The Problem: The Public American Education System Fails the Brightest Students

***This addresses K-12, not public colleges and universities***

It is unlike me to point fingers (especially for something that is partially my own fault)…but it’s true. It only took about a month of public school to break the habits my teachers from private school worked so hard to instill in me (sure I knew how to use them in times of need, but they were no longer essential to my academic success). My private school had a regime of sorts that encouraged learning poetry, advanced mathematics, and analyzing literature. Our classroom teacher was able to captivate our interest and amplify the content in a way that made every day of learning fascinating. We were taught to constantly expand our spheres of knowledge and were belittled for any signs of settling. And even though the rigor of this setting wasn’t for every student, most of my classmates loved a good competition and so did I.

Then came middle school, my first venture into the world of public education. My parents decided it was time for a change in environment, and the next thing I knew, I was taking a placement test for the Talent programs of Mark Twain and Bay Academy in Brooklyn, NY (which both ranked a lot better in 2009 than they do now). I tested into the “Math and Computer Science” talent because my mom was convinced that mathematics was my calling (it’s not). From the moment I got my acceptance, she rambled on about how lucky I was to be part of this program.

Once school started, I was taken back by everyone’s friendliness and the lack of competition between students; no one seemed to care if you got A’s or C’s, meanwhile in elementary school students would be teased for receiving an A-. The only students that were mocked were the nerds and geeks; it wasn’t “cool” to stay out of the circle of drama that controlled our social hierarchy.

The sudden change of environment went against everything that made me, me; my desire to push myself forward in academics became nonexistent because the greatest reward was only an A.

All the teachers told me I was brilliant; I was a regional team member, a member of Arista and Archon Honor Society, and had one of the highest GPA’s in my grade. However, the teachers that praised my excellence were also the ones that held me back. They told me to stop raising my hand because they knew that I always knew the answer; regular class days were reserved for pestering the students that didn’t care to study or do their homework.

However, I did get the heads up when we had observers in the classroom, in which case I was free to show off and raise my hand as much as I wanted to; I lived for those days. As soon as the observer left the room and gave them the checkmark of approval, the teacher would thank the class for participating and everything would go back to normal (which usually meant I was sitting with a book on my desk and the teacher would pretend she didn’t notice).

Reading kept me quiet during class time, but it also ruined my class curves; the more I read, the more I learned. My English teacher would tell me to get questions wrong on our online reading comprehension server (which was meant to improve our scores on the State exam) so that it would knock me down from the 11th/12th grade level. The program kept assigning me more work than what my peers were getting, and my teacher pitied me; she told me it was unnecessary to be so far ahead of the other kids in my 7th grade class.

And every year in math class when I asked about a concept that was just one step ahead of what we were doing, I was given a different variation of the same answer: “Sorry, this isn’t part of our curriculum.”, “Sorry, you won’t be doing this until high school.”, and “Sorry, I don’t teach that in this class.”

The first couple of times I got that answer, I was confused and slightly hurt. I took it personally because I’ve never been told to stop learning before. “Not part of the state curriculum? Who cares? It’s not like we ever followed it in elementary school…” I thought.

Eventually I gave up and stopped asking all together. I stopped raising my hand. I started skipping my homework assignments for English because I would rather take a 0 than pretend to get simple questions wrong. My teachers didn’t care because they knew I would still get an A on the exams and a 4 on the State Test. I would still get my 98 or 99 on every report card, and everyone would be happy, except for me.

To be continued…

This isn’t a goodbye, it’s a see you later.

A.V.S.

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