Saturday, January 21, 2012

A Few Thoughts on (Mostly My) Education

I’ve been thinking a lot about my experience in school recently and about what I’ve learned, aside from the coursework. Mainly, I’ve thought about the education system, compared with the many years that I homeschooled, (which were the fundamental years of my education, and the years that really shaped how I think). Up until this past September, I’d been homeschooled for my whole life. Technically, I suppose this is my 4th year of high school and combined with the fact that my parents actually started “officially” educating me a year later than normal, the result is that I’m taking a year of “normal” school at an age where I’m older than any of the other students I’ve met. Since I’m spending a school year in “the system,” I feel that I’m finally allowed to comment on what I’ve seen and experienced, and the problems I have with the school system. I could go into the question of whether standardized testing is an accurate way of evaluating a student’s learning (my view: it isn’t), and I could go into a discussion of the school system’s poor attempts to take different learning styles into account, but I want to write about something completely different.
I had a pretty great childhood, and I certainly don’t take it for granted. Ever since I can remember, I had a lot of freedom to spend time doing things that I really wanted to do. I could learn about what I wanted to learn, and explore things that interested me. As far as my parents were concerned, so long as I was learning and exploring, it wasn’t a waste of time. I was about 14 when I started to seriously focus on music and theatre. I disciplined myself to diligent piano practice, started taking lessons for flute and voice, began composing music, and co-founded a youth theatre company with two driven friends of mine. As you can imagine, this didn’t exactly leave a lot of time for studying the provincially-prepared course load of Math, English, Social Studies, and Science.  It’s not like I was completely ignoring those subjects though. I plodded along through a math textbook, read and discussed great Classic literature, discussed current events with my family, and learned a great amount about the environment around me, (the perks of having a botanist for a father!). But I invested so much time in my arts studies that there simply wasn’t time to fill the government’s requirements for what constituted an education.
Fast forward to where I am now. I’ve cultivated skills in the areas I plan to pursue after high school, but I don’t have the courses required to get into post-secondary. No problem, that’s why I’m doing a year in normal school, simply to crash my way through some 30-level courses. Sure, I may be older than my fellow students, but I don’t regret a single minute of my education prior to this year. The school system is very heavily oriented to getting students their high school diploma and pushing them into a good university so that they can get a good career and make good money. Teachers often talk about how you should get a good career in something you love doing, but how can you possibly know what you’re passionate about if you haven’t been given the freedom to thoroughly explore your interests? I see lots of students and friends finish high school, and then either a) come to a stop and realise that they have absolutely no clue what they want to do, and/or b) go straight into University, not in a program that they’re really excited about, but rather just settling for one that seems okay. Bearable. Something that sounds relatively interesting, and would appease the parents. There are exceptions of course, students that have managed to find something they truly love doing, despite spending the majority of their childhood in school, but they do seem to be the exceptions.
            I wish that wasn’t the case. During the K-12 years, at an age when one doesn’t have to worry about paying the rent, affording food, or affording your electricity, I wish that every student could have the opportunity (as I did) to spend their childhood discovering what they loved, not to pass a test, but to cultivate a genuine love of learning and to figure out what they really, truly want to spend time in their life doing. For me, an extra year of high school is a small price to pay for spending my K-12 years figuring out what I’m excited about and what I’m interested in pursuing. If the school system spent more time allowing students to figure out their interests, and spent less time on exam marks, I believe that we’d have many more happier people spending their time on pursuits that fill them with joy, rather than drifting aimlessly through years of their lives spending money and time on post-secondary degrees only to realise that they weren’t all that interested in them in the first place.