A Thirst For Knowledge

By Georgia Wyess

Now, and throughout history, we’ve been led to believe that America is the best country in the world. This idea expands to other countries as well, evident by the way people gawk at you when they find out you live in sunny California and speak English without an accent—that is, foreign accents, not regional accents found throughout the nation. In many regards, yes, the United States, as a western, individualist culture, boasts many freedoms that others may find foreign; freedom of religion, assembly, and speech, to name a few. Yet, in many regards, our county lags behind the older and wiser civilizations found across the Atlantic. The cost of our health care is through the roof; the rates of psychological disorders, such as diagnosed anxiety and depression, far trumps the percentage rate of any other country; and, most notably to us, the system of education in America fails to prepare students for the world that lies ahead. In fact, it lacks in many categories and fails students in ways that impact them even after they graduate.

For starters, many students rightfully complain that the education we receive does not prepare us for the real world in many regards. We never learn how to do taxes, how to properly save money, how to balance our finances, etcetera. Students graduate high school with the sudden responsibility of moving out and living on our own, but unless you immersed yourself in extensive research, it is likely you have no idea what steps to take. Rather than teaching us necessary skills—even just as a unit in at least one class—we are expected to complete courses in narrow fielded calculus and analyze archaic literature.

Speaking of literature, the novels and essays we look at have little to no real world application. Rather than analyzing the author’s purpose of coloring the curtains blue, teach me how to analyze a news article and determine if it is truly trustworthy. What aspects should I look out for in fake news? How do I know if the information I am consuming is truly bipartisan? Schools don’t teach us how to look at sources or gather information from multiple authors. Instead we are expected to devote the majority of our time looking at one particular and obscure sentence that cannot teach us anything about the twenty-first century because it was written in the eighteenth.

As students, we’re also expected to memorize this vague knowledge. Yes, memorize. For a world that demands that we know our way around information, the sole institution that is meant to prepare us for the real world values temporary understanding and the achievement of “good” letter grades to determine our future success; nevermind that the average student only remembers 10% of the material ever taught throughout grade school. Not to mention the summer break in the middle of the year that lasts just long enough for students to forget any and all valuable information learnt the year prior, forcing many to relearn the information weeks before the start of the new semester.

There is a simple solution to this, of course. Study more! Change your study habits so that you remember what you learn. This is easier said than done. In order to truly know information, the knowledge must be used consistently and referenced regularly as to not forget what was learnt. However, this would require extensive hours of additional study and academic discourse. Unfortunately, as students we do not have time for this. On average, students wake up at seven o’clock to prepare themselves for the school day and get to campus. Studies last until roughly three o’clock, after which extracurriculars—such as theater, sports, student clubs and organizations, or band—begin, keeping students occupied until roughly five or six. After which, some students go home to responsibilities—such as siblings or dealing with family matters—that may occupy another hour or two. On the other hand, some students may work jobs which may keep them occupied until the later hours of seven or eight; some students attend extracurricular activities and work to show academic dedication to colleges while also aiding their families with rent. After a long and exhausting day, we’ll assume it is roughly seven or eight o’clock by this point, after which homework must be completed. Considering the length and rigor of most courses, it is not uncommon to receive an hour and a half to two hours of homework from each respective class a night, resulting in four to six consecutive hours of additional coursework. This timeline is, hauntingly, a reality many pupils face; it doesn’t account for time spent eating, which may take another additional hour out of the 24 hour day, while also showing that the time spent on responsibilities cuts into sleep schedules—which are crucial for the proper development of the prefrontal cortex in the brain which continues to develop until the age of 25 (most notably during the teenage years)—while also diminishing any potential time for social interaction and needed relaxation.

With the average day depicted in hours above, it is no wonder that teens have shocking rates of depression and anxiety, mental illnesses that should not be stigmatized, but still are, preventing many from seeking help, worsening the issue. Yet, it is important to remember that this is only the documented cases of the disorders—it is possible, and likely, that many individuals who suffer from such problems are simply not diagnosed and must deal with their mental struggles each day. The added stress from daily life and the poor state of education may only worsen the already fragile state of mind, resulting in greater problems in the future. 

The American educational system has many flaws, flaws that impact students greater than teachers or faculty members will ever understand. Nonetheless, change is nowhere in sight as many insist on staying true to our anachronistic structure. Something must be done, with the expectation that we enter the world with the information needed to take care of ourselves, and it’s time we actually begin learning how to navigate society.