The institution of public education is insurmountably important to American life. By 1918, school was mandatory for every child in the United States, irrevocably etched into the fabric of American childhood. This was undeniably a great move that kept children of agricultural or lower-class backgrounds from child labor and drastically improved literacy rates. It also meant that American children now had a new hub for socialization and, effectively, a center of life outside of the church. In the early days of compulsory American education, educators taught with pillars of discipline and obedience, largely to accustom students to the factory working lifestyle they would likely soon endure. A lot has changed since 1918, but America’s education system has remained the same in a few key ways that make it no longer suitable for children of today.
I believe the factory worker tradition is still deeply ingrained into the American public school system, training the next generation to be complacent and uncreative. Being at any number of American schools, you will find that you are told when and how to do just about everything. You can only speak when you are spoken to, only eat for a short period of time, and only use the restroom when you are given permission. As a Running Start student, I remember the jarring feeling of seeing college students jaunting out of class when they needed to use the restroom without asking the teacher. At school, children are forced to abide by a rigorous, exhausting schedule, often beginning early in the morning (my high school starts at 8:00 a.m.) and ending in the late afternoon. If you walk into a middle or high school on any given day, you will find that a majority of students look tired and weary, if not outright sleeping on the desks. With the absolute inundation of homework students receive, one barely has any free time to do anything not school-related, no time to do what kids are meant to do: explore and nurture their curiosity. Considering the “memorize and dump” strategy of information retention that educational systems everywhere promote, this heavy workload seems especially futile. This may also be why Americans are notorious for not knowing general knowledge.
When one only has time for work, a very clear, perhaps subconscious message is sent: Your ability to complete meaningless tasks quickly and think in one specific way is the only thing that gives you value. In short, the American public education system is trying to raise a generation of factory workers, training kids to work complacently within a system rather than making their own path.
In an increasingly AI-dominated time, where mundane tasks can be completed by unpaid robots, human traits like creativity and curiosity are sought after not only by employers but also by society at large. Only those who can think outside the box will be the winners in this new era of our country. Therefore, some big changes need to be made if the education system actually wants students to succeed. I suggest finding new ways to spark students’ curiosity rather than filling their time with busy work, which will make them unmotivated and uninterested. For the next generation of Americans, to ensure a better future for each student, some big changes have to be made.