Rage against the machine

I hate my job.

It’s not about the students. It’s not about my co-teachers. It’s about the system.

Every day I spend in the classroom the more convinced I become that education as a system is failing all of us. Yes, all of us, Korea didn’t just pick this system from a range of options. I am convinced every education system the world over is dedicated to teaching test taking. The only difference in Korea, is that they acknowledge this as the goal and thus work very hard to be the best test takers to ever enter university. I have students who out test their American counterparts with hardly any trouble, but ask them for an opinion and even the spunkiest 15 year-old falls silent.

It seems impossible for most of my students to think. To be creative. To be something other than brilliant test takers. And even though, I run into this wall every single day. I can’t blame my students. Despite their whining, cajoling and begging. I blame education.

It’s hardly their fault that we have let them down. I don’t think anyone has truly made test taking a valuable life skill. So congratulations, world, we’ve spent so much time worrying about developing tests and taking tests as the only way to measure our successes that we’ve forgotten to teach children how to think, create and dream.

Learning doesn’t happen in this environment. Learning happens in the moments where my students are finally able to take a break from all the testing and discuss something. One of my greatest moments this week centered around a student asking how to read dates. That’s right. The best I can hope for most days is getting a response other than “so-so” when I ask my students “How are you?” In this moment, when asked to explain dates, I realized that at least one of my 50 or so students is interested in learning to speak English.

Most of my students are smart enough to realize that the education they are receiving is part of a system that just needs to be played. How else do you explain students who can hardly speak their “second language” yet consistently test at an A level. Oh that’s right, most testing only takes into account reading and listening comprehension. Having a speaking or writing version is “too hard” to grade. But I question when has testing ever accurately measured understanding?

Perhaps as a recent college grad myself with some $30,000 in debt, I’m just feeling angry towards education. But I don’t think that’s it. I have had incredible teachers. I have had terrible teachers. But the line “Get a good education, get a good job, live a good life” is simply untrue. You don’t have to have a degree to get a good job. Ava is doing what I went to school for and she doesn’t have a degree. I have a degree. And my job requires a degree. My degree also left me completely unprepared to do what I am asked to do each day. I count on my experiences as editor-in-chief and a film producer more than any classroom time to get by each day. Education as a system failed me.

And watching the system fail my students each day is exhausting.

Parents eagerly put their children in the “best” schools, hoping for the “right” education to give their children a “good” job. A parents’ hope for a better life for their children should not be entrusted to such an obviously broken system. Yet all we do is continue to test and test and test.

Let’s put the testing on pause. Let’s talk about education. What exactly is the purpose of a formalized educational system? If the vaunted goal is to give people skills needed for better jobs, than what can we do to ensure those jobs exist? If the goal is to live a good life, what can we do to ensure children become capable adults who will make the best choices for themselves and those around them?

Think about it.


6 thoughts on “Rage against the machine

  1. Another aspect of education that you didn’t touch on but that’s bothering me is classes and schools where students have to sign Honor Codes that they won’t talk or communicate with ANYONE, even their classmates, except their teacher about assignments. And they can’t pull in outside resources. Some of the best ideas/realizations come from bouncing ideas off other people and seeing all different views.

    Right now, my husband is taking legal rhetoric in law school. They have to write a couple of big, giant memos in that class. But their honor code bans them from sharing their work, ideas, or discussions about the memos with anyone but the professor, who isn’t exactly the most helpful person. And he feels like it holds him back in classes because he has no one to talk to, no one to compare to see if he’s on the right track or another side he hasn’t thought of yet.

    If you take groupwork, collaboration and thought-sharing/discussion out of teaching, it’s not really helping students get any better.

    • Thankfully, the Honor Code isn’t an issue here in Korea. In fact, one of the things I’m most impressed by it’s my students ability to discuss and share ideas. However the sharing and discussion is not any way encouraged by the education system and I feel I’m discouraged from allowing discussion as a teacher.

  2. My friends and I were talking about education last night over beers! It was mostly college education, but we all have primitive aspirations to teach, so it was kind of relevant.
    I started wondering how often college professors simply update their syllabus by changing dates from 2009 to 2010, and how often they truly re-evaluate the way they teach and what they’re teaching. It’s kind of the same thing in high schools as well, I think, as teachers simply study the state-issued curriculum and surmise the best way to make the key points stick…teaching for the test, as it were.
    I hope you can find a way to teach your kids things they need to know for life on the way to preparing them for their tests. Remember, you’re not the system, which means you’re the solution. 🙂

    • Thanks, Ty. I’m sure there are some professors out there who do more than teach testing, and at the university level I think a teacher would experience more freedom to teach something helpful. Perhaps I should have been more clear that in Korea the private schools are often set up to help students learn testing, and that’s the system I work in. But it does seem clear from my conversations with students the public schools are also bent on teaching testing, which is how I remember most of my education. In the meantime, I’ll try to bend as many rules as I can.

  3. Mass education is a business that has an amazingly effective ad-campaign. It’s kinda like Coke or McDonald’s- wrapped in powerful, beautiful imagery. We buy it because we want what it represents, but we just wind up with a lighter wallet and a few seconds’ of false gratification.

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