What Happened to Education for the Sake of Learning?

By Avalon Kelly

The American public school education has grown increasingly misguided in recent years.  Our education system’s focus has shifted from educating students to getting them into college.  This shift can be seen most evidently in the growth of Advanced Placement (AP) courses and a general lack of effort in on-level classes.

Instead of educating students on what they need to know, schools have turned to AP classes to prepare students for college.  These classes, while beneficial for college applications, often emphasize passing the AP exam rather than teaching students about the subject.  If a topic is not on the AP exam, chances are that it will not be taught in the course.  Achievement of the coveted “5” now defines student success rather than individual effort and improvement.  AP exams cost about $94 each, and many students choose to purchase supplemental materials—such as prep books and tutors—in order to score well on these exams.  Financial assistance and accommodation for students with 504s are difficult to obtain, pushing many students out of these higher-level classes.  AP classes boost student GPAs; inflexible financial requirements, the College Board’s profit.  This broken system has changed the meaning of success in schools by emphasizing a single score on a test rather than the effort and learning of students.

Because high school is now seen as a simple stepping-stone to university, student effort in on-level classes has dramatically dropped.  “Freshman year grades don’t count, so it’s okay that I’m not performing as well as I would hope;” “I’m just taking this class for credits, so I plan to put in the minimal effort;” “I don’t care about this class, I’m just taking it because it’s an easy A”—I have heard each of these rationalizations and more during my time in high school.  And that’s not to say that I don’t participate in this lack of effort, because I most definitely do.  Our efforts are not a result of our characters—we are not lazy and careless—but rather, they are a product of our school and society telling us that the goal is not to learn.  The goal, they say, is to earn a high GPA; to stack up on your extracurriculars; to take the SAT until you get an “acceptable” score; to earn a 5 on every AP exam; to play sports; to enroll in as many higher-level courses as you can handle.  No wonder our students feel that high school is just another stop on the road to college.  Everything we do is allegedly to improve our chances of being accepted into a university.

Recent measures by schools to promote college acceptance has inadvertently created a toxic environment for students.  If our school system can change to promote students’ individual successes—improvement, hard work, and learning from mistakes—then we can better prepare them for college.  By simply working to change student mindsets and show them a new definition of success, we can give them an environment for true learning and growth.