To prove this is problematic, consider the following questions. How often are students forced to go practice their reading skills? How often do students complain about going to their foreign language classes? How often must you nag a student to learn their times-tables or basic algebra? The answer is too much. Now, compare the questions above to the following. How often are students forced to practice their favorite sport after school? How often do students complain about learning their favorite instrument? How often must you nag a child to learn to ride a bike? These second sets of examples are far less likely to occur than the first. Now, there is nothing wrong with a student enjoying extracurricular activities over academics, but an issue arises because of the stark difference between the students’ perceived values of the two. So what exactly is the cause of this problem? Students don’t see the value in school. First and foremost, learning should be fun. Yet, if you ask a student in MCPS, they would generally describe school as anything but such. When somebody doesn’t enjoy what they are doing, they simply don’t do it as well. When students dislike school, they generally don’t perform as well. School may seem irrelevant, overbearing with its amount of homework, or just too difficult. The solution to this issue has much to do with a student’s personal motivation, but there is still plenty that MCPS can do to help correct this problem.
First, a student’s initial impression of school comes from their teachers, who lead by example. It is very obvious when a teacher does not enjoy what they are teaching. On the contrary, if the teacher is having fun teaching, the student is having fun learning. A teacher’s interest in a subject emphasizes its significance so much more than the usual, “pay attention, this is important” scolding that students may normally get. Teachers need more liberty in devising their curriculum, so they can teach what they find exciting and are not forced to pretend to be engrossed in something that they aren’t. Trust me, the students notice. While there should be core elements in each curriculum that are required to be taught, a majority of the material, along with the method teachers use to teach it, should be unique to each instructor.
Second, homework is good, but so are other things. School does not have to be as overwhelming as it is. There is a time and place for everything, and many times, after spending seven hours at school, it is not time to go home and do more school work. Just think about the last time you ate too much dessert. It proves that too much of a good thing can be bad—everything must be in moderation. When homework becomes excessive, students no longer look forward to school and it becomes nothing more than a heavy burden. I am not saying to do away with homework. I am suggesting that teachers assign a more manageable amount so that students may make time for other activities outside of their classes. That way, when it is time to go to school, students are fresh, eager and ready to go as opposed to being burnt out from last night’s assignment.
Lastly, it is important to decrease the emphasis on grades. Students aren’t students any more. They are walking GPA’s. Students aren’t going to school with the goal of learning. Students are going to school because that is what they must do to keep their grades up. The emphasis in school should be to learn and grow. Too often students are focusing only on the numbers and whatever it takes to increase them, including cheat. A system like that is discouraging. It fosters a direct emphasis on tests and points rather than learning and curiosity. Yes, grades are needed to track academic success, but they don’t need to be used are excessively as they are. I cannot remember the last time I went more than three days without a test or quiz, but it has been months since I asked a question about something that wasn’t going to be on the test.
Let’s not take away from the extraordinary success and accomplishments of MCPS. We are a diverse, growing and unique school system, but we have room to improve. We need to revisit the basics of school. We are here not just to pass a test. We are here to learn and explore. We learn not just because the teacher told us to. We learn because we are hungry for knowledge. We excel not only in school, but we take time to develop and mature in all aspect of our life after the bell rings.
Colin McLaughlin, Damascus High School
Colin is the third place winner of the MoCo Student’s Inaugural ‘Young Voices Matter’ Contest