Fixing our Broken Education System

By Anand Tayal, Contributor

Education is the foundation of civil society.  Students learn the vital skills necessary to succeed and lead in life.  Hopefully, those skills are then passed down to future generations.   It’s vital impact brings it to the forefront of concerns for policy makers, tasked with attempting to reform a system that they themselves are not a part of.  Unfortunately in their sometimes valiant attempts to improve education, policy makers severely hinder it.

In today’s world pursuing an education is not for the sake of learning, but is instead driven by exterior motives.  Parent’s resort to extreme measures to motivate their children to learn by placing selective pressure on GPA, SAT scores, and out of school extra curricular activities.  This may in the short term promote ideal student behavior in children, but eventually this generates a negative physiological behavior.  A behavior where children strive for success in order to avoid punishment.  The parents engage in this rigorous style of parenting because of the competitive world that the school environment has become.  But does this form of motivation actually benefit the student?

Unfortunately it does not, as for many students this causes them to invetiably burnout.  Burning out refers to long-term exhaustion and diminished interest in work, most commonly caused by extreme workloads in high pressured enviornments.  Dispositional factors play an increasingly large role in this behavior.   In the only study that directly compared depressive symptoms in burned out workers and clinically depressed patients, Bianchi and his colleagues found no diagnostically significant differences between the two groups. Overall, burned out workers reported as many depressive symptoms as clinically depressed patients. 

The Maslach Burnout Inventory operationalizes burnout as a three-dimensional syndrome made up of exhaustion, cynicism, and inefficacy.  Once a student leaves for college, they hardly have the motivation to function.  Without the oppressive force of intense parents, students tend to decrease productivity because the motivation does not exist within themselves.  Unfortunately this creates a dependency upon external pressure in order to be even remotely motivated. 

Nurturing students in a positive environment where failure is acceptable avoids this pitfall.  Reminding students that perfection is impossible and success only comes with countless failure, will help students’ in the long term.  However, placing all the blame of our educations system’s faults solely upon the shoulders of parents would be injust.  This same negative external pressure can be propagated by teachers, faculty, and for older students, college. 

College is a terrifying prospect and has caused a change in the high school environment.  The tremendous weight placed on its importance, gives students the impression that admission to a top twenty five ranked university will define a students future.  Obviously this is not the case, as true success is the product of what one makes of the college experience.  This may seem obvious, but when directly confronted with college admissions, it’s difficult to remember this fundamental truth.

Students are also aware of how vital a college education is in today’s economy. A nationwide estimate finds that, college graduates ages 25 to 32 who were working full time now typically earn about $17,500 more annually than employed young adults with just a high school diploma.  A difference of  $45,500 vs. $28,000.  This significant difference has made college education a commodity that has steadily risen in price as demand has increased.  Unfortunately, colleges saw this uptake in demand as a business opportunity.  Currently, the average college tuition costs $20,000 a year, a price that very few can afford without taking out student loans. 

A student loan becomes a very difficult burden for students, who are then weighed down in debt following graduation.  This pitfall is nearly unavoidable, as college education is almost necessary to succeed.  All the while, colleges are profiting.  The issue stems from the fact that education is a economic commodity in our system.  A system that has adopted stripping money away from students and their families for a profit.  The easy fix seems to be full elimination of education from the marketplace or at least to become a cheap commodity.  Thus, more Americans will have access to the benefits from having a college education.

Making something like education a less exclusive commodity will help shrink the income divide between the rich and poor.  Education is directly correlated with financial success within someone’s future endeavors.  This inherently forces students to find a medium between pursuing one’s passions and pragmatic career selections.  From a purely financial perspective, becoming an art curator or philosophy major does not produce a return on investment, when compared to the money shelled out by parents to send their students to college. 

Thus, when deciding what majors to take and what career path to choose, potential financial gains should be taken into account.  This does not mean that all students should file into medicine, law, and finance because for most people this lies far outside their interests.  Completely dropping one’s passions in favor of a higher salary will probably decrease the overall happiness of a person’s life.  Currently, many students choose the extremes of this spectrum which inevitably hurts themselves in the future.

Business motives and intense competition make our education system far from ideal.  Student’s are racing against one another to impress college admissions ambassadors in a pressure cooker like environment and college’s are scrambling to milk profits off of families without financial resources. A just system of education should prioritize the student rather than exterior factors, in order to maximize benefit to the student not the administrators.  Without this reform to our skewed system, students and their families will continue be victimized by the many pitfalls and loopholes of the American education.