I spend a fair bit of time talking to people from an educational standpoint. And time and time again it is apparent that the education system has failed us all. None of us are taught to think independently. We lack critical thinking skills as well. 

One thing has become clear to me. The intention of school was not to teach us how to learn, or how to think. It was to teach us how to comply with and respect authority. I’ll illustrate my point throughout this piece.

Note that I will call out the numerous times it should have occurred to the reader to think for themselves. And to question my authority and objectivity on the claims I’m about to make.

“lots of things suck about our education system but what still blows my mind is how there aren’t required classes about mental health. we have our minds for literally the rest of our life & y’all don’t teach us jack shit about how to cope with it. but yeah that Pythagorean theorem”

Trusting authority

We blindly trust what someone tells us when we perceive them to be an authoritative figure. In fact, Milgram did more than one compelling study on this, proving the point. In this instance you perceive me to know something about our education system that you do not.

As a result, you’ve given me unearned respect and credit. Otherwise, why have you read this far? You make these assumptions because schooling has conditioned us to respect authority without question.

It always struck me as odd the common approach teachers take to education. They often encourage us to memorize facts and data for tests. As opposed to truly understand the concepts and theories behind the information.

We were taught to do whatever was required to succeed on tests from an early age. This is not to place blame on the shoulders of teachers. Standardized testing is something that is mandatory according to the government. Teaching is a job like any other. The level of control teachers have only extends so far.

“I’d rather have my tax dollars spent on healthcare and education than bombs.”

Test prep

Nevertheless, we were not taught any sort of critical thinking skills. Or any sort of independent thinking skills for that matter. Is that true? Reflect on that statement for a moment.

All this method of teaching prepared us for was test-taking in the short term. Is that true? Do you remember the material you learned a few years, or even months ago?

There’s a shocking disconnect in approaches to learning between grade school educations and post-secondary education. The former wants you to memorize the information with the intention of reciting it back accurately.

The latter wants you to understand the scope and depth of a theory or concept. And to then be able to apply this perspective. Both directly to the material you’re learning, and also to real-world settings. 

“some things kids should be educated in school / College beside their regular curriculum: – Personal Finance and how money works – Mental Health – Critical Thinking – Career Planning – Sex Ed – How the government works – Digital and Personal Etiquette”

Approaches to education

When you think about these two approaches, naturally the post-secondary approach makes the most sense Does it? Make up your own mind before continuing on. Have you spent time training your brain to reflect on ideas that are presented to you? Instead of simply accepting them. 

This method of teaching, prioritizing deep understanding instead of memorization, has been adopted by several countries. Unfortunately, US and Canada are not among them. However, these countries have proven their method words.

They have higher rates of students absolutely thriving and learning much more deeply than their American and Canadian counterparts. Is this true? Don’t blindly trust that information. It’s not presented as an opinion, but I’ve included no citation to led credibility to the statement. How can you be sure it’s a credible fact?

“We got exactly what we deserved. We watched while our culture demonised education and critical thinking while tuning into every reality show giant corporations could throw at us.”

After school

The responsibility of schools should be to teach us how to think. Understanding that this sounds a bit odd, allow me to explain what I mean. Have you ever reflected on what your preparedness is when you complete your high school education. Don’t you still feel almost overwhelmingly unprepared to deal with the ‘adult’ issues that you’re faced with? 

This is because you have not developed critical thinking skills. Nor have you developed the ability to self reflect, or to consider the perspective of other people. Is it? Have you reflected on this and decided what you think about this claim?

We are not often taught soft skills in school. Yet these are critical to our, not only survival but also success in the real world. We’re also not taught how to problem solve in any meaningful way. And this too is critical for us to survive and thrive in the real world. 

“I’m in southwest Virginia. People here have no education on how the Federal gov is set up or developing critical thinking skills. No history. They believe whatever they have last read on facebook.”

Funding motivates focus

But why are schools not teaching these skills to us? I believe the reason is because schools are given funding based on academic performance (and various other statistics). And a large indicator of academic success is test results. Is it?

If schools are to avoid being defunded or closed, they have to provide academic results. This comes in the form of standardized testing. If they are able to deliver consistently high test results they are more likely to receive substantial funding. Are they? There are no citations for you to verify, so how can you be sure? You know what to do: look it up for yourself.

Therefore the priority for schools now becomes ensuring students are taking tests successfully. This is opposed to ensuring that students are fully comprehending the material that’s being taught, and also being educated on how to function in society at the end of their public education.

“#Education has a tremendous impact on the #economy. According to Investopedia, “A country’s economy becomes more productive as the proportion of educated workers increases since educated workers can more efficiently carry out tasks that require literacy and critical thinking.”

Changing the benchmarks

It would be naïve to claim that school funding shouldn’t be based on some sort of metrics. It absolutely should and I’m not suggesting anything else. What I am suggesting is that the metrics we use reflect the education we want students to obtain. 

Students should graduate from high school feeling confident that they can go out into the world and participate in adult discussions about concepts and ideas. They should possess the critical thinking skills needed to effectively problem solve the adult situations they will find themselves in. Anything less cannot be called education in any applicable and useful sense. 

We’re failing at creating the education students are entitled to. We continue to produce graduates who require an authoritative figure to tell them how – or what – to think about a certain topic.

We consistently produce individuals who do not have the self-reliance or wherewithal to gather information independently and make an informed decision of their own mind. 

“In university critical thinking and debate is encouraged & I do understand, so I’ll explain it to you. People with an education recognize that not everyone has had the same opportunities, & we have a responsibility to help the less fortunate so they can realize their potential.”

The results of our approach

We are mass-producing people who only have the ability to adapt to a herd mentality. This can be proven by the astounding dropout rates of post secondary freshmen (is that true?). If the educational approaches were more congruent with reality, students would not have such a hard time adjusting.

This could be avoided entirely if educators shifted focus from telling, to teaching. When you teach someone something you should be providing facts. Along with asking open ended questions.

And encouraging a safe, welcoming culture that inspires curiosity and thought. Think back to your favourite teacher; I’d bet money all of these factors existed. 

Yet they’re the exception, not the norm. Most teachers tend to do their job in a formulaic way. They provide information that may or may not be biased. Then they ask a question you can’t even fully comprehend -or have no interest in. And then they start picking students to force them to answer the posed question. Reflect critically on your own experience and evaluate whether or not you agree anecdotally.

This approach does not create a warm, safe culture. Without that type of culture, how can you be motivated to learn, grow, and participate in your own education?

Post secondary (colleges, trade schools and universities) functions in the way I described educational institutes should. Students are expected to take control of their education and are encouraged to learn as much as possible via questions, study groups and genuine curiosity. 

“I feel that education system was designed to turn us into robots by killing creativity, critical thinking, common sense etc.I’m glad that most people’re beginning to realise the hidden truth about the system we’ve been forced to living in. Let’s claim our lives and humanity back.”

Recalibrating education approaches

Learning is the focal point of post-secondary institutions, the same cannot be said of elementary or high schools. Memorization and compliance are the focal points of those institutes. 

And yet, teachers failing to properly educate in any meaningful way isn’t the only issue. Let’s circle back to budgets and test results for a minute. If the school’s budget is contingent on the benchmarks they are able to achieve, what is to prevent us from changing those benchmarks to reflect the results we actually want students to obtain? 

What’s to prevent us from creating a benchmark around critical thinking? What is to prevent us from creating a benchmark around student engagement? Student mental health? Student contribution to the school community?

These are all markers indicative of a strong, and also healthy, learning-focused culture. Studies have proven time and time again that students learn more when they are physically and mentally healthy. Don’t take my word for it, think independently, and look it up. And take the time to verify those sources for credibility.

If students are placed in an environment that supports their learning and development, they will consistently do better than their counterparts who are not supported in these ways (look that up too). 

Creating a culture as I described would arguably result in higher graduation rates. Currently, in America, 25% of freshmen don’t make it to graduation. Don’t trust me, I haven’t even bothered to cite a source. Look it up. 

“Uh…I think our testing companies will b just fine skipping standardized testing for….EVER!! and notice what prison industries are doing…absolutely horrifying @BLoveSoulPower book We Want To Do More Than Survive”

Removing unconscious bias

Not unintentionally, this approach also eliminates the unconscious racial biases teachers bring into the classroom. Do teachers have an unconscious racial bias? And if they do, does the suggested approach actually eliminate it?

With this approach, it would be hard to exclude (unconsciously) students of color from the discussions. It requires shifting educators’ focus on the environment they’re creating and the engagement of all students. In doing so there’s no room for these types of bias. Particularly if the engagement was a benchmark for school funding. 

This approach would in turn enrich student learning. Consequently, this would elevate graduation rates. And also better prepare students for adult life.

Arguably, post-secondary as well. It would also produce young adults who are confidently able to problem solve in the real world. And of course, think critically. Is any of this true?

“Look at our community’s reading comprehension level. That’s privilege to say if you want to learn more jOin a bOoK CluB. We need to be going into these communities and spreading knowledge on a level they can understand.Not criticize our own because they don’t have our competency”

The Next Step

We will continue to see high dropout rates, discrimination against students, disengagement, and fractured learning. At least, until we address the fundamental flaw in our approach to education. One of them anyway, not to say there aren’t others. Educators need to teach instead of tell, and students need to learn to question everything and think independently. 

“Who is pushing standardized testing??? Who makes the money off of it??? Every teacher and principle I talk to, even those in well funded schools, tell me it isn’t an accurate representation of the teachers or students and chains teachers hands.”