Fearing Failure in the Education System

Our class on Friday made me think about what constitutes understanding. I liked what our guest said about the meaning of understanding being one of standing “within” something rather than “under” it. I think that bringing in an outside perspective, in the sense that our guest was brought up in an educational setting contrasting our own, was refreshing and prompted us to think in ways different from what we are used to. I was surprised that she was unfamiliar with the educational system in the US, but my surprise soon turned into recognition of just how narrow and closed-off our educational system really is. I realized that the education system does not challenge us to think in various ways using a multitude of methods.

The most interesting part of class on Friday was in that it forced me to acknowledge how restrictive my schooling has previously been. I’ve been taught to think of learning as a solely academic experience rather than something that encompasses all areas of developmental growth. For example, when she asked us to think back on a time where we learned something that made a lasting impression on us, I immediately resorted to an academic experience I had in school. It wasn’t until I heard other people apologizing for sharing their experiences that hadn’t taken place in school and weren’t academic in nature that it registered in my mind that we have all been conditioned by our limiting educational system to perceive some types of learning as inferior to others. For example, I have been socialized to believe that learning how to take care of my mental health is less important than learning how to correctly format a relative frequency histogram.

Schools test us in high-pressure circumstances on concepts that aren’t especially relevant to us, and we put so much emphasis on grades and place heavy amounts of pressure on ourselves because we are afraid of being humiliated. The school system has made me afraid to try new things for fear of failing and being perceived as “stupid” or less than someone else. I continue to wonder whether or not I should take certain classes that I am interested in but have no experience with (like computer science or art) because I am afraid of how it will affect my GPA. The schools define success as having high grades, so I fear taking classes that are out of my comfort zone because they could hinder my potential to achieve this so-called success. The education system puts me in a box that I’ll never be able to break out of because I’m too frightened to move away from something I know to something unfamiliar for fear of failure.

My experience in school associated failure with laziness and idiocy. Low grades were frowned upon, and students who received tests and papers branded with Cs, Ds, and Fs quickly and discreetly shoved them into the bottoms of their backpacks. This makes it so that we will never be able to master subjects that we are uneasy with at first. This makes it so that some students are classified as the “smart kids” and others are categorized as the “dumb kids” which is disheartening and then lessens motivation to continue learning. Some students label themselves as “stupid” because they never performed as well on academic tests and projects as their peers. Instead of these students being the failures, the school system has failed them for not expanding the concept of learning and intelligence to other important areas in life.

These experiences have instilled a desire in me to reform the education system. During my college application process, I found an institution called Hampshire College that immediately drew me in. I found their no-grading system, replaced with detailed feedback from professors, appealing to say the least. This component was attractive to me because I felt I would benefit much more from an education detached from a GPA and all of the stresses that go along with it. I felt that a no-grading system would allow me to put my mind at ease while exploring a range of subjects I had no background knowledge or experience with. This system would eliminate the fear of failure that has been ingrained in me since I first stepped foot in a classroom thirteen years ago. It is my aspiration that all education systems transition away from the prohibitive grading scale and the focus on GPA toward detailed feedback and non-grading. It’s classes like the one we had on Friday that inspire me and provide me with hope that we are on our way to changing the education system to become one that fosters free-thinking and creativity.


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