From a young age, kids are told that they must succeed in school to make something of themselves, and that success is often measured based on metrics like standardized test scores.
Perhaps the most devastating effects of this regimen are the effects on critical thinking. In order to conform to the system, teachers and students alike must narrowly focus their attention on obtaining the right scores and rote memorization, rather than critical engagement with topics of interest.
As a 2014 research brief from the National Council of Teachers of English shows, some of the biggest casualties of this system are programs like art and social studies that are meant to give students important creative skills and cultivate informed citizenship.
While this might just seem like a problem for lower levels of education, a new Harvard University report points out that colleges play an important role in this system. After all, much of the push in achievement comes because standardized tests are needed to get into colleges.
The Harvard report puts forth a model that focuses on the work students do for “the common good” rather than just focusing on “personal success.”
Report recommendations including de-emphasizing the number of AP classes and standardized test scores and looking more broadly at the quality of activities rather than quantity and on sustained success in specific subjects.
The approach put forward is one that all colleges should endorse and work toward. Appalachian State is one of the universities working toward that ideal.
Susan Davies, the associate vice chancellor of enrollment management, said that the university has already begun using a more holistic approach to admissions that looks to see how well a student will fit into the university.
The university is looking into trying to evaluate students based on the “quality over quantity” of activities and factors of the individual’s life, Davies said. These factors are measured by specifically tailored questions on essays and evaluations.
Aside from the minimum GPA and test score requirements of the UNC System, individual campuses have latitude in their admissions requirements. For now, that means that UNC campuses must at least take standardized tests into account.
The university hopes to continue its progress on the new holistic approach, but one issue is funding, which is needed to process applications.
It is positive that the university is moving toward this approach, and it would be nice to see the entire UNC system as a whole adopt a stance that is more hospitable to that way of thinking.
This is about more than just achieving the right mix of students at colleges. On a broad scale, this is about the type of culture we want to have.
The strong emphasis on subjects like science, technology, engineering and mathematics is primarily economic. Of course, these fields certainly contribute a great deal to our understanding of the world, but that is not the reason they are valued by elites and policymakers.
These are the skills that help us run and grow an economy, which is not bad in and of itself. However, at the same time STEM is being so emphasized, we are seeing the liberal arts de-emphasized and ridiculed.
The clear message here is that the purpose of education is to prepare students who have little perspective on the world. Education should be intended not just to train students to be workers, but to prepare citizens who are able to ask critical questions about the type of world we live. More importantly, it is matter of combining science and the humanities to decide what type of world we want to live in.
Colleges have an important role in moving us toward that ideal, and it is encouraging that the conversation is happening.
Griffin, a senior journalism major from Madison, is the Opinion Editor.