When I first interviewed my principal for the school magazine, he said something very profound that nudged itself into the cramped nooks of my brain for eternity:
“You can love learning if you’re in a place that values it.”
And that stuck with me. And I realised the effort, or lack thereof, that educational institutions make to construct their environments in a manner that facilitates and nurtures the process of knowledge-imparting that so commonly is despised in a maturing youth.
I’ve always felt like the very manner in which schooling is conducted in grade schools (i.e. education prior to university), is flawed. We are constantly doing. Running to one class, sitting through a 80-minute lecture, asking questions, answering questions, writing things down, typing things down, searching things up, reading, writing, thinking, studying, absorbing, learning. And it’s wonderful.
But then you have to do it again. And again. And another time. For seven hours straight, you are running and asking and writing, with the occasional physical education period to render you happy and sweating, and the trademark 30-minute lunch break. I feel like the intrinsic flow of things that most academic institutions mandate is too void of any sufficient gaps that allow efficient reconciliation of whatever we’re meant to understand in our classes. I’m simply jamming information into my head wherever it can fit, as opposed to the actual process of learning. It bears some slight resemblance to cooking; would you rather slow-cook your meat and a temperature that’s suitable, or rush it through at a much higher, questionable degree of heat? An analogy that’s definitely far off, but it does provide some insight into how odd our system is.
“I’m simply jamming information into my head wherever it can fit, as opposed to the actual process of learning.”
Furthermore, it’s not uncommon for these environments to be heavily vulnerable to a changing set of values, often not incorporating that of learning. We value higher grades, more extracurriculars, longer essays, lesser sleep — is that really learning? Since when does the transfer, expression and possession of knowledge need to be validated by how red our eyes are? We have ceded to modern definitions of hard work, which I’m apt to lament, for it’s expectations render me confused about my own abilities and dedication. Sometimes I go ahead, daring to balance the incrementing course load on my shoulders for the sake of being seen as smarter or more intellectual or more hard working. But then again, is this really worth breaking my shoulders for?
Then, we have school faculty; your teachers, coordinators, counsellors, everyone meant to lend you their shoulders, or at least give you their secrets to a long-term balance: the perfect angle. I will say, I have had (and still have) many, many teachers/coordinators/counsellors who have witnessed my awkward (and still very current) adolescence and have nurtured the witty flower by brain has blossomed into (and hopefully it will blossom more, for growth has no limit, and so these petals know no boundaries). They have inspired a love in me for things I previously did not even know existed, and made their classrooms safe spaces for curiosity, confusion and “wait, what?!” questions to wander around, shameless for what they represent.
Nevertheless, I have had mentors who’ve been inconsiderate in terms of the unreasonable workload they deem suitable and what they say to and expect of students. I’ve had teachers tell me that I’m ugly, unintelligent and not good enough, that have barely taught me anything in class and have expected the world in return, that have stressed memorising factual B.S. for the sake of it and have driven me to hate learning. Admittedly, I am responsible for buying into it, but when apparent educational deities retain so much influence over your academic future, deference stands as the only viable option.
In all honesty, I’m unsure if whether or not the buildings in which we spent a heavy majority of our day, every day, are places that value learning. Sure, there are teachers who focus on fostering a love for knowledge and curricula that attempt to morph stress into a carefree gaiety, but at the end of the day, when I’m walking in hallways filled to the brim with stubborn mentors and students stressed out of their minds comparing sleep schedules, that’s the life I’m living. And I can’t love doing something if I’m not doing it.
This article was first published here.