Ever since I watched that YouTube video on Montessori vs. Public Schools (thanks to those discussion leaders who showed us that), I’ve been thinking a lot about my “inner flame” and my learning process. I still am a student, after all, even though our major has slowly shifted us to think as teachers instead of students. Regardless, my learning is still in progress and my life as a student isn’t quite over. I’m nearing the end of my education, I’m on the home stretch, but I still have a lot to do until I get there, and probably what I’m learning from here on out is the most important for my career. But in all honesty, my inner flame to learn is dead. My desire to learn died out long ago.
I never attended a Montessori, charter, and private school (I always was a public pupil) and so I don’t have that sort of experience to compare. But I was sitting there in my English Language for Teachers class thinking: did I ever have that flame? Was there ever a day in my life where I was excited to come to school and learn something new?
Yes, of course I did. A long time ago. Once upon a time. And now, I’m in this college class, forgetting to bring my books or take notes, sliding by on literally the bare minimum to pass, and I can FEEL the disappointment in me emanating from my professor. And you know what? I honestly couldn’t care less. It’s Friday, I’m exhausted, I want Thanksgiving break already, and I was the typical idiotic college student and went out to the bars on a THURSDAY NIGHT because I needed to get away from my computer. The headache pounding through my head in class today didn’t brighten my learning spirits. I found myself daydreaming a lot to pass the time, and I thought about that “inner flame” of mine that has been so thoroughly doused. It’s just a pile of ash, has been for years, and it’s just sitting there slowly melting into the ground.
What happened? What happened to us, guys? Most of you are way more into class than I am–engaging in conversation and discussion, sharing smart, interesting, important things you have to say. I literally can’t remember the last time I raised my hand in any of my classes to say something or contribute. It’s because I’m a dead student, a passive listener…just sitting there. My brain just doesn’t engage! Even when I try, I FOCUS AS HARD AS I CAN and really keep up with what people are saying. Even then, I just become a sponge–absorbing what people are saying but not coming up with my own thoughts or opinions. I just go along with it and take rigorous notes. I don’t think for myself. It’s horrible and awful. I hate it! It’s what college lectures have turned me into: I’m a robot constructed by my teachers and professors to absorb as much information as I can, take notes, write it down, nod your head at the right places, and then regurgitate it all back up on a test. Because that’s how you pass college classes! Seriously, it is! How is that even RIGHT?! I am so done with the routine, tired of being a “number in the system” on campus with a GPA stuck in my forehead, that I’ve lost all motivation to learn. I don’t care anymore. And I just had this thought, smack dab in the middle of class and I nearly cried in the revelation: What the hell happened to me? Why am I like this?
When I was a kid (meaning about 13 and younger), I was SO smart! I was the overachiever, the teacher’s pet in a way. I went above and beyond in class assignments–I took pride in being the best in the class whenever there was a project. I’d spend long hours putting homework and projects and arts-and-crafts assignments together and couldn’t wait to share them in class. I looked forward to going to school everyday–what was I going to play at recess? Will I finally finish that chapter book? Will we watch a movie? We get to do division today, yay! (Ok, maybe not that energetic but it sure seems that way in comparison to my school days now). I raised my hand to say something every day, the teachers all knew my name and asked me how my day was and I helped pass out papers.
In Jr. High–I was simply brilliant. I was musically gifted–the best clarinet player in the symphonic band, and then I played the oboe and got special awards at auditions and competitions for my solos. I placed nationally in Science Olympiad events, and got to go to Chicago or Wichita State to compete with the other students. I knew the difference between white matter and grey matter and how ATP and transmissions happened between the neurons in your brain when I was only 13 years old. I could recite every human bone in the body by heart. I knew the difference between myocin and myolin. I could even tell you a list of sedimentary rocks and what a hydrothermal vein was and the atomic makeup of Vitamin B12. I could build musical instruments out of electrical piping and Orangina bottles and play you all the major musical scales on it by heart. I wrote novels when I was little, too–novels, books, thrillers, adventures! I made up imaginary places and creatures and antagonists and protagonists. I had an impressive vocabulary list three miles long and was so proud of it! I could paint realistic green-and-blue cheetahs out of water color, draw a circus elephant walking through NYC with oil pastels…
And then, something happened. Somewhere around 10th or 11th grade…it all just…stopped. My 4.0 GPA dropped to a 3.2. I started failing tests and didn’t like my teachers anymore. It was right around the time where I was introduced to the idea of, yes you guessed it, college! And that eternal question suddenly became real: What do you want to be when you’re older? What are you going to do with the rest of your life? How are you going to make money?
And so I turned into a machine! Had to get my grades up to get accepted into college. Had to have a certain GPA, had to impress my boss, had to conform into something society WANTED me to be. Class suddenly wasn’t a place to explore, but became a pressure to succeed. Had to pass my ACTs, my SATs, my AP exams… CSAP, T-CAP out my ears! I turned from a little girl with marvelous talent into a number on a graph: I was average. And average wasn’t good enough. The process of learning has literally transformed in my eyes. I used to view it as a place to shine–I was good at it, I learned something new, I could do something fun and show everyone how good I was! But then it came to a measure of “right” or “wrong,” and talent can’t be measured by a question on a test or a number on a graph. Nobody cared how well I could paint anymore. Nobody cared about my musical talents or how I could turn electrical piping into a flute. “Time to grow up now,” is the message that standardized testing and college acceptance came with: “Time to do something real with your life.” My classmates transformed with me, too. They didn’t want to see my artistic talent, they didn’t care! The only ways I could impress them anymore was to raise my hand during class and answer the right question the teacher asked me. I BECAME a number in the system, just another student, nothing special. The flame for learning and discovering got diminished behind the piles of textbooks, the GPA standards, and a big, fat “AVERAGE” stamped across my standardized tests.
I have never found that flame again, and I want so badly to find it. How do I do that? How do I go back and retrain myself, convince myself the opposite of what I’ve been taught all these years? How do I transform from being in the 75th percentile to having 75+ reasons to follow who I am? How do I suddenly not care about the grade I get on the test, when my future depends on it? I have been a student for so long…it appears that is all I know how to do. And what does that tell us about the school system? If education breeds machines of knowledge and data, then how do we become true members of society? Because we know that five years from now the D we got in that Microbiology class won’t matter. It doesn’t really apply to our job or our ability to communicate. But if that D dropped our GPA from a 2.8 to a 2.6…suddenly we weren’t eligible for our degree or license. We couldn’t graduate, because the number was below the acceptable level.
Students have become numbers on a scale. We are judged of our worth, credibility, and intelligence based on what letters, graphs, and numbers tell us. I have become a student with a B and C average of a 2.9 GPA. The only thought of mine is: who cares? Really, who cares about some numbers and letters? But my future depends on what those symbols show. So how do I play this game? How do I win? Feels like society and education has got me running in a hamster wheel, straining for a goal I’ll never reach. I sacrifice sleep, and health, and even meals in order to pass my college classes, only to walk out the other end with a C. If I’m lucky and not sleep at all, maybe even a B. All that stress and effort and tears…for what? A letter? A number? A letter and a number that won’t matter at all in five years?
Who can blame me for hating “learning” so deeply? Is it really my fault that the “inner flame” and desire to learn has been extinguished?
If I don’t find this flame again before I graduate, I fear I’ll be lost in this dark, cold world thinking that there will always be somebody to impress. That I have to get the right answer on the test. That none of my talents will ever matter again.
In truth, life isn’t “right” or “wrong” or whether you’re “average.” The only person you should ever strive to impress is yourself. Classes, exams, professors, college, school has mushed me up into this congregated statistic. I lost myself in it. I lost the pleasure of learning, the pride and happiness of learning something new every time I walk through campus or sit in a lecture hall. It’s not about the notes, or the test, or the assignments, or how slowly the clock is ticking! I can’t change the system, since I am such an ingrained part of it, but I suppose I can try and find a way to somehow make it about me again. It’s not about my classmates or my GPA or my professors or my job. It’s about me. And I guess that’s all I can ask for.
Have a good weekend, 301d!