“What do you want to be when you grow up?”
This is a question that has imprinted itself throughout the elementary school environment and has continued to be a prominent inquiry that has followed students and shaped our educational pathways ever since. When I was asked that question for the first time my smile beamed with so much excitement that you could see all my missing teeth. Without hesitation, I eagerly exclaimed “President of the United States!” My teacher looked at me, and with burning aspiration in her eyes she exclaimed, “You have my vote!” before moving on to the next student. Passing my initiative on to her, this is a moment in my life that I will never forget.
Ever since I can remember, I’ve been different, on a divergent pathway towards my future. I spent my time as an elementary schooler with my nose deep in medical textbooks and immersing myself in the origins of the universe, rewinding back billions of years to witness time taking its first breath. The public education system did not allow me to dive into the cosmos or start my trek to find a cure for cancer at the age of 8. Instead, I was ostracized from my peers, put in different learning tracks and given the label as a gifted student; a title that has continued to follow me throughout my academic career.
However, putting students into boxes and forcing them to conform to our failing one-size-fits-all education system is only a symptom of our diseased pedagogic system.
Society has advanced insurmountably in virtually every aspect. However, the very foundation of this growth, and of civilization itself, is being jeopardized due to our corrupted education system. Academia has essentially remained the same since the introduction of its existence. While contemporary society has adapted to its surrounding environment. The disconnect between our current scholastic system and constantly adapting society has a devastating impact where future generations are being forced to conform to a declining system that does not acclimate to their individualized needs. Education is a right, not a privilege, and every student is capable of excelling when giving the proper accustomed framework. Students during the very beginning of their journey are encouraged to pursue their dreams to the fullest extent. However, creativity and individualism are shattered when forced through the one-size-fits-all machine we call our education system. Now when I state I aspire to run for presidential office, I’m not met with the same excitement as I was before.
School systems are fundamentally premised around the belief that knowledge is power. As patriarchal society and colonization have laid the foundational standards for society, the wealthy white male was the ideal mold to build the foundation of academia around. In order to partially equal the playing field, amendments and acts such as Plessy v. Ferguson (1896), Brown v. Board of Education (1954), and Title IX (1972) have equalized education to the most minimal extent. Nonetheless, there is still an extensive fight for justice to be won. There is no way to decolonize academia, the current main focus is to instill capitalist work-ethics and to reproduce the same oppressive structures that remain in-tact. Moreover, the obsolete nature of education permits equity and equality from taking place. After over a century of societal innovation, knowledge structures have remained comparatively the same in both the social and educational aspect. Currently, K-12 students are being prepared for the past rather than a revolutionized future. Rather than creating the potential for an innovative future, the schools indoctrinate students into outdated ideas, creating an outdated world. Every student deserves to have access to a system that allows them to invest in deeper learning in order to accustom to our individual needs that prepares us effectively for life beyond high school.
So, what happens when you do not fit the ideal framework of systematicity? Academia preserves the idea that there is no other option; the unacceptable notion of perceiving you as a failure is a direct reflection through the standardized and numerical form of measurement. This is the reality for countless students as they desperately try to conform to a system that does not work for them; their creativity and individual excellence crushed in the process. The narrative of the mentally ill, sleep-deprived student, stressing over numbers and letter marks has become a satirized stereotype. The quantitative infrastructure that literacy discipline is predicated on, relying on a system of the standardized alphabet and grading scale, views students to be the equivalent of a number or letter, rather than measuring our potential for success. This level of flippancy is intellectually abusive. I am beyond tired of being measured by a mere score rather than my name or my creative capacity. Know my name, not my numbers. All my life I have felt the weight of other people’s pre-set notions of my worth as an expectation that must be met. This pressure is a constant reminder of the disconnect between how far I’ve gone and what I lack. My desperate attempt to conform to a system that has never accommodated for my, nor others’ disparate needs. Quantitative analysis has created an inherent divide between students and recreates a harmful survival of the fittest sentiment.
World-renowned theoretical physicist and acknowledged genius, Albert Einstein, once asserted, “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” K-12 takes on the same approach, constantly producing judgments with no regard to students’ personal strengths and needs. Being the fittest in our one-size-fits-all education system does not consist of glorifying individual intellectual and creative ability; it merely pushes students to marginalized percentages and equating peers to numbers and letters. Our own value is the output of standardization. No Student Left Behind was never sustainable; it maintains numerical levels of measurement, and students who fall off the curve are forgotten and forced to fend for themselves and their future. Even being pegged as “gifted,” I have been that student, not just once, but a myriad of times.
Hypocrisy runs deep within one-size-fits-all. America prides itself on being the land of opportunity, yet economic mobility prohibits this. For, how is the Department of Education able to provide the quality education that they promise within their policies without acknowledging the structural issues that run rampant throughout America. The oppressive and inaccessible nature of education spawns from the colonist-capitalist foundation it was built upon. The Department of Education declared its focal points ensuring that first, every child has the right to attend a free, high-quality preschool. Also, gaining access to high, challenging standards and engaging teaching and leadership in a safe, supportive, well-resourced school. However, not everyone is given the same opportunities, which affects their outcome and level of success. Every public school varies in terms of resources and excellence; underprivileged communities face the brunt of inaccessibility as they lack the robust core elements of education. It is of the utmost importance that we establish a system that is founded on individuality and accessibility, erasing the common-core standardization will be crucial in creating a new America that works for every one of the next generations. The quality of your education should not be predicated by your socioeconomic status or identity.
The rigid structure of the education system mimics the current corrupt state of politics; placing young individuals through a systematic mechanism that censors virtuous individuality, emphasizing conformity over creativity. Obedience is celebrated, dissent is punished. Just like within the education system, I am perceived as nothing but a pawn in a ruthless game to the top of the political game. Following my divergent pathway starting from an extremely young age, I have always been extremely politically aware and active. I began immersing myself in social and political activism when I started to notice the extreme injustices taking place in our society; recognizing the importance of education and how it equates to an indescribable power that not everyone is even able to access.
I found my voice after the anger and crave for change grew deep inside me, which led me to take real action. I founded Teach[able], a student lead organization working to end the one-size-fits-all standardized education system and ensuring equal educational opportunity for every student. Building on the pillars of educational justice, we are a movement that works towards dismantling the oppressive and archaic framework the education system is founded upon.
The education system has remained an American institution — of the worst kind. Academia is a product of history rather than individualism and creative capacity. Our current knowledge base is fractured; the system is flawed, students are not. Unprecedented learning needs to be celebrated, not compressed. Adolescents are not the future solely because of natural age progression, but because of our passion to seek the revolution on all spectrums, join the movement.