Photo by Feliphe Schiarolli on Unsplash

The Failure of Modern Education

My entire life I have clawed through school, through the same multiple-choice exams, through the same standardized tests, through the same blue and green scantrons. Every essay started the same way, every answer had a write or wrong answer, and the room for educated discussion was slim. I’ve now reached the point in my education where I could fill out a Scantron™ in my sleep. My brain is wracked when I try to start an essay with anything other than three sentences and a thesis. As a hopeful journalist, I had to rewrite my brain matter in order to write in a more journalistic sense. Now I am an avid and enthusiastic writer but under the constraints of standardized education, I found it tedious and unenjoyable. When my options opened my writing flourished and my current passion bloomed, and I felt more actualized as an individual.

The particular problem in this education system is covered by both George Ritzer and Paulo Freire but in different aspects.

Freire highlights the education system as a form of oppression, as students and teachers are forced into roles that they carry with them through life, and that the education system itself is flawed in the way that it aims to teach individuals. Freire uses the term banking to describe how people are taught, for example, “Indeed, the interests of the oppressors lie in “changing the consciousness of the oppressed, not the situation which oppresses them”;1 for the more the oppressed can be led to adapt to that situation, the more easily they can be dominated. To achieve this end, the oppressors use the banking concept of education in conjunction with a paternalistic social action apparatus, within which the oppressed receive the euphemistic title of “welfare recipients.” They are required to retain knowledge that isn’t necessarily applicable to constant use and only aims to answer questions out of a booklet. “Narration (with the teacher as narrator) leads the students to memorize mechanically the narrated content. Worse yet, it turns them into “containers,” into “receptacles” to be “filled” by the teacher. The more completely she fills the receptacles, the better a teacher she is. The more meekly the receptacles permit themselves to be filled, the better students they are,” says Freire.

Ritzer follows the same vein of thinking with his idea of the “McDonaldization” of education in which everything is tightly packed and made more economical and efficient. Similarly to a McDonalds, Ritzer poses, all aspects of modern society are consistently striving for more efficient techniques and practices to create a more productive society. Education under this lens becomes a jumbled mess of standardized tests and questions sent directly from the textbook distributors to the teachers for free. Multiple-choice tests become the norm, and students are all tested on the same metrics as opposed to individual merits.

“One is the machine-graded, multiple-choice examination. In a much earlier era, students were examined individually by their professors. This may have been a good way to find out what students knew, but it was highly labor-intensive and inefficient. Later, the essay examination became very popular. While grading a set of essays was more efficient than giving individual oral examinations, it was still relatively inefficient and time-consuming. Enter the multiple-choice examination, the grading of which was a snap. In fact, graduate assistants could grade it, making it even more efficient for the professor. Now there are computer-graded examinations that maximize efficiency for both professors and graduate assistants. They even offer advantages to students, such as making it easier to study and limiting the effect of the subjective views of the grader on the grading process,” writes Ritzer.

In a society based on the models, Freire and Ritzer posed people become nothing more than numbers and statistics. “It is not surprising that the banking concept of education regards men as adaptable, manageable beings. The more students work at storing the deposits entrusted to them, the less they develop the critical consciousness which would result from their intervention in the world as transformers of that world. The more completely they accept the passive role imposed on them, the more they tend simply to adapt to the world as it is and to the fragmented view of reality deposited in them,” writes Freire about these students growing with no critical consciousness and then being controlled by the governing bodies leading to systems of oppression.

So the two forms feed into each other in this endless feedback loop where two of the aims of the elite are met at the same time, systematic oppression, and more efficiency then lending into a more subservient and malleable populace, for example, “Publishers have provided other services to make teaching more efficient for those professors who adopt their textbooks. With the adoption of a textbook, a professor may receive many materials with which to fill class hours — lecture outlines, computer simulations, discussion questions, video-tapes, movies, even ideas for guest lecturers and student projects. Professors who choose to use all these devices need do little or nothing on their own for their classes,” Ritzer continues, “Finally, worth noting is the development of a relatively new type of “service” on college campuses. For a nominal fee, students are provided with lecture notes, from instructors, teaching assistants, and top-notch students, for their courses.” The entire learning process from end to end can have little to no input from the people taking part in it.

A journalist just trying to get by. Everywhere to find me.

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