It’s 6:49 a.m. and with what can only be described as a grumble, my daughter Meg says goodbye as she heads out the front door.
The morning bell rings at 7:10 a.m.
21 minutes for her to drive to school, park, go to her locker and be in her home room seat.
Good thing we live close or she’d be leaving even earlier like many of her classmates.
Her day will be composed of seven class periods. AP Biology (double period), AP English, AP Calculus, AP Government and Economics, French 3 and Art 2.
Between each class she will have four minutes to go to her locker and make it to her next class before the bell rings. Her school is two stories. She has told me, “Don’t even think about trying to go to the bathroom during that time. It’s impossible. So I don’t drink during the day.”
At 11:02 she will have lunch. Her lunch will last 24 minutes.
Then back to her 5th period class, followed by two more four-minute commutes to get to two more 53 minutes classes. The dismissal bell rings at 2:20 p.m.
This is her day.
And she hates it.
And I have to say…
Is it any wonder?
* * *
Meg’s school is consistently ranked by U.S. News and World Report as one of the Top 25 public high schools in the country, and to this the superintendent said, “Student achievement is our top priority. We have increased our Advanced Placement offerings, and put programs and tools in place that help students achieve. This recognition shows that our students can successfully compete against anyone in the country.”
Student achievement is a really good thing. It is.
And being able to “successfully compete with anyone in the country” is a good thing I guess.
But does student achievement in school have to come at the cost of the student hating school?
Because, like I said, my daughter hates school.
She loves learning, but hates school.
She hates her day at school. She hates the relentlessness of it. She hates that she feels like she is being crammed with material presented with no reflection, no pause, and that the students are often told they have to keep going, they have to get through all the material, because they have to be ready for the exam.
Because, you see, in the world in which Meg lives, the exam is everything. The exam will become the number that defines the achievement, that will highly rank the school, which will say all is well.
But is it all well?
That’s the question I was asking today as I watched my daughter begrudgingly head off to school.
And what is achievement anyway?
And is there a correlation between achievement and learning?
Are they the same, or are they two very distinct entities?
And since we like numbers so much, have we ever measured the cost of achievement? Because I would say, the cost is high. Probably higher than it has to be and when I say cost, I am not talking dollars.
No. I am talking about the cost of our young people’s desire to learn being extinguished instead of ignited.
I am talking about the struggle we have to keep our child curious, inquisitive and creative in a system that doesn’t seem to reward, much less desire, such traits because after all, how do you measure inquisitiveness and creativity?
Are we teaching that learning isn’t as important as achieving?
Meg feels like we are. She feels she is seen as only as numbers.
I think we strive for achievement because we can measure it. We can quantify numbers. We can put them in these little man-made orders we like so much. We can stack numbers against other numbers and then make judgments on those numbers. We deem some numbers as “good” and then systems can praise themselves when good numbers are achieved. And in the case of our school system, student grades are changed to better grades, when good numbers aren’t achieved.
But we forget that these numbers aren’t just numbers happening in isolation. These numbers are attached to people, to kids, and these kids are painfully aware they’re being judged and ranked based on these numbers.
GPA, class rank, ACT, SAT, AP scores. The list is long.
They are told these numbers may add up to, or subtract from their future success.
Is it any wonder there is so much stress and so much cheating? Is it any wonder that as a parent proctor for AP exams I was not allowed to bring my laptop to the exam because some PARENTS in some schools were using them to help kids cheat during the exams!
Is this what education has come to?
Is this achievement? Is this learning?
I must say though, Meg has learned her lessons well. She now uses numbers just like she has been taught. For there is one number she was holding onto this morning as she walked out the door at 6:49 a.m….
That’s how many school days until she graduates and will never, ever have to set foot in her high school again.
The above photo is just a small part of Meg’s library. She loves books. She has over 400 of them. She spent part of her Christmas vacation organizing them by color. She almost always has one in her hand. She loves reading because she loves the stimulation of learning.