America’s Educational System Is Just Numbers

Students during Dr. Gail Baura's engineering class in Cuneo Hall on Loyola's Lake Shore Campus during the first week of class, August 26, 2015. (photo by Natalie Battaglia)

College classrooms were once spaces of thought and discussion meant to prepare knowledgeable beings to enter the diverse world. However, professors have become indifferent to the ways in which they approach teaching students who are accumulating debt, and students’ responses have become nearly identical.

Earning a high letter grade by regurgitating short-term, memorized information seems to be valued more than acquiring a new skill that can be directly applied in the workplace.

Our generation has been taught that one must earn a college degree to have a well-paying job and to be able to support oneself; we’re taught that those who don’t attend college can be seen as unmotivated, uneducated and may end up homeless selling drugs.

Nowadays, it seems a degree is merely a means to tell mom and dad, “Look, I did it,” a means to a paycheck and a means to achieve another milestone in life.

By prolonging the systematic and institutionalized sides of education in America, students will be abandoned in a haze of what feels like permanent satisfaction.

The institutionalization of classrooms and the systematic way in which students are educated are all but a process through which a majority of students wish they could fast-forward.

This is where America has gone wrong.

One of the root causes is the unfortunate emphasis on how to teach instead of what to teach, according to the Foundation for Economic Education.

Worse yet, schools have become progressively less focused on the education of the individual and more focused on the education of the masses. Less time devoted to individual students leaves them feeling that they’re just another number and a waste of time and money.

Research results of more than 2,300 undergraduates found that 45 percent of students show no significant improvement in the key measures of critical thinking, complex reasoning and writing by the end of their sophomore year. Reformers argue that the United States must produce more college students to remain competitive globally. But if students aren’t obtaining or retaining much information, this calls into question whether boosting graduation rates will even make a difference.

Universities are being run more like corporations than educational institutions with students viewed as consumers who come for a degree and then move back out into the corporate world.

The question isn’t whether or not colleges should exist or whether researchers should improve their methods of measuring learning. Rather, the issue revolves around how college students are being prepared to exit a classroom and enter the fast-paced world.

A possible solution to combat the skepticism of whether or not college is educationally beneficial is to develop a community-and relationship-based environment. Proposed by economist Richard Wolf, these schools are places where students and teachers actively and democratically participate in their own evaluations and progress. This would eliminate numbers and percentages as a means of tracking improvement, retained knowledge and achievement.

If there is to be true student-centered education, the institutional rules, processes and policies must be revoked, and competitiveness must not be driven by standardized test results and GPAs.

Rather than tossing out letter grades, professors should assess students on a pass/fail basis while also offering feedback on the student’s work. Yes, this would be another form of evaluation, but one that isn’t measured or rewarded as a place marker in a cut-throat race to some desired finish.

True education, as said by ancient philosophers, means to come out of the dark. As wise Aristotle once said, “The teaching they gave to their pupils was ready but rough. For they used to suppose that they trained people by imparting to them not the art but its products.”

Maybe he was right.

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