Systems Under Scrutiny: Curiosity vs. Complacency in Education

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Photo courtesy of Shane Rockenstein Carlson.

Cassie Pataky

Opinions Editor

When I told people that I studied Spanish for six years, their eyes widened, impressed by how much time I had devoted to it (never mind that three of those years were required by my high school curriculum). Despite spending such a long time learning a different language, I still cannot eavesdrop on the Spanish-speaking chefs in my workplace or engage in conversation with them in Spanish. What, in my Spanish education, has failed for me to not have reached my desired fluency in the language?

In our current education system, we have created hierarchies through our system of grading, the importance of GPAs or test scores, and even the relationship between the student and teacher. I’m not talking about the social relationship between students and teachers, but instead the idea that the teacher is a more knowledgeable expert in whatever field and therefore necessary to the learning process. Essentially, the student cannot teach themselves but must instead rely on the “master.” From this, a division or distance is established between the teacher and the student that focuses on the student’s incompetency.

Perhaps expertise should not be the standard of comprehension, but instead a working knowledge that has a space for growth and allows us to progress according to our own preferences. For example, if my goal is to communicate with my coworkers, I would practice conversing in Spanish rather than reading and writing it. Once I accomplish this goal, then I could add more reading and writing practice. If you think about it, this is how we learn our native language or mother tongue. We are listening and speaking years before we learn to read and write. Believe me, as an English major, I understand the importance of reading and writing, and I know it is a vital way to amplify your vocabulary and become a better communicator. I just think the education system should mimic and encourage our natural learning process, as demonstrated by the mother tongue.

Maybe I’m just annoyed that I get marked down a whole point for mixing up masculine and feminine when the idea that I’m trying to communicate is comprehensible. Thinking back to kindergarten, when I was first learning to write, I remember my spelling mistakes were corrected but not penalized. Why is this approach not implemented later on in the education system? There was a point in my academic career when my focus became getting good grades rather than exploring my curiosity. I’m passing my classes, but am I retaining any of the information I’ve acquired? Or am I simply memorizing facts and equations for the test?

In the current education system, mistakes are punished with low grades, and we are not allowed to figure out the answer by chance and explore different paths — even if some lead to dead ends — on our own time. When given the freedom to do so, we inherently challenge ourselves to grow our intelligence. By introducing inquisitive freedom into modern education, and encouraging students to be curious and comfortable with failure, the learning process will be more often viewed as an opportunity rather than an obstacle.

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