Wednesday, August 4, 2010

School ain't education

RedSheep tweeted the recent speech delivered by Erica Goldson, valedictorian for the 2010 graduating class of Coxsackie-Athens High School, New York:

    Some of you may be thinking, "Well, if you pass a test, or become valedictorian, didn't you learn something? Well, yes, you learned something, but not all that you could have. Perhaps, you only learned how to memorize names, places, and dates to later on forget in order to clear your mind for the next test. School is not all that it can be. Right now, it is a place for most people to determine that their goal is to get out as soon as possible... [I]n retrospect, I cannot say that I am any more intelligent than my peers. I can attest that I am only the best at doing what I am told and working the system... I excelled at every subject just for the purpose of excelling, not learning.

Sounds eerily like something one could say of our Malaysian education system, which is arguably a whole lot more steeped in rote-learning than the American one. I'd have echoed her words 15 years ago, except I wasn't top of my class. Because I didn't care enough to be. Which, even now, irks my father: "If you had studied harder, you could have done so much better," he says. But, I point out, I did proceed to university, I did graduate, I'm in a job I love, I'm a productive human being. Nobody cares now if I had 4As or 10As on the high school exit exam... why should it matter?

Winston Churchill is reputed to have said, "My education was interrupted only by my schooling," which is exactly how I felt for the 11 years I was in school. I couldn't wait to leave. I felt stifled, stuffed in a box. I didn't believe I was truly learning anything, and I scorned the idea that As were indicators of intelligence. They were only signs that one knew how to "work the system", as Erica says, and had memorised all the right things.

I'm not up-to-date with all the changes that have taken place in our education system since I left high school, but I doubt the basic framework has changed much. To this day I'm not sure how I passed Physics when I never understood it!

1 comment:

Caedmon said...

I was my high school valedictorian. I did learn the stuff in the books. I also learned how to manipulate teachers and cheat without getting caught. I worked hard for those grades, just maybe not in the traditional manner.