“I’m smart. You’re not.” — What’s wrong with our educational system?

Children learn very early in their schooling how to determine intelligence: grades. But is intelligence really this black and white?

This post is inspired by a conversation I had with three good friends from my highschool. As we were having dinner, we started to talk about the relationship between the general beliefs society, how the media affects those beliefs, and the crucial lesson that is almost completely lost in the educational system: how to think critically.

Society’s beliefs are made up of so many factors, but the general consensus is apparent to everyone in the population: bad grades = stupid

With regards to schooling, this consensus has driven us to severely undermine the potential of students based on their performance in school. We are told at a young age that if we work hard, we will get a good education, which will then lead us to a good job. This is something many youth don’t believe, and they have reason not to. Post-secondary degrees no longer guarantee jobs, but students aren’t being presented with appealing alternatives. This is to say that young adults that don’t get a post-secondary education, be it by choice or because of poor grades, are being viewed as “failures” by society.

I think this view is mostly because of the interpretation of good grades as intelligence. This is so false a notion I cannot even fathom how much I hate this mode of thinking. BLARGH. There are seven types of intelligences:

Your grades do NOT measure your intelligence! The only intelligence that gets measured in the common classroom is logical-mathematical. Every other intelligence gets shunned within classroom walls or is only implicitly acknowledged. Classes that are available to students which focus on the other intelligences tend to be undermined. Our society doesn’t value “skills that aren’t in the standard curriculum” (frenchfirecracker) and this is stunting the potential of many students. As a result, intelligent people are thinking that they are not intelligent because their strength lies in intelligences that aren’t reflected in their school grades.

When I was going through highschool, university was the most realistic option. My parents were (are) both working and I had good grades. I had not even considered any alternatives to a university education. I wasn’t aware there were any alternatives—like apprenticeship and vocational studies—as I completed my application forms to McMaster University and the University of Waterloo. In highschool, there was this constant unspoken pressure that if you wished to pursue a career that wasn’t in science, math, or business, you would have a hard time getting a job.

I knew many students who weren’t getting good grades but were so, so good at things outside of the classroom. These students were often the ones that grew up hating school and learning.

Education is a process of living and not a preparation for future living. – John Dewey

The youth of today are being saturated by so many mediums of knowledge: television, the internet, books, video games, etc. There is just so much access to new things to learn from, be the information vocational (career-related) or not. It’s no wonder students get bored in school. Why would anyone be interested in knowing the various mechanisms a benzene ring can undergo under acidic conditions when they can instead be learning about something that truly interests them from random websites on the internet? Our students are not getting “dumber” nor is ADHD an epidemic  among them. It’s just that the things they are learning in school and the way in which it is presented to them is just so  boring when compared to things they can learn about on their own, that they would choose to learn about.

What can be done about this lack of interest amidst an oversaturated life of knowledge? I’m not really sure. One thing I do know is that encouraging students to think outside of the box is the best way to prepare them for any sort of future. The educational system doesn’t stress critical and creative thinking enough, at least not for my taste.

School shouldn’t be all about getting the right answer. In the bigger picture of life, there isn’t always a correct answer. What should be more emphasized is the process of getting to that answer by thinking creatively and critically.

This post was inspired by this video by the RSA (an enlightenment organisation committed to finding innovative practical solutions to today’s social challenges) on Changing Education Paradigms. Please take a look and let me know what you think! Is the way our schools are structured enough to prepare our youth for the future? What should change? What needs to change?

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6 thoughts on ““I’m smart. You’re not.” — What’s wrong with our educational system?

  1. mothersviews says:

    Wow you beat me to it. I had intended to address this at a later stage. I agree totally that far to many child diamonds are being dulled down in the classroom. Encouraged to follow the grain. Go against it and your labelled as a trouble maker or worse still prescribed pills to dull down your enthusiasm. We must encourage our children to embrace their individuality. Interests need to be encouraged and used to further improve that individual child’s prospects. If a child is interested in trains and it’s reading time give them a book on that subject and watch them eat it up. Find a way to incorporate it into other subjects and they will be much more willing to partake. If we can establish reading before our children enter primary school this idea of learning can be of great benefit for both teacher and student. It allows for the child to explore at their own pace. Teachers will see the improvements they so desire with minimal assistance on their part. Freeing up time for them to really address the needs of children that are struggling. School need not be one big competition. What I’m trying to say is that an interest in trains can be applied to all subjects. Geography, science, English. If we applied the method of individual learning I believe we would find those that usually grace the back of the classroom and are told they are failing suddenly flourish. Passionate about their chosen subject and willing to engage. Even pursuing their interest to further education and potential stable careers. This is the way forward. A great post

    • turnthrice says:

      Thanks so much for the insightful comment! I agree with you, I definitely feel like a lot of kids go unaware of their potential because their parents/guardians try to direct them in a path that doesn’t interest them in the slightest.The saddest cases are parents that try to live their dreams through their children… the reality show Toddlers and Tiaras comes to my mind when I think of that. It’s quite sad.
      I’m actually thinking of becoming a teacher in the future. Should I follow that career path, I will definitely emphasis the importance of passion!

  2. You say that the type of intelligence measured in school is usually logical-mathematical. I would like to contend that claim. I propose that what is measured in school is generally a student’s ability to memorize facts, not necessarily understand them. For example: students have to learn that the battle for the Plains of Abraham was fought in 1759. Do they know why it was fought? Sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t. Do they know the aftermath of the battle? Generally not many do because it doesn’t matter if they truly understand the cause and effect. What matters, at least to teachers, is that they memorize the facts and score well on the test. Then you know what happens? They forget what they just ‘learned’ because the knowledge is no longer needed and they never really understood the importance of the knowledge in the first place.

    You are so right when you say that there are many different types of intelligence. And to be perfectly honest, it’s about time we stop focusing so much on the logical-mathematical and memory-based intelligence and recognize other areas as well.

    • turnthrice says:

      You have contended my claim well 🙂 The memorization versus understanding emphasis in school is definitely something I failed to mention in this post. I also believe emphasis on the other types of intelligence is necessary to truly educate students. The hard part will be actually implementing this into a school system. Educational systems are already arranged in such a rigorous fashion it will be difficult to change something as fundamental as the way students are tested and how they come to truly understand what they are learning. Still, nothing good ever comes easily.

  3. […] this is an example of a fundamental issue in many educational systems, a problem I described in my previous post. Educational systems concentrate only on a few aspects of the human intelligence. There are still […]

  4. satoshideath says:

    Very interesting post. I have to disagree about intelligence though. There is absolutely no consensus among psychologists and cognitive scientists regarding intelligence and whether this thing we call intelligence actually exists. Empirical evidence does not support any claim for or against its existence. So you may as well say that there are 10, 20, 30 types of intelligence or even one for every single person.
    Oh, and I have to disagree with you on logical-mathematical being the only ability that gets measured. Students come out with increasingly lower abilities in every field and the Mathematics Departments of universities are the first ones to talk about this issue. If anything, the education system is essentially about passing tests hence many students do not see the need of memorising random information if they can pass tests by means of cheating. And even if they do not cheat, the pass-test mentality will prevent them from learning anything worthwhile.

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