As a high school teacher, I see students at the tail end of their education. While a high percentage of my Advanced Placement students will continue on with their education, many of them show up to my room jaded by our education system. I am fortunate to have the very best students in the building twice during their high school career: first in ninth grade honors English and again as seniors in Advanced Placement English Literature and Composition. These are students who have scored high on their state assessments throughout their years. They are in mostly honors and AP courses. They are involved in numerous extracurricular activities. They seemingly have unfettered potential. However, they lack the drive to actually take on these challenges; they are merely going through the motions because they know that is what is expected of them. I have often questioned what it is that causes this attitude of disgust towards school.
As a high school teacher, the easiest thing would be to simply blame the previous teachers. It’s a common trend to hear high school teachers placing the blame on the middle school teachers. While there does seem to be some logic behind it, I don’t think it is entirely their responsibility. Students are often enthusiastic about their learning in the primary years, and somewhere around middle school, that shifts. While some may attribute that to the teachers, I think a lot of the onus is on the fact that students in middle school are just at an awkward age. I have trouble placing the blame in one spot when I believe that there are systemic problems with the education system.
With my years of teaching AP English Literature, I have noticed there are some typical trends. While I don’t have any hard data to support my ideas, my anecdotal evidence has caused my ideas to shift. My top students are always voracious readers (logical for a literature course). They always are reading something aside from what is required for class. They have an innate drive to read and continue learning. While it sounds cliché, they read for pleasure. However, these students do not just excel in English. They tend to be the top achievers in all content areas. There is seemingly a direct correlation between reading for pleasure and high achievement.
So what does this have to do with the brokenness of the educational system? In general, reading for pleasure is not encouraged within schools. The focus of the education system has shifted overtime. We now prioritize data, standardized tests, and a litany of other analytics that can allow districts, states, and nations to be pitted against each other educationally. The focus of education should be to teach students how to learn with the goal of creating lifelong learners. How do people explore new topics and ideas? Through experiencing them. How can people easily is experience the world? Through reading.
Immediately, you realize that there is a huge push in education to get all students reading. Yes, that’s accurate; and literacy in general is important. However, simply knowing how to read is a much different thing than reading for pleasure. There are a lot of things that we are able to do that we don’t do for enjoyment.
It would be absurd for me to criticize without also offering up solutions. My answer could sound extremely far-fetched and lacking practicality. In addition, it will likely be unpopular with many and maybe even downright detestable to some elementary school teachers. I essentially believe we need to scrap the early years of standardized schooling (kindergarten through second grade). After a child has learned how to read, his/her “schooling” should only consist of two things: play and reading for pleasure. We should let kids explore what they want to explore. What better way to make that happen than by reading and playing?
While the first few years of school could be comprised of only play and reading, I realize that trend cannot continue. There do have to be some more standard elements built in. However, schooling in general needs to shift by allowing for some autonomy and ownership over their own education. Reading for pleasure should continue to be an integral element of the entire education system. It may be idealistic, but I think a foundation of exploration could help to create those life-long learners that our education system claims to be striving for.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.