There are few topics that inspire such bipartisan agreement as the general disdain for school lunches. It is a joke that has stood the test of time, crossing geographic as well as generational borders. Ironically, people are often united by a collective hatred, and the dreaded school lunch often works as a touchpoint for agreement: they are notoriously terrible. Mystery meat, canned vegetables, and greasy pizza are all token achievements of elementary school graduates, and the rap sheet of bad menu choices lasts well into high school.
As humorous and pitifully nostalgic as they may be, what does this tell us about our education system? After the laughter over the sickeningly bad food has died down, the reality of how students are treated remains the same. While many of the meals may be technically healthy and beneficial on paper, they are prepared and served with indubitable thrift. The disregard for a human beings’ tastebuds that is found in schools shows that administrations prefer to save a penny rather than treat their student populations with dignity.
When the lunch bell rings at noon, students keep their expectations low, and this means that they are learning not to trust the very same system that is called to serve for the benefit of their education. This one, small, silly failure of schools represents a much deeper issue: they are encouraging mediocrity.
Within a bad school lunch, we find several of the basic elements which the American education system has come to embody. They are often composed of low-quality ingredients, prepared in a blasé manner, and served without a touch of compassion. These traits are similarly reflected in the curriculum which students are exposed to throughout the course of their academic careers. They are often learning material that is incredibly basic, repetitive and does not require critical thought. They are taught through a process of memorization and regurgitation as opposed to understanding through reasoning and logic.
They are often under the authority of teachers and administrative bodies who are more interested in fulfilling state-issued requirements than providing a composite, fulfilling course of study. The institutions that aren’t actively trying to create educational experiences that are individualized and draw upon the personal variations of their students, reduce them into subhuman products of a careless, government-funded system. The result is a slew of negative, cookie-cutter school experiences that leave students resentful of the organizations that were intended to aid and encourage them.
The lack of compassion for students on an individual level is becoming increasingly apparent. One of the major ways in which public schools have taken away opportunities for specialization amongst their student populations can be found in the removal of general education courses. At first, this statement may appear striking- how can we simultaneously suffer from untapped expertise and need more general education classes? The answer lies in the value of exposition. When children have a wide world of subjects of study revealed to them, they are given the opportunity to tap into personal interests and skill sets they may not be able to discover otherwise.
When someone is shown the immense depth and value of history, literature, language, science, and so forth, they are given the chance to interact with topics they might not seek out. As much as humans like to pretend that they know what is best for themselves, the truth of the matter is that we are stubborn creatures. If we think we will like one thing as opposed to another, we will avoid the other without allowing ourselves to even experience the possibility of the ‘other’.
However, when we are forced to experience something, we are given the chance to uncover aspects of ourselves that may be unknown and talents we have that may be untapped. Our culture constantly asks us to define ourselves, to set limits to our sense of identity. This is not inherently negative, but it may prevent people from getting the opportunity to push the boundaries of what they are capable of.
This is one of the greatest faults of the education system. It asks students to pursue the sciences or literature or art, without encouraging them to experience all of it. After middle school, when a very basic grounds for a diversified education has been laid, high school students are pressed into a minefield of college prep classes. These classes can be extremely challenging and beneficial, giving a deep look into a particular area of study. Unfortunately, students are typically encouraged to take these classes in anticipation of their college studies and future careers. This means that high school freshmen are choosing their classes and courses of study as well as their careers.
School administrators push the importance of college advanced placement classes at the expense of giving their students an educational experience that contains any breadth. Allowing fourteen-year-olds to pick their own field of study not only shuts them off from the possibilities of a wider and more thorough education but also places an extreme amount of pressure on children to make a massive life decision. In essence, the rise of college prep classes asks students to know exactly what their skill set is at an extremely young age so that administrations will appear to be proficient. Sadly, this supposed proficiency is only tangible on a surface level. In all reality, there is an extreme gap between the excellency of student bodies and their full, unfettered potential.
It takes an extreme amount of patience to work with students on a personal level. Encouraging individuality requires time, patience, and compassion, something that the American education system feels it cannot spare. There is greater profit and prestige in providing the easiest and most apparent course of study. Yet, when students are pressed into a broader educational survey, they are given the chance to try their hand at a variety of different endeavors.
To assume that a high school student knows the full extent of their talents is to deny them the ability to discover their potential. Our society can only benefit from expanding our wealth of knowledge, which we can only draw upon if we are learning and teaching as much as is possible. Perhaps giving students the opportunity to fail at a variety of subjects so that they might discover one iota of greatness within themselves that they may not find otherwise is the best gift we can give them.
Students settle for mediocrity at lunchtime, drinking milk from disintegrating paper cartons and eating the consistently questionable sloppy joe. Students settle for mediocrity in their classrooms, learning the basics and then being left to their own devices to discover their skills. However, no great society was built on Styrofoam lunch trays, and no great society will thrive on halfhearted teaching strategies. Indifference in education costs us the richness of individuality.