A Grievance on the Faults of Our Education System: The Student Version

OK, here we go again: yet another blog entry by some high school-age Asian about, well, what else but college? How many different ways can this hackneyed motif be rehashed, right? You might already have some, or many, preconceived notions of what the ensuing article will entail: histrionic grievances about the injustice of affirmative action; entitled arguments about why I believe I definitely deserve to go to an Ivy League school; etc. I hope that this piece won't live up to those expectations.

I recently had a conversation with my guidance counselor and according to her, I'm Asian, but I'm not "the typical Asian student," which I'm sure she intended in the best of ways. What an interesting statement to make. I mean, could this same statement be said about any other race and be interpreted in a non-offensive way? "Alejandro, you're Hispanic, but you're not 'the typical Hispanic student.'" Moreover, could this statement be said about other races and even have any meaning? "Gretchen Weiners, you're white, but you're not 'the typical white student.'" I sure as heck wouldn't know what that statement connotatively conveys. So why is it that we as a society have such a concrete idea of what "the typical ASIAN student" looks like?

OK, to an extent I concede it's been partly self-inflicted. And in some ways, I myself definitely do perpetuate the Asian "stereotype." I'm a self-identified STEM fanatic who is in Science Olympiad. I'm in both the Asian American Association and the Math Honor Society (my crasser friends have pointed out the redundancy of this). Some would say I'm practically a walking "How to Be Asian" manual.

This is what society does and this is what colleges do. We, at times subconsciously, develop associations between specific characteristics and general groupings. Many schools do this by ascribing students to certain academic denominations in their attempts to create as "diverse" a student population as possible. I would be the "STEM-focused Asian Female." In effect, these efforts can actually be counterproductive as they reduce multifaceted individuals to one-dimensional archetypes. To a degree, it's understandable, however undesirable. For an admissions committee working in a large university, it's inherently necessary to apply these labels to potential students or else it would take years to review each application.

Still, this process contrasts sharply with my own opinions about the collegiate experience. For me, the interpersonal relationships among students and the culture of the community itself, not necessarily the specific academics, are what engender the most rewarding and formative college experiences. Fifty percent of college students change their majors anyways, so there's a considerable likelihood that the applicant admitted as a strong STEM candidate will graduate with a major in political science, and vice versa. Far more important than having a distinct academic and career trajectory, I believe, is having passion. I don't mean having a passion for a specific career or subject, but knowing how to be passionate, knowing how to recognize when something is a passion, and being open to developing new passions. If students possess these abilities, they can apply them to anything, be it STEM, business, law, interpretive dance, what have you.

In order to have passionate students, we need to have curious students. This is where I think our educational system has failed the most. We don't want curious students; we want smart students. We don't want students who will explore and experiment; we want students who will pass exams and raise school ratings. Children are naturally inquisitive, but somewhere along the way this organic, beautiful curiosity gets lost in translation. We tell them to "stop" before they've even started to go. We tell them to study the notes before they pick up the instrument. Sometimes we just have to let them play, even if what results isn't the music we want to hear.

We as a nation need to overhaul how we approach education. By the time students matriculate into college, it's far too late to undo the damage of a dozen years of mis-education. "If you only measure the statistics, you miss the human aspect." We need to put the human aspect back into education, beginning with recognizing students as humans who are more than just "the typical Asian student."