What does it mean to be educated?
Throughout the course of my year as a junior at a prestigious high school, I have grown as a person and student while also expanding my philosophy on both education and life. This year I strove to discover the answers to the questions: “What does it mean to be educated?” and, “What is the purpose of education?”. While many of my core views remain the same, I recognize a mature growth and change in myself as a thinker and owner of my learning.
Education to me is a journey. I believe everything we do, see, hear, and experience is an education in itself. There are lessons we learn in a classroom setting, and there are lessons we acquire by putting ourselves out to the world, taking risks, and trying new things. Have you ever sat at your desk while you were in school and thought to yourself, “Why am I here? What is the point of learning this?”. I believe the purpose of education is to create thinkers with open minds, to help us realize our individuality, and to prepare us for the real world. Our education in school cements the foundation of skills and traits that will make us better members of society.
I see immense value in every course I have taken in our school. Science courses inform us about the environment we live in and how we as humans came to be. Foreign language helps us to be more global citizens and respect other cultures. Music and art is a universal language that allows us to freely express ourselves. History recognizes the past for not only the triumphs, but also the mistakes that we do not want to repeat. Math gives us the capabilities to calculate finances. Psychology informs us about the human nature, and helps us improve our relationships with one another. And, English explores deep, complex themes and essential questions that expand our minds. Each class allows students to think differently and develop unique skills and knowledge that will help them in the real world. Even though junior year was the hardest year academically, yet, I’ve experienced such growth in myself as a person and member of society. Because of my newfound understanding of complexity and different viewpoints, I am a more well rounded person. I’ve learned that it is perfectly fine and normal to see things as grey rather than either black or white. There are countless stories in which I have participated in conversations with people that I would not have previously had the capability or confidence to join in, but now I thrive. I add meaningful thought and perspective to discussions due to my newly developed mindset and acquired knowledge of material.
This year, I believe I got so much more out of the AP English Language and Composition class compared to other classes this year which was due to the unique grading practices. In this class, I received one single grade for the quarter, which was determined by a self study paper that evaluated and reflected upon not only my demonstrated skills, but also what I learned, why it matters, and how it helped me further my understanding of who I am becoming as a learner. This form of grading allowed me to dive into my learning and take ownership of it. With the fear of failure or pressure to receive an A removed, I became more invested and thoughtful in my work. I have discovered a lot about myself as a learner, particularly my belief that there is more value in feedback, collaboration, and reflection than a single number or letter. I think it would be beneficial if all classes put less emphasis on grades.
The article, “The Case Against Grades”, centers around the pressure to receive a good grade and what that pressure does to students and the school community. Students are given heavy weight on their shoulders that if they don’t earn all A’s, they’re not going to get in a good college and won’t have a good career, and unfortunately it becomes this domino effect of worries. It hurts me to see how education has become a competition to see who can get the best grades and who can get in the best schools. I constantly witness students who have come to care more about the grade they receive rather than what they are actually learning. Test after test, grade after grade, the human natural instincts of — curiosity and desire to learn — decreases. As a result, growth is reduced since students often prefer to take the easy route rather than challenge themselves because they know it’s an “easy A”. However, because of this realization, I choose to push myself to go the extra mile in my rigorous classes by coming in every day with a positive attitude and a readiness for whatever is thrown at me.
The kids that emerge from our schools are the future of our world. All practices get passed down to them. The values we have upon graduation are difficult to change. It is important to use schooling wisely. Once we are out in the workforce or the “real world”, we won’t be receiving those number or letter grades like we use to. Instead we will be using the learning and acquired skills we developed throughout school and life. The special abilities of perspective, understanding complexities, collaboration, and critical thinking to me is what it means to be educated. I do not believe it will matter too much in twenty years if you have the timeline of history or mathematical equations memorized, but what will matter is the skills such as critical thinking and analysis developed throughout the academic career by learning about these topics. By being a well educated citizen, you can ultimately make your life more meaningful and make the world a better place.
Alfie Kohn “The Case Against Grades” http://www.alfiekohn.org/article/case-grades/