“Is this on the test?” — Seth Godin, Author/Blogger/Podcaster
One of my favorite podcasts is Akimbo with host, Seth Godin. An intellectual explorer in the pursuit of excellence, success, and personal responsibility, Seth uses the query to effectively demonstrate the faults and shortcomings in our current educational system.
And his observation is a disturbingly valid one.
It seems in the current culture, most students concentrate on what they need to remember to pass the exam — stretching their minds only as far as necessary to receive a passing grade. While the misguided intentions of an early “normal school” curriculum is partially to blame, the discouraging lack of motivation to learn for the sake of increasing personal knowledge may not be entirely the student’s fault.
Because the dark truth lies somewhere else.
Seth makes the case that in our contemporary educational system, teaching takes place by specific course content and repetitive delivery rather than creative choice. Pre-determined curriculums replace student curiosity, effectively subordinating their natural desire for knowledge to the school’s underlying agenda of funding, institutional scoring, and time restraints.
And what’s the fate of all those unanswered questions in the minds of the young and restless?
Students have come to believe they simply don’t matter. Because those questions — and their answers — won’t be on the test. And that means they’re not worth mentioning, or exploring.
Unfortunately, the system-based limitations of education result from intentionally cherry-picking the particular topics for classroom discussion — with the fertile minds of captive pupils a perfect field to sow a conforming, hybrid seed.
Think about it.
School uniforms keep things uniform.
Assigned seating keeps everyone in place.
Time limitations leave questions unanswered.
Restricted curriculums hold young minds captive and in check.
Grades and the promise of graduation keep the student’s mental focus solidly frozen on the test.
Still, I have to wonder …
Who exactly has the authority to determine what material will be presented — in essence, what will be on the test? And how can we be sure the selected information is appropriate — for everyone?
What if there’s more to uncover and learn beyond a few facts and dates? How will unanswered questions be addressed? Where are the open opportunities to expand on the topic . . . or add new ones?
Our educational system has become no more than a self-serving mechanism dedicated to spoon-feeding its willing, paying participants only that specific knowledge necessary to pass the course. Because — in the opinion of those behind the curtain — that’s all they need to know.
Seth Godin’s question suggests a frightening concept.
Out of the pitfalls of our structured educational institutions comes a clear message: Schools are designed to create compliant robots devoid of direction and original thought who complacently follow the mantra of self-appointed authority. And those who attempt to satisfy their curiosity or their personal need to learn by drifting outside the lines may not pass the test.
Careful, don’t make a ruckus in class — you might miss something extremely important, like what’s on the lunch menu today.
I have nieces and nephews in the school system, and family members in administration and tenured faculty positions. And we’ve talked — in depth. The conversations have at times been unsettling. Yet the facts are unavoidable. And without doubt or fear of contradiction, I’m completely onboard with Seth on this one.
In a place of learning, it’s disappointing to realize that an inquisitive nature and natural dose of free will are quickly and easily relegated to the dusty corners of the mind. Because apparently, those attributes have no place in the system — and are no longer welcomed.
So what’s the real reason behind the skewed logic of squelching individuality, unique voices, and intellectual interaction?
As it turns out, the business world doesn’t always appreciate creative thinkers. Because it messes up the hierarchy and throws the ratios out of balance.
To produce reliable corporate cogs — the collective place-holders whose lives are easily sculpted by heavy, stringent hands — students must be “normalized.” The focus isn’t so much on what’s being taught — it’s about learning to stay between the lines, to accept rather than evaluate.
For the record, I take every opportunity to talk to strangers, especially when they’re on the job.
From inventory stockers to cashiers, food servers, supervisors, customer service reps, and upper management — the message from both sides is clear.
A lack of motivation, curiosity, and responsibility is immediately obvious in those hired for entry-level positions. They simply don’t care about the work or the responsibilities for which they were hired. Their need to generate a livelihood is represented by sitting instead of standing, hanging out in the break room, and texting their friends on someone else’s time. And they’ll only do what’s necessary — what’s on the test — to keep their comfortable payday in place.
Those in supervisory roles constantly complain about the apathetic attitude of their subordinates, which can become even more frustrating as underling drones begin drifting up to higher levels of management, bringing their laissez-faire attitude with them.
Is this a reflection of the true agenda of structured learning?
If the current educational system has a defined purpose and goal, it may well be to create a hive of worker bees programmed to march in compliant Stepford-style formation as they enter the workplace. They’re trained to arrive on time, follow minimal instructions, and not ask any questions. They conform to assigned job descriptions, confine themselves to limited work spaces and cubicles, and faithfully look to their supervisor for all the answers. In essence, they’re the ideal employee.
When it comes to improving the intellectual curiosity of our young generation, the traditional educational system must change or we risk continuing to rely on mindless adherence to a process meant to instill compliance.
Take your seat, fold your hands, and wait for information to be served in small doses from a structured, rigid system of gatekeepers.
Don’t do much, don’t say much, and don’t think for yourself. And if you feel the slightest itch to learn, accept the fact that you’re on your own. Because the instructions for achieving success, making personal decisions, and developing independent thinking are not part of the curriculum.
I’ll leave you with this metaphor . . .
A plant grows faster when its roots are allowed to spread freely and unbridled, rather than being bound by a restrictive container. The effect of the environment is seldom neutral; it either improves the learning experience, or restrains it. The best atmosphere for education is one in which the test doesn’t define the curriculum — and that’s when the learning begins.
“Only that knowledge which we choose to learn can define our destiny.” — Jill Reid
© 2021 Jill Reid. All Rights Reserved.
4 Tips to Overcome Avoidance Strategies and Face the Real World
How to step-up and become a trustworthy human
The Real Reason You Never Get What You Think You Want
Goals are best achieved when the method and process aren’t cast in stone.
Jill Reid is the founder of Pathway to Personal Growth and author of Real Life and Discover Your Personal Truth. Her books and articles explore life, happiness, relationships, health, and personal success strategies.