Junior year is often considered the most competitive and stressful year of high school. After this past year, I can wholeheartedly agree and call it what I truly see it as -- a competition. It tested the same skills among all of us -- and if it could be confined to one, I would say that "education" during junior year, the year whose grades will ultimately prove most pivotal to our college acceptances or denials, could be defined as no more than an exhaustive game of memorization.
Any moment free was a moment wasted, because beyond finishing your written work you could always, always study -- rehearse, over and over, the strict list of facts needed to be known for the test. Then, whoever had studied and memorized the best would receive the better grade. At this rate, any idiot could be valedictorian, so long as they had a photographic memory.
High school education is the memorization and recitation of facts. To some, it serves solely as a springboard to get us into college. Speaking to this, look to any of these online college forums -- to name one, College Confidential. There you'll find post after post of students listing their credentials, begging others to tell them if they have any obstacle which would impede their acceptance into an Ivy League School. If so, they will resculpt their resumes -- change their extracurriculars, change their "interests" -- in order to increase their chances. A new culture has arisen of obsessive kids hell-bent on getting into top schools. Yet if you were to ask them why they want to go to a particular school or why they love a certain school activity they have pursued, many will not be able to provide a satisfying answer. These "geniuses" and "prodigies" have no substance to them. They want to succeed purely to succeed, not because they want to pursue passions. And in that they defeat the purpose.
My own love for writing has no effect on my class rank, and it remains to be seen whether or not it will be valued by college admissions officers. I often struggle to decide if it is worth it to pursue a creative skill for its own sake when I will never be compensated for it. It is with frustration and defiance at the negligence with which society values abstract writing -- the many times I am told that such an area of study built on emotional passion and a sense of purpose rather than calculable rates of work and success is "useless" in today's society -- that I feel a drive to continue to write. I believe that it is a sad reality, however, that less and less my age are able to prioritize in this way. If a student has truly found inspiration in a topic in school and thought zealously towards an assignment, he may receive no greater mark than for a test in which to succeed all he had to do was memorize and apply formulas. And so passion is instilled as a useless pleasure, and cold systematization triumphs.
Competitiveness devalues the ideal of education for the sake of knowledge. There is no contemplation or insight -- only education for the sake of career and advancement. Students will only do work and put in effort if they will receive grades or some recognition for it.
Recently on the aforementioned College Confidential I came across a thread in which one student complained that it seems that it is no longer grades, but instead internships and art portfolios which are valued on a college application. And perhaps that's the way it should be.
These kids obsess over grades for what? For success? In the end, it is not this modern "education" that will get you success -- because anyone can memorize more than you and beat you. Instead you need something to set yourself apart from this crowd. The ability to memorize won't help you in real world workforce. The ability to think for yourself, and to create your own ideas and visions, will. Just look at the self-made men -- the typically mentioned who lack college degrees, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, and Bill Gates, but who instead found a source of success in their own creativity. We contradict ourselves with an education system built on getting the single right answer when our heroes are those who got their start by being told that they got the answer wrong, and decided to come up with answers of their own.
This by nature requires us to ask of ourselves, "What is intelligence?" Is it dry facts, or your interpretation of them? Is it the quantity and girth of facts memorized, or is it the ability to learn and think critically and abstractly? Should those that boast of their broad knowledge on several narrow subjects -- think of the contestants on "Jeopardy" -- be revered as intelligent, or simply as having an advanced hippocampus?
I believe in a society where the thinkers are not the memorizers and the formulators. I believe they are the ones who go beyond scripted and calculated methods for success, who push the boundaries of what they have been taught and question all that they see, in order to innovate. It would be untrue to think that society is not hugely built upon the engineers, the pilots, and others whose success lies in going by the book -- similarly, it would be naïve to believe that we should follow the path of aimless philosophical daydreaming. I do, however, firmly swear by a reconciliation of the two -- of those who spend their childhood fantasizing, then their student years questioning, then their careers questioning, discovering, and taking all of their thoughts and theories and doing something with them. Sometimes feeling without explaining, sometimes not having the right answer, is what will drive the thoughts that will turn into great forces of action. I believe in the brooders and the feelers. In the end it is they who will have the insight to see wrongs in the world, and the passion to pursue a seemingly aimless conviction which ultimately will turn into the newspaper article, the play, the election which will inspire change and push us one step further into the future.