A first-person perspective on what it felt like to be without K-12 options
By Christina Grattan
During a high school rally, my cross country team participated in a dance-off against the volleyball team. I tried my best to dance the moves we rehearsed, but even hours of practice could not make us escape an onslaught of “boos” from the crowd. Embarrassment loomed over me, and I stood there thinking, “What is the point of high school? Popularity? Trying to fit in and be someone I was not?” I left the rally feeling disillusioned, anticipating the day when I would finally graduate and leave high school for good.
Growing up in the public school system K-12, I wish many things could have been different. In elementary school, I experienced bullying, which made it hard to concentrate. I was in fifth grade when the Common Core curriculum was being implemented, and the organization of the reading comprehension questions and math problems deeply confused me. I was also taught evolution in sixth grade, which conflicted with my family’s religious beliefs. The teacher did not quite understand my rationale, and the rest of the class did not either. I remember my teacher talking behind my back to another staff member, upset that I had used a calculator on math homework I had missed when I was out sick. Being only a kid, I just took these roadblocks as an inevitable part of my education, not knowing that other options were available to me.
Yet my high school and middle school experiences were abysmal as well. There were some classes where I truly learned a lot, but those were far and few between. I was a studious, driven student, but most of the time, I found students on their phones, passing notes during class lectures. People would always judge others by what they wore, and I remember begging my mom to get me a different backpack to “fit in” with everyone else.
Self-consciousness ensued in high school, and I never felt I could be myself since who I wanted to be would be viewed as nerdy and unpopular. I always felt that my individuality was constricted since people were encouraged to be like everyone else rather than be unique. Being an outlier was a weakness, but making as many friends as you could and being the student body president was a strength. While others may have flourished in this environment, I found myself alienated and I always dreaded getting out of bed to go to school. There were times when I just wanted to stay home, so I could avoid seeing other students with the fear of sitting alone at lunch. When I didn’t have anyone to eat with, I would eat in a teacher’s classroom and talk to them.
There was also a lack of creativity on my high school campus. Many students were pressured to fit in to be accepted by others, so they never deviated from what was seen as normal. You never wanted to come off as too studious or as a high school flunk. Mimicry was seen as a virtue, while trying to stand out was shunned upon. I remember getting a pair of Birkenstocks and a Hydro Flask to carry around since everyone else had one, hoping it would cause people to like me. I felt as if I was a cog in a machine, not striving for my own destiny and initiative but following the trends of others just to get by. This mentality I developed during high school was not conducive to my learning experience or developing self-confidence.
Academic-wise, I do not feel my high school curriculum prepared me for college either. High school was lower-level thinking. I would read from a textbook, write in-class essays, take tests, and memorize concepts. While this method increased my study skills and I maintained excellent grades, it didn’t give me the tools needed for college. Rather than doing research papers and learning how to edit and write well, my high school consisted of mostly busy work that students would drudge through. During my first semester at Biola University, I found myself behind other students who had experience writing papers and some who were even homeschooled.
In college, I developed a love for literature and history through students I found on campus who lived to read and learn. If my high school and elementary school had offered more literature and history classes, I probably would have developed this passion sooner. Yet not that many students in my high school truly valued what they were learning, and I feel it was because it was taught in a way that did not engage or inspire them. In elementary school, we would read from bland anthologies, and in high school, the only class that offered quality literature was one AP class. I never had a chance to be fully exposed to the classics in my public school experience. Yet in college, learning was much more reading and discussion-based, which I deeply enjoyed. Students would sit with their desks in a circle, sharing their thoughts on a book they read while a professor led the discussion. A stark contrast from my public school education, where the only method of learning I knew of was a teacher who would read off a PowerPoint.
In my situation, I feel that homeschooling would have been the best educational method since I could have immersed myself into classic texts and a Socratic way of learning at a younger age. The social environment of my public school experience didn’t empower me to think for myself and form my own distinct identity.
Today within society, a one-size-fits-all approach through public schooling has been normalized, but I want to change that. Growing up in California, I never knew that such a thing as school choice existed until I learned about it through research. Other educational methods should be advocated for, and parents should understand that public schooling is not the only option for their child. While school choice programs such as ESAs and vouchers that could make educational methods such as homeschooling more accessible do not currently exist in California, there is always hope for the future.
If I could tell my high school self that I was not alone in my desire for a different style of education and learning experience, I would do so in a heartbeat. Looking back at how it molded me as a person, I wish I would have realized that there were more profound things in life that mattered — and that I had no reason to be ashamed of myself. Education should exist to build students up and lead to success, not to break them down, forcing them to change themselves.
Christina is currently a political science major at Biola University located in California. Her strong faith in God drives her to formulate ideas that can cultivate a freer, more engaged, and nourished society, which starts with being a catalyst for school choice. In her free time, you can find her reading Russian literature (she loves Dostoevsky), creatively writing, running, and cooking anything from pot pie to polenta.
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