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Education: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

kgould's picture

The Good, Elementary School:

My first few years of school were, as far as I remember, filled with curiosity and encouragement to explore and observe things I did not yet understand. My parents, during the summer especially, gave me and my younger sister extra assignments, reading lists and projects like spelling lists and sets of math and logic problems, model building, arts and crafts, nature hikes, and field trips to the Children's Museum of Boston, the Boston Aquarium, the Museum of Fine Arts and the Worcester Art Museum, Old Sturbridge Village, and more.

I read gross amounts of books, moving into my parents' private collections around the time I was 8 or 9 years old. I devoured all of the books I could get my hands on--and it got to the point that my parents would no longer buy me many books from the store because I would read them all the day that I got them, leaving me with nothing to read. I was left with the public, school, and personal libraries I had access to. It was more than sufficient. My teachers encouraged my book addiction as well, one teacher even letting me read class books on my own at a pace that would keep me occupied-- I found that reading at the same rate as my classmates often left me bored and... distracted.

The Bad, Middle School:

Unlike the rather amorphous and questing realm of elementary school, middle school was more structured-- not a bad thing, but more constraints started becoming part of my education experience: the five-paragraph essay, lab reports, and other formulaic approaches to understanding observations. Social aspects of school started becoming more prominent, more important, more distracting.

Kind of like the reading that I did up to this point, I didn't find the work all that challenging. The teachers spent a lot of time trying to coax the less enthusiastic students to take part in class discussions, to explain things that I understood fairly well already, to get them to focus their attention on the work at hand.

And it was first in middle school that I got a taste of what high school would be like, the "working towards a goal" style of learning, i.e. learning to get ready for high school, to take state standardized testing, etc. I didn't particularly like it. To have curricula focused around a test or an exam as opposed to building the base for future studies... It left me feeling like there were gaps in my knowledge, ones I could not quite identify, making my mind feel incomplete.

The Ugly, High School:

As I've spent more time at Bryn Mawr, I've grown more and more disillusioned with my high school experience. It wasn't awful, I mean, I learned enough and did well enough in order to continue my education at the college level. My teachers were comprehensive and worked with what they had, which, coming from a small regional public high school in the middle of no where Massachusetts, was not always a lot... It just seems to me now, and even then a little, that many of my peers were less concerned with learning and understanding and more with completing the task at hand, about getting through the school day and getting on with their lives. I got easily frustrated with those individuals, the ones who made it clear that they didn't want to be there, the ones that felt that the process of learning was stupid or useless. Some of the teachers there, too, had grown frustrated or jaded when it came to teaching students who found school pointless and boring.

Of course, there were teachers there who went above and beyond what was asked of them, who encouraged me to continue my studies, and who helped me figure out what I was good at.


I guess, just in all, I've found that the best way to learn is to push yourself beyond the boundaries that are set for you or people around you. I make connections across disciplines because I've found, in the past, that the only way I'm going to attain a comprehensive understanding of any material is by linking different studies and seeing if they make sense, or if they're useful.


Asaram's picture

A thought provoking story

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Once there was a family, living happily in the mountains, and taking care of their small farm. One fine day, out of the blue, 100 wild horses came straight into the son's farm. He went to his father's house to tell him what had happened. On hearing this incredible story, the neighbor who was present there jumped up with joy. He said how wonderful this was, because the son had become instantly rich. The father, on the other hand, didn't show any reaction. The neighbor then asked the father if he didn't think it was a good thing. The father replied that it is neither good nor bad, it just is. The astonished neighbor left, calling the father a crazy old man.