Education continues to be the prevailing issue in our country. In today’s society there are so many distractions deterring students from reaching their full potential academically. Inventions like Facebook, digital cable, texting and Twitter serve as terrific outlets for communicating new ideas, but also make it difficult for teachers to keep the focus on school. Combining that with the widespread use of drugs and alcohol and you’re essentially fighting a losing war. Our society is falling behind. According to a study conducted by the White House last year, each school day, we lose about 7,000 students, culminating in about 1.2 million dropouts each year. Put another way, only about 70% of the entering high school freshman end up graduating. The reasons behind these students dropping out vary from drug and gang involvement to family financial crises and falling behind in work.
As a rising high school senior, I’ve spent a lot of time in the past few months thinking about the value of the education I’ve received up until this point and what characteristics I seek in a University. I’ve also focused on aspects of my education that could have been better.
While I have had some incredible teachers who have clearly had passion for their subject matter and furthered my love of learning, undeniably the most important lessons I’ve learned in the past thirteen years have been through extra-curriculars. To me, the problems within our current educational system are compelling because they represent a two front war. We need to keep kids in school and we need to keep their focus on school.
A high school diploma carries so much weight and without one it’s difficult for people to succeed. However, I think the answer is not necessarily to stress standardized tests or change the way we teach certain material. Rather, the answer is in creating a curriculum that educates the whole person.
A crucial aspect of that is service learning. I’ve been volunteering in multiple capacities for many years. Over the years I’ve worked on projects with people from all walks of life: those who are very comfortable financially and those who struggle financially. One of the important things I learned about service is that anyone can serve. There is always someone with a greater need than your own, and helping that person can empower you in your own life. Most high school students are yearning for someone to listen to them and value their ideas.
Unlike the generation before us, our future seems like an uphill battle where we will need an oxygen tank to climb the ladder to success. We all face the pressure and challenge of attending and paying for college in poor economic times. The downturn in the economy has also affected the availability of resources in private and public institutions. Students are losing interest in education as they see the amount of skilled jobs decreasing. In addition, they’re becoming disillusioned with the educational process, as they realize they can slide by with mediocre grades. We need more access to activities like service learning that will empower this generation to believe in themselves. Unfortunately, at this moment most teenagers feel they have no chance to make a difference. This has to change.
Despite the many challenges, I’m optimistic about the future of education. I think there are some major problems that need to be addressed, specifically the unengaged student bodies at almost every school in the nation. We need to enhance the value of a high school diploma and encourage more high-risk students to stay in school; and the way to do that is to introduce service learning as part of the curriculum.
Students should have an active role in their own education, and particularly high school students should be expected to participate in discussions at the school board level (or appropriate equivalent). We need to expect more, not less, from those tasked with leading our future.
Simply put, all teenagers want to know that their opinions matter. No matter how involved they are or how much focus they put on education, they want to believe that adults care about their world and the problems they face. That is how you empower teenagers to make a difference. It’s not necessarily by teaching them the quadratic equation or how to write an analytical essay, but often it’s during these lessons that bonds are built that facilitate mentorships that can change lives. Teachers have the unique opportunity and responsibility of helping to craft the next generation. They spend the greatest amount of quality time with teenagers during the high impact years of our lives. They make a forever impression that can be amazing or disastrous depending on the way they use that influence.
Bottom line, one cannot have a conversation about fixing our education system without including those who are directly affected by it. Students from all walks of life should be given the opportunity to have input in the reforms necessary across the board at private, public, charter, and faith-based schools.