Monday, January 30, 2023

Average in America: Participation Education

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America the bold, the beautiful, the bountiful? The society in which there seems to be a general lack of passion pressing this generation into a corner of monotony because the desire to become better-educated citizens seems to have shriveled up and died on the vine. The United States is a nation so culturally, geographically, and politically diverse that there is room within its magnanimous borders for endless possibilities. Few countries in the modern era have achieved the virtuous status of being able to afford its citizens such fortuity. Yet, for the vast majority of people who have graduated from high school or college in the years since the 2020 pandemic shutdown, there seems to be a common theme of hopelessness. Confusion seems to run rampant amongst this new generation. Deciding upon a career or specialization that will carry them from the frailty of youth into the strength of adulthood has become a task that is too daunting to undertake. There may be several reasons for this: perhaps the lack of stability that arose in a post-pandemic world has made a long-term career feel out of reach. Perhaps a shift to online education has stripped us of a tangible interest in the world around us. Perhaps the stresses of a media-mongering culture has simply worn down the good intentions of younger generations. Regardless of the exact cause, the result remains the same. 

The United States was founded by scholars and artisans, learned men who took pride in their specializations as well as in their cumulative knowledge. The proof of their intelligence lies in the traces of their handiwork which American citizens live within today. It took an incredible amount of tactical awareness to outsmart the British and free the United States from the burden of King George III. Even greater perception was required to form the Constitution, which has guided the ethics and principles of American culture since its implementation. When Washington stepped away from his Presidential office, it was the great scholars, rationalists, and creative thinkers who emerged in his wake to lead the country into the next few centuries of prosperity. America runs on ingenuity, on a level of thoughtfulness that has carried it victoriously through foreign disputes, domestic clamors, and unforeseen strife. The core of its excellence always came from the value which was placed on education. A thorough understanding of literature, arithmetic, science, language, and logic was fundamental. They encouraged not only individuals, but society as a whole, to redefine and constantly challenge the limits of American excellence. Pride lay in a willingness for the upcoming generation to innovate. 

Unfortunately, that spirit which drove the country forward into prosperity seems to have perished. In its wake lies a sense of dread, a tiresome groan that rings out in the ears and hearts of young people. The goal for them is not advancement, but instead survival. It is a sentiment often found in places where there has been great conflict. While the pandemic has certainly been challenging for American citizens, as it completely disrupted various cultural and political precedents, the root of this issue reaches back further than 2020. American youths have been fighting a war with their country’s education system for decades. At first, the struggle may have been subtle, but now the American people are suffering the consequences of losing, and the casualties are the hearts and minds of the graduation generation.

The great conflict that education presents does not lie in its implementation, but in its lack thereof. The American education system, as the reader surely knows, is guided by a system of grades: if a student performs well, they are given a higher grade. Good performance in school is meant to be equivalent to a higher level of understanding the content being taught and therefore signifying a greater degree of intelligence. The use of a grade is not meant to indicate one student’s worth being higher than another’s, but instead as a way to indicate exactly what a student has learned and what they should still be working to learn. If American society values intelligence, the desire for a higher grade and better comprehension should motivate a student toward excellence. For many years, this simple, sensible formula guided how children were educated, what they were taught, and why they should be involved in their own learning process. However, a tragic shift has dramatically altered this reasonable pipeline. Instead of asking students to rise up to the challenges that learning processes present, the education system has decided to lower universal expectations in favor of equalization. The incentive of a bad grade no longer indicates a student’s need to advance their own skills in order to receive the better grade they desire. Alternatively, the bad grade now operates like a mirror. The teaching establishment, be it the individual instructor or the institution, takes the burden of the lack of learned information upon itself and tries to change how it operates as opposed to how the student operates. The responsibility to understand more and learn well then does not rest on the shoulders of the student. As a result, the desire to learn cannot be satiated, because it simply does not exist. Students want to graduate school because it is a requirement, and few have a genuine passion for erudition and wisdom. 

A certain amount of equality in the education system is not only beneficial but mandatory. Certainly, each child should be given the same resources, and the same level playing field which allows them the chance for success. Unfortunately, instead of constantly raising the stakes and pushing students forward, the general trend in education calls for all students to be pulled down to a lower level to account for the cognitive variations amongst student populations. Human nature signifies that different individuals will have numerous levels of skill and talent in profuse ways. Rationally, then, it must be concluded that each student will have to put in a unique amount and type of work in order to achieve that ever-so-desirous good grade, which symbolizes their understanding. Yet, the call for equity of outcomes in education has not accounted for this incongruity, or at least it hasn’t made any attempt to recognize it. Rather, it allows students the benefits of low expectations without ever asking them to discover the treasures which heightened knowledge holds. Each student is held to a low standard, and those who excel go unnurtured while those who are comfortable are not pressed forward. There is reassurance and consolation in being average, and exceptionalism becomes a strange entity that should not be sought out or celebrated at the risk of damaging the standard. 

It has been an easy issue to ignore, but such incomprehension cannot be tolerated any further. The vivacity of the American spirit is at stake. The failures of the American education system to maintain a standard of excellence has spiraled the country towards an acceptance of cultural mediocrity. The intelligence of the American people has always been our stock in trade; we could rely on wit to guide us through the most perilous crises of the last two hundred and fifty years. Now, the future seems far bleaker without excellence prevailing. If the United States wishes to fulfill its potential, it must trust itself enough to raise its own worth. 

Brooke Brandtjen
Brooke Brandtjen is a writer, artist, and passionate defender of liberty. She is currently an undergraduate student at Concordia University Wisconsin, where she is majoring in English
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