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How to Succeed in High School

Without Really Learning

In Defense of Elitism, Renowned Pundit Danny C. Benchimol

Voices his Qualms with Public Education


I have always wondered why there are so many nimrods in my high school toting 90+ GPA’s, and so many brilliant people with extremely sub par averages. Over the last four years, I have discovered that to succeed in the public education system, a student must only know how to “regurgitate” effectively.  But how can knowing something for a test on Monday morning and then forgetting it by Tuesday constitute learning? Most students have been so desensitized by the public education system that they are beyond understanding the difference between memorization and conceptual learning. Anyone who can effectively take notes and memorize them is said to be on the road to success. It seems as though growing numbers of students are actually being rewarded for pragmatic approaches toward education.  I am not trying to incriminate anyone, but what bothers me is how dependant upon textbooks and note taking students have become. There have been too many valedictorians that would be “lost” without their textbooks.  Too many students have grown to accept the pragmatism inherent in only knowing what is required of them.  Consider this scenario: if a student spends 20 minutes debating affirmative action, in class, with his teacher, and opts to read a book as opposed to spending two hours reiterating, via a banal homework assignment, information on a topic in which he has already demonstrated proficiency, he will be punished.  The only crime this person has committed is the rejection of a system that wants to waste his time, which could be better served by intellectual expansion.

One possible solution lies in alternative schools, or better yet, special programs, that are kept small and personalized.  These are not the type that are for students who can’t cope, but those for students who can be trusted to explore on their own, with certain provisions and checks, of course; like subject areas that one must give a presentation of what has been learned. Adam Smith, one of my favorite intellectuals, got the bulk of his education in the basement of the Oxford library reading, analyzing, and thinking. This clearly superior approach to learning is squelched by the confines of a rigid and pragmatic institutional structure, and I am appalled that the majority of the intellectual elite at my “elite” high school is not going to be included in the top 25% of my graduating class.

The public education system puts numbers above learning, and therefore, is anti-intellectual. Petty memorization has replaced abstract thought.  The lesson to be learned is that what one might perceive to be learning is nothing more than the ingestion, not digestion, of meaningless facts, only for the purpose of “blowing chunks” on to the scantron sheet for the next test. After this, these tidbits have outlived their utility and are to be cast back into that bottomless pit of “all the stuff I ‘learned’ in high school that is beyond recollection.”


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