High school – some hate it, some love it, and some just deal with it. My high school experience was probably very typical in some ways and simultaneously atypical in others.
I spent all four years of high school at the top of my class, ranked 1st or 2nd at all times. I worked hard to earn my high GPA (yes, earn, buzz off if you’re going to tell me As don’t mean as much these days, even without grade inflation I would’ve been earning As). I was dedicated to graduating first in my class, and I didn’t let up for a moment. I wasn’t unhealthily obsessed with grades. Instead I just wanted to do my best and learn as much as possible. It just so happens that I knew my best was straight As. Sail through most of my high school education I did not.
There were certainly some things that were very easy for me. I didn’t always have to work as hard as other students to earn top grades. I’m lucky to be a fantastic test taker and have a natural aptitude for math, science and writing. I’m a natural student; it’s almost as if my brain were made for learning and being tested in the typical ways (multiple choice, math tests, short answer, etc.*).
Even with all the aptitude I had for school, I am convinced that it was my desire to learn as much as possible and to get the highest value possible out of my free public education that put me on top. Ever looked back to a high school class and thought, “I wish I had paid more attention”? I haven’t. I have never once had that thought about my high school (or middle school, for that matter) courses.
I know it sounds like I’m bragging about how well I did in high school or how special I am or something, but I’m just trying to be honest about my experience. The reason I want to be honest about this experience is that I wish we could instill a similar desire to learn in children of all ages across the country. I think it is that desire to learn – whether because of a love of learning or a desire to use your time wisely or get the most value out of a free education – that is the key to improving our education system.
In high school, would you have done better had you considered getting the most value out of what you were learning? If you had thought about making sure you weren’t wasting your time sitting in class, would you have worked harder? If you had spent less time asking, “Why is this relevant to real life?” would you have learned more in your math classes?
Of course, there’s no easy policy prescription to increase the value students place on public education. It, like the solution to many other problems, is something that has to come from a shift in culture, but, unlike some problems, it’s not even clear what we can do to encourage that shift. How do you teach someone to love learning or place more value on education?
*My brain does not love essay tests, particularly if I’m expected to be eloquent in the essays.