Restructuring Our School in My Sleep

By Austin Lammers

Today, I walked into my 3rd period math class in a secluded part of Central High School, as I do every afternoon following lunch. I took my seat like a good boy and tried to ignore the people who thought their conversations about owning more firearms than teeth and driving trucks that have a slightly quieter rev than a Boeing’s engine should be passionately vocalized throughout the classroom instead of softly told to those in their vicinity, which I, unfortunately, happened to be in.

“Ugh,” I thought.

The bell rang thrice and Mrs. Teacher walked in the room to begin teaching what she is paid to teach: some weird language with a mix of numbers and letters that only a small population understands, and even a smaller population enjoys. Being outside of these particular populations, I was elsewhere. My mind was more focused on the soft environment created by covered fluorescent lights and converting the teacher’s voice into nothing more than a muffled sound. Acknowledging the nice environment, it decided this was the perfect time to test if my eyelids could still close after being open the majority of the day. To my disadvantage, they could.

“Goodnight,” my brain murmured to me, villainously.

Suddenly, my mind was in places which made me forget what a math classroom at Central even looked like. I basked in a completely different ambiance, away from the desks of papers and notebooks that surrounded me. Maybe the lake on a hot day here, or a house on a majestic snowy mountain there, maybe even Fenway Park on a warm summer evening. Despite being settled into the most miserable part of my day, reality disappeared and I was… happy.

Someone on the other side of the room sneezed, and I awoke from my daydream. Mrs. Teacher was still lecturing about the bizarre dialect I didn’t care to learn and telling us to complete problems I didn’t care to start. So there I sat, unmotivated to try to reach success, whatever that meant.

“Why am I here?” I thought.

Out of all the places in this vast universe I could’ve been at that moment, whether it be inside of this country or out, I was sitting in a classroom in South Dakota, watching the red hand on a clock struggle through an endless journey around an infinite circle.

Feb 1 - Clock
“Feb 1 – Clock” used by permission from Royan Lee on Flickr

“Hurry up,” I silently barked at the clock.

“Shut up,” the red hand barked back.

Someone probably wrote a book on mental instability, and that book likely mentions that telepathically conversing with inanimate objects might be a sign of madness. But the ache in my head and uneasiness in my gut distracted me from caring.

Now, there are undoubtedly worse places to be during the middle of winter in South Dakota, like under a bridge, or hitchhiking aside an interstate. For that reason I was grateful to be in a place where I could still feel my hands. However, there exist many more locations on this planet where the sense of touch wouldn’t be instantly taken away by the cold. These places might even be much more pleasurable to remember compared to the notes I forgot to study before today’s test.

“Please take me anywhere else,” I speechlessly prayed.

As my eyelids finally surrendered to gravity, again, my mind raced.

Why do I feel like I’m wasting my life in this place instead of enjoying my short time on Earth? When I am settled in my deathbed, breathing my last breaths, will I look back on those days when my body still contained youth and energy, and realize that I wasted all of it writing equations in a notebook? Will I be disappointed in my young self for not taking advantage of this beautiful world full of beautiful people and making it a brighter place? All the while making myself a brighter person?

furiously factoring
“Furiously Factoring” by David Goehring on Flickr, used by permission.

Don’t take my previous statements the wrong way; education is important to humanity and is necessary for obtaining a progressive world. A planet full of illiterate people would be comparable to hell. Educating our youth is vital. The basics are needed.

The problem lies in the way those basics are taught. Students should be thought of as whole people, not just products of the school system. We are imperfect, and always will be, especially at a younger age lacking experience. Contrary to popular belief, we do crave to learn. But the modern school system labels learning as scarfing down facts and theorems, then vomiting them back up onto Scantrons. We are more than the grades we try our best to reflect. We have personalities and qualities that make us unique, and molding us to be alike does nothing but destroy the concept of education, which is developing young humans so they are capable of discovering their maximum potential.

Last week I approached my father, who happens to be a highly intelligent man.

“Can I ask you a question?” I said.

I asked the man what kinds of high school/college math he had used in his post collegiate career: Tangents, parabolas, quadratic formulas; a plethora of confusing stuff. He initially responded to my query with silence, indicating thought.

“I think I used the Pythagorean theory, I mean, theorem, one time at work.”

In all fairness, my father is a man of business, making measurements and other things he had learned something of a rarity in his place of work. Microsoft Excel and calculators do most of his numerical work. Tape measures help him make renovations to the house, along with levels.

However, just as certain careers exist which require advanced mathematical skills, other professions require a different prowess. This goes for all subjects. One who would prefer to build shelters out of fallen timber for a living would need to know their arithmetic, while one who writes books to get by would not (to that extent). The being who is destined to find the cure to cancer would first need to know the parts of a cell and how they function, while a history teacher’s job most likely wouldn’t demand that set of skills. If a student isn’t fully invested in what they are learning, they will perceive it more as a burden instead of a blessing. Higher level learning in certain subjects should be available to those who are interested in those subjects. But that level isn’t entirely necessary to the ones who do not want to invest their time into it.

"Burden" by Momo on Flickr used by permission
“Burden” by Momo on Flickr used by permission

My point is this. Schools have become unpleasantly anti-student. Not just with the criteria we are forced to learn, but also the little things that could make our days better. Whenever I smile at an administrator or security guard within in the halls, in hopes to brighten their day, they respond with a look of confusion, or they look the other way. Maybe my face is hard to look at. Who knows? Regardless, it does make me feel unimportant and almost unwanted to their environment, which I am lawfully forced to attend.

Plenty of examples exist. Students bringing coffee from the outside world is forbidden, even though it is a necessity for some to function, sadly. The innocent act of forgetting the precious ID results in exaggerated disappointment among the authority figures. Even walking in the halls during class provokes an interrogation, leading to a feeling of guilt for the inability to feel no discomfort in controlling the bladder.

I presume all of us have heard the cliché term, ‘learn from your mistakes’. Well, it does hold truth. Each person does err at some point. It’s human nature. Therefore, students should be able to do these little acts and make these little mistakes without such a punishment. A small amount of leniency does more than you’d think. Striking fear into the idea of imperfection does nothing but scare the students.

Our youth must be motivated to learn again, so I do hope our teachers and administration and the powers above them hear the voices of our students and work for the betterment of our educational lives. And even apart from those shifts, everyone can make positive changes. To the administration: not all of us students are little devils, and I apologize for the ones who are. To the teachers: don’t act like sergeants. Give your scholars room to not only think with their own minds, but to express it without such ridicule. To the students: please give your teachers credit and lenience also. Just like us, they do work hard; they just get paid for it. With some change from all sides, we can turn the attention away from the clock and to the chalkboard, making it easier for all of us to wake up in the morning, and even stay awake in the afternoon.

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