Work isn’t everything

By Shahzoda Vareberg. Shahzoda, 21, is an author and filmmaker from Lancaster, United States. Please read her article and leave your thoughts and comments below.

The word “education” comes from Latin, educationem, which means a “rearing or training”. In the past, this used to refer to nurturing children physically and expanding their minds. That should attest to the basic rationale behind education. As for the origin of the word “school”, it comes from Greek, σχολή, pronounced “scholē”. Its earliest meaning used to denote “leisure”, or “that in which leisure is employed”. Then its meaning transformed to “a group to whom lectures were given”. Therefore, a school was a place where great lectures and discussions about life happened. That was where the Socratic Method developed: a dialogue-based teaching where the teacher asks the questions and lets the students do the learning by teaching. It was a place of natural, curious learning.

However, according to Peter Gray, a writer with a PhD degree on Psychology Today, “the idea and practice of universal, compulsory public education developed gradually in Europe, from the early 16th century on into the 19th.” From then on, school became a place where children’s inherent instincts to learn by play and exploration were repressed, in favor of schooling that shaped them into well-oiled cogs of a willful workforce. Brute force and beatings, remnants of the child labor era from Agricultural and Industrial Revolutions, were employed to instill in them the knowledge and values that were important at the time: obedience, good manners, patriotism, and piety. Even though nowadays schools don’t resort to such violent methods, they still inculcate children with hours of study to mold them into perfect laborers, and not fully idealized human beings. Education these days makes children unhappy, contributes to the dysfunctionalities in our society, and suspends us in the standardized, teach-to-the-test culture that has become the norm. That’s why I believe that the current education system needs to be reformed to broaden students’ minds instead of just preparing them for work.

For many children the world over, school is a dreaded place. In a survey conducted by Born This Way Foundation and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, high school students were asked how they feel at school. The top three responses were, “tired”, “stressed”, and “bored”. The sample size was 22,000, a huge number. Furthermore, eight out of the top ten words they chose to describe their feelings were negative. This shows that students don’t feel engaged or happy when they’re at school. John Taylor, director of Learning, Teaching, and Innovation at Cranleigh Boarding School, says, “The result of teaching where there is no scope for challenge, disagreement, or the open exploration of alternative answers to life’s deepest questions is closed minds: etiolated intellects lacking a capacity to question what they are told.” What would make students feel more engaged and happier is teaching with the goal of broadening their minds, instead of just prodding them along the educational belt of school, college, university, and spitting them out at the “final destination” of work.

Work isn’t everything in life. If people, especially children, don’t understand why they’re supposed to do what they’re doing and just go along the steps that the society has set out for them, it will make for an empty, meaningless life. A life that crumbles at the slightest storm. Instead, education should be able to make students understand not only facts and bits of academic knowledge but also something about the core ideas of being human. For example, in high school, I was the top student, number one in my class, the valedictorian, NHS president, however, it wasn’t until after I got my Associate’s Degree, that I realized how pointless all of that had been. I couldn’t find a job in my chosen field, even though, theoretically, I shouldn’t have had trouble, and I was unhappy: unhappy with where my life was going; unhappy with how inadequate I felt. The educational system didn’t just fail to prepare me for a life at work, it failed to prepare me for life. And I’m not the only one. In fact, a study by Masters student Aisling O’Connor in Trinity College found that the generation of millennials are “hugely susceptible to feelings of anxiety and inadequacy due to the paradoxical environment in which [they] have been raised.”

Obviously, the education system is failing to make amends and this failure to broaden students’ minds, paired with the toxic effects of social media and peer pressure, is resulting in confused, disappointed, and narrow-minded adults. Consequently, those adults are forming a base for a dysfunctional society. In fact, according to results from a survey of 165,000 students, conducted by YouthTruth, a San Francisco based nonprofit, 55% of students feel unprepared for college and a career. And on an even more serious note, society is also suffering from an increasing rate of suicide, most of which occur during a bad economy. The National Center for Health Statistics found that “the overall suicide rate [in the United States] rose by 24% from 1999 to 2014”, and Global Education Magazine says that “statistics show that every year circa 200,000 teenagers worldwide commit suicide while about four million adolescents attempt it.” In India, the National Crime Record Bureau shows that about twenty students commit suicide every day due to stress related to exams. According to the Bangalore psychologists from the Indian Southern Medical Centre, “[children]…are under pressure to deliver at school, […] to appear for competitive examinations, no one gives them any advice about the meaning of life”.

This brings me full circle to the idea that work isn’t everything. Brainwashing young kids about the importance of succeeding and getting a job that brings high income has a detrimental impact on the quality of the rest of their lives. They’re not aware of all the choices that are available to them. There’s only one path that they have been given, which means that if they stray from it, they feel lost. And after high school and college, there’s rarely anybody who can show them the right way, because there is no right way. Thus, it can be argued that to make a better society, schools need to show kids how to become open-minded, wise, and resilient adults, who know that straying is not failing, and failing is not the end.

Considering all the evidence, it’s clear that our outdated model of education isn’t working. Yes, it is teaching kids the basics, such as math, reading, and writing, but it’s doing it at the cost of obliterating the leisurely wonder of discovering and exploring new concepts and ideas in a natural environment. This teach-to-the-test culture is turning kids away from education. Our society has turned into a machine that wants efficient fast results, good workers, standardization, and mass-production. In addition, there’s a lot of political/corporal agenda being weaved in throughout, that’s just the nature of the beast, and inflexible curriculums and standardized tests are making it easier for that kind of behavior to flourish (intentionally or otherwise). Many of the opposition to reformation in education argue that children won’t learn rudimentary knowledge any other way, but that is not true. Education is a philosophical process, John Taylor says, “[i]t begins with questioning, proceeds by enquiry, and moves in the direction of deeper understanding.” Therefore, it stands to reason that there are numerous better ways to educate people than the stagnant system that’s employed today. Granted, some teachers do make the effort to break out of the mold. Education should flow freely. Teachers shouldn’t merely list off facts about, say, Greek mythology and test it the next week, but pique the interest of their students to mythologies worldwide: African, Indian, Central Asian. Let the students wonder and think outside of the box, instead of keeping them suspended in the old ways.

In the end, work isn’t everything and while education needs to provide students with the necessary, fundamental knowledge, it also needs to strive to expand minds. It should provide a leisure time in which questions can be asked and answered; in which differences can be overcome with intelligent conversation; and in which the spirit of marvel at all the world has to offer can be cultivated with gusto. A few of the ways to accomplish this is to do away with the teach-to-the-test mentality, integrate the Socratic Method into the teaching techniques, and meld the definitions of play and education to foster a more intuitive learning environment. This form of education will inspire students to become open-minded leaders, instead of merely being mass produced laborers, who expect someone else to give the right answer to them. And these kids will grow into happier adults that will progress the society forward.

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