi, how are you?” in the halls continuing to walk and not actually caring or listening to your reply. This “friendship” wasn’t the same as back then, this high school was a drug, and everyone was doing it.
“Public schooling in elementary school was great for me. I loved almost every aspect of it, and I really learned a lot. But when I got into junior high (that's what Mount Baker calls their middle school), people changed, teachers changed, everything changed.” That is what Doug Harkness, another student in my class who responded to an online forum, had to say on the subject of public school. Doug like many others is now home schooled, which is an option that most parents grant their children if they or their child is indifferent towards public schooling. “In public school, teachers have to teach EVERYBODY, and that means if one person doesn't get it out of the whole class, they have to make them understand it, and everybody else just has to listen.” That happens to be the issue with most people that are under challenged or overly challenged in schools; home schooling allows you to follow at your own pace and have to conform to the 40-hour week, which is equivalent to the hours of a job but with no pay. You have to go to school, at least legally until you’re 16 years of age where you can officially drop-out, but what help does that get when you need at least an Associate’s degree to earn decent pay in a future career. Home schooling appears to be a great option in terms of keeping your sanity. There are always those questions of being lonely and not having friends, but it opens up the opportunity to obtain job experience, study what you want, and you can see your friends when they get out of school. Most importantly it gets you outside of the drug-like haze. “The way I looked at schooling really changed when I switched. All of a sudden, I was more interested in what I was going to do later in life, what I would need to do in school in order to make it to that goal, what subjects I needed to take to make it into my choice of college, stuff like that,” as well stated again by Doug. His point goes to prove that a number of students feel the same way about school and its environment, whether it be social or academic.
On the whole, each student is different and there are ways in helping to make learning just as fun as it was back then. Public school is not just one big problem. In teaching, teachers should learn to appeal to every student. Gerald Graff has a theory on Hidden Intellectualism, and how although a student may seem “dull” or “not as smart” there are ways in “making students’ nonacademic interests an object of academic study,” useful in able to overcome that boredom. However, it is necessary to make the connection between their interests and academics, otherwise they could be entertained but never necessarily harness the academic skill in order to excel and move on. Home schooling as previously mentioned, is another option if you want to escape teachers and the system altogether. There are also other ways of improving teaching; as for students, kids will be kids. It’s called puberty and most will grow out of that immaturity; then again, some may never grow out of it. That is just one life lesson in dealing with people that you will have to learn, however it will change a little in terms of high school drama, artificial friendships, and pubescent emotional teenagers.
Burrell, Azure. “Carbon Copies.” English 100 Essay. Whatcom Community College, 2007.
Graff, Gerald. “Hidden Intellectualism.” They Say I Say; The Moves That Matter in Academic Writing. Eds. Gerald Graff and Cathy Berkenstien. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 2006. 142-148.
Harkness, Doug. “Home Schooling.” Moodle. Online posting. 1 Oct. 2007 <https://access.whatcom.ctc.edu/>.
Rose, Mike. “I Just Wanna Be Average.” Lives on the Boundary. New York: Penguin, 1989. 18-37.
Sizer, Theodore R. “What High School Is.” Reading Culture. 6th ed. Eds. Diana George and John Trimbur. New York: Pearson/Longman, 2007. 131-139.