“Doing school:” Rethinking the system of modern education


Metacognition is the awareness of one’s thought process, the ability to think about how one thinks.

In “Doing School:” How We Are Creating a Generation of Stressed Out, Materialistic, and Miseducated Students, Denise Clark Pope, a teacher, explores the way that students think about school.

Pope examines what I like to call, “The system.”  The system is the way modern school is designed, and the game that students have to play in order to succeed.  Follow the rules and one will excel; stray from the norm and one is branded as a failure.

In “Doing School”, Pope follows five students: Kevin, Eve, Teresa, Michelle and Roberto.  Each student’s story illustrates certain shortcomings within the system.

In most cases, the students figure out what they need to do to get by, cater to their individual teachers’ needs and discover how to become “classroom chameleons.”

By changing colors, they are able to please each teacher and do what is required of them to succeed.  They identify what they have to do to survive, and do it—even if it sacrifices morals or learning.

Throughout the book, all five students felt that they were forced to cheat at least once.  In order to deal with the pressure and to achieve the ideal results, they succumbed to dishonest methods.

None of the students felt fulfilled with school—they all recognized that they were “playing the game”, and they all wanted more from their education—they wanted to truly learn.

This is the primary problem with the system.  The imperative goal of education should be to learn.  However, modern education has morphed from a system of learning to a system of grades.

Students are not motivated to really learn—they are motivated to achieve the grades necessary to make them competitive candidates for college, which in turn, will secure them a “good” job.

A common path to high grades is memorization. It does not matter if the memorized material does not encompass the entire scope of a subject; students are forced to selectively learn material.  If they will not be tested, there is no need to learn.  The system transforms students into robots—memorizing the minimum amount to score highly and discarding it afterwards.

To become a robot though, requires consent.  The process of metacongition allows me to recognize this robotization, if you will, and I choose to think. I choose to learn, even if that means losing what is perceived as “success.”

To fully free oneself from the system would mean absolute failure.  If one did not follow the system to an extent, one would not be accepted to college, or have any hope of competing in the job market, any hope of making money.  In fact, what it comes down to is money.  If students do poorly in school, they will not have the same opportunities to make money as those who did do well in school.

Students are trapped within the system—they cannot fully escape and still expect to become functioning parts of society.  So the problem not only lies with the system of school, but with the system of society.  Monetary success is valued above true learning.  The art of school has been turned into an assembly line of sorts, producing workers—not people—not thinkers.

As much as I wish I did not have to, I must follow the system to a degree.  My column will serve as an act of defiance, as my metacognition.  This is the first step.  Before schools can be reformed, we have to think about how we think.  Like Socrates, the Greek philosopher, suggested, we must ask questions–and  continue to ask questions until we find that granule of truth.



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