I moved to a tiny town because its school system had a big reputation. 

In the belief that education was a sure pathway to success, I considered performing due diligence with regard to a school system as a vital parental role. Particularly with regard to middle school and high school, I believed my kids deserved the “best.” So in buying my new house, I was also buying into the school’s reputation, believing that its ranking and ratings made it better than others, that its priorities would align with mine and that my children would be well-served.

    I couldn’t have been more wrong.

    Over the years, I have watched my nephews, my kids and the children of my friends left behind by the cookie-cutter dictates of a school that values its false reputation more than the kids it’s supposed to serve.
While the school can promise that most of its grads will attend college and that some of its alum will even go on to Ivy League schools, what it doesn’t tell is much more telling.

    Left behind in the wake of its success stories are the “other” kids from whom no one hears. Because they simply don’t have a voice.

    There are kids being physically and verbally abused as they watch their perpetrators go unpunished. There are students ostracized from the lunchroom community seeking refuge in bathroom stalls and hidden classroom corners. Young girls forego skimpy fashion styles, not for modesty’s sake, but because long sleeves hide the trace evidence of their cutting. And a legion of boys hides in a haze of reefer smoke because they feel so desperately alone. There are recreational drugs and alcohol, but also a boatload of prescriptive medications, all with the intended goal of making kids fit in. Kids with their whole lives ahead of them are thinking about ending them. Anxiety, depression, eating disorders, thoughts of suicide  –they’re becoming less and less the exception.

Every school has to wrestle with problems like drugs and alcohol, bullying and cheating, sexual identity and harassment.  There isn’t a single right answer, no magic remedy. However, there are so many wrong answers.

    Like resting on a reputation instead of building a better one. Or choosing expediency over effort. Or accepting the status quo simply because it’s easier than challenging a wrong reality.

    Because the reality is an achievement warped by hypocrisy. We toss out trophies like confetti, then set unrealistic standards where every student is expected to be good at every subject. Students who don’t take honors courses are made to feel stupid and AP classes, once reserved for those passionate about a particular subject, are now being overpopulated by sub-par students who can’t handle the workload. In this alternate universe, average students no longer exist, but even the overachievers are barely getting by.

    When the message is to excel at any cost, that cost is too steep.
And our students are paying an exorbitant price.

    Low self-esteem, mounting anxiety disorders, depression. Anger at a system by which they feel betrayed.

And worse.

    Even the kids who are making the grade are sometimes getting there through shadowy shortcuts or by outright cheating. 

But it’s not their fault; at least not entirely.

    When a system embraces conformity at the cost of individuality, kids see the highest common denominator as minimal expectation. Measuring themselves against such a distorted norm, they can either choose to jump on the ever-accelerating treadmill or step off and out.

    And those often-quirky kids pulling out of the race are some of the brightest, most passionate learners the school has. But rather than grabbing a hold of those who stand out, it berates them for their alternate view of the world. Because it measures success with such a narrow scope, it lets them fall and fail; it abandons them.

Our school is supposed to educate, not alienate; support its students, not shut them out. We should be sending a resounding message that when we allow even a single kid to slip through the cracks, all of our students are the worse for it. Instead, our school touts its rankings and ratings and numbers. It’s all about the numbers.

    There’s only one problem with such a misguided mission: our kids aren’t numbers.

5 thoughts on “Un-Education

  1. The chill I got reading this continues to permeate my being as I type this response. Your words are honest yet heartbreaking at the same time. You have put on paper what so many of have been feeling yet have never found the courage to verbalize. Our children are not only paying the price as a statistic for the school system but even more so for a community in which they are deemed “not good enough” and worse, feel not good enough about themselves if they do not measure up to the performances of their peers or even the expectations of their peers parents. Since when did getting a B in a college prep class become the equivalent of a D? Why does my child feel that she is not as smart as her friends because she does not take all honors or AP classes? We live in a community in which our children are afforded academic luxuries that students in neighboring districts would kill for yet these luxuries can never replace the appreciation of true diversity.

  2. I wish I knew more about what triggered this post. I am one semester into my first year as a high school counselor and many of your comments could have come out of my mouth, from my observations thus far. However, I am encouraged that not all of the points you made hit the mark for the school I am at. What I have learned after my 13 years in the education field is that change does not come easily or quickly. If you do not have administrators and a superintendent that are educational leaders, looking to make changes that are best for kids then you will see no change.

  3. Exactly the issue -a leadership vacuum. I’m hopeful for change (we’ve got a new superintendent) but it won’t help the students who’ve already been made to feel like they’re numbers that don’t fit into the equation of their own education.

  4. You have summed up every thought I’ve had about the masco school system since my oldest child started kindergarten. With the exception of 2 teachers (1st and 3rd grade), my daughter was pushed into the conformity mold — no out of the box thinking in THIS community! when i think about the lost years in this school system for her….i can’t even go there…it’s devastating as a parent to re-live those years as she struggled against the comformity issues, bullying and the sameness in dress and hairstyles, etc. Here, other sutdents who DO conform set the scene for the others’ failure. Failure to be ALLOWD to be an individul without reprisal. Failure to discover who they really are. I thank my lucky stars we found Sparhawk for her. She has been in a nurturing, TRULY caring environment for 2 years (better late than never)and she has made a complete turnaround. She has actually learned that learning is a lifelong venture and that when teachers WANT to TEACH without bogus constraints and mandated/outdated testing methods, her mind can open up to all kinds of possibilities. So….in other words, Sparhawk saved my daughter from being just another drone in a failing system. The question is…how do you change the system when the “bosses” will not admit that there’s a probelm? After all, uhm…the NUMBERS “prove” Masco’s great reputation!

  5. Wow -I’m so glad your daughter found a home that was a good fit, though. And -I do believe we can fix it. Unfortunately, as you said -first we have to acknowledge, as a community, that there’s a problem.

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