Monday, April 2, 2012

Teen Who Left School Explains Its Flaws

Guest post by Line Dale - 14 years old | Cross posted at Writing is Fun
Updated by author - April 3rd

I speak about education from an unflattering point of view, maybe because it is destroying our fascinating, curious minds.

I don’t claim to be an expert in education, I am still a student and I speak for myself. I believe that students should have a voice in the education system today, because mainly they are the ones who are being educated. The control of education should be in the hands of students. They should be centered first and foremost.

Many people have written about ways to change education, but what good has it done if we are leaving out the voice of the students?

Years continue to pass, some students graduate, some fail out, some drop out and nothing really changes. The education system reminds me of a dictator that is unwilling to step down.

Now I’m aware no education system is perfect. In fact, I believe all education systems in the world are the same. We memorize, teach/study for the test, and forget, only to know ten years later what an atrocious world we have been creating.

As a student I have the rights to share my thoughts and ideas about education. I feel strongly that our methods in schools are destroying creativity. Students have lost their capacity of creation, simply because our teaching methods didn’t stimulate innovation and creativity. With every minute that passes, we should be aware that we are creating robots.

I remember being a kid, wanting to play around. No one told me “how” to use my imagination or taught me how to be creative. I played with LEGOS. I pretended to be an astronaut, and imagined jumping on the moon while traveling from galaxy to another. I was naturally creative.

I asked questions like “Why is the grass green?” “Why do fish swim in the water?” “Are we alone?” questions that a wise man cannot answer.

Then came school, famously known as the child’s worst nightmare. I learned to live in a rotten environment, and my classmates made fun of me because I was different and worst of all, I had this teacher that told me to stop dreaming and live in the real world. So what did I learn at school? I learned to stop questioning the world, to go with the flow, and there is only one right answer to each question, circle the correct bubble and I’ll will get an A.

The “whys” I have always wanted to ask are never on the test, and they are omitted from the curriculum.

Creativity isn’t a test to take, it is not a skill to learn, and it is not a program to develop. Creativity is seeing things in new ways, breaking barriers that stood in front of you for some time. Creativity is the art of hearing a song that has never been written, or seeing a work of art on empty canvas. Its essence is in its freshness and the ability to make dreams come to life.

Imagine this: A normal classroom with cheerful faces. Students’ excitement to start school ignites the classroom. The teacher stands up and asks the students to draw a tree. Some students were highly talented, others were okay, and some students couldn’t give a visual figure of a tree. Then the teacher comes up and rates every student’s work. Some students get A+, some get D and others get a big fat F.

Those students who got A’s now believe in their highly talented, artistic skills, but those who got F… well, they start to think they are losers, failures, and their works is just rubbish.

From this “Draw a Tree” assignment, creativity starts to linger in the air and then, by time, fade. This is why many adults say “I can’t draw!” Yes, the answer comes from the schools.

In school, children are “taught” to draw careful shapes like a “perfect” triangle, circle and a square. Everything is “properly” drawn. Whenever a child attempts to color something, the teacher screams in panic “Do NOT color outside the lines!”

I’m not writing about art specifically, I’m talking about creativity generally in every field. Schools in general don’t recognize creativity, what’s worse is that they destroy it. Here’s are examples:
  • Thomas Edison’s teacher told him he was “too stupid to learn anything.”
  • Albert Einstein did not speak until he was 4 and did not read until he was 7. One of his teachers described him as being “mentally slow, unsociable, and drift forever in foolish dreams.”
  • Beethoven handled the violin awkwardly and preferred playing his own compositions instead of improving his technique. His teacher called him “hopeless as a composer.”
In the 21st century the world demands students who can think creatively and critically. As technology develops, we will have robots to do all the basic work for us. However, it is our mission to ensure that the next generation will be full of inventors, musicians, painters, mathematicians who will, in turn, bring humanity to a whole other level.

Sir Ken Robinson said in his TED Talk “Schools kill creativity” that in school instead of growing into creativity, we grow out of it. Students all over the world have had more years of schooling than they care to count. During this process, students are taught that making a mistake is a sin. How are students going to learn if they don’t make mistakes? We have planted in our students’ minds a picture of a perfectly, carefully drawn life.

I go golfing every day, and for those of you who are familiar with golfing vocabularies you’ll understand what I mean. Sometimes when I’m putting I focus too much on the line and suddenly forget where I was aiming. The same thing is being applied to schools. We focus too much on standardized testing and grades that we forget what the real aim of education is.

Today’s education system is taking the beauty out of learning.

Diminishing creativity from our student’s mind is a serious flaw with a wide-reaching effect.

How exactly are schools diminishing creativity?

We learn that being “good” means sitting still and nodding yes, while being “bad” means challenging the status quo and attempting to do things differently.

The cycle of sitting still, memorizing, testing and getting a job have existed for a long time now and few dared to challenge it. However, those who dared to drop-out of school and challenge the status quo like Albert Einstein, the Wright brothers, and Walt Disney have changed the course of history.

I understand that memorizing is the fastest way to get good grades, get into a good college, and get a job = Good Life. We are being educated for the promise of money. As a student I know one thing for sure: I never want to be a product living my life in a factory. I want to cherish my brilliant mind. I want to imagine, to create, to be the best I can possibly be. I never want to be a robot. I want to argue, to challenge and define the impossible. I cannot possibly let you assemble my life.

Youth have fresh original ideas, but we cannot express them because we are not given a voice. Our voices have been stolen.

How do we expect students to be creative if we give them the outline, the title, the structure of their “free, creative writing assignment?” We give students model answers to memorize, we give a specific title to write a poem about, and we truly give them everything but freedom to express their ideas. I have lost marks when I was in school because I was simply “writing my opinion”.

While teachers complain that students are spending an awful time on social networking, they forget to mention that this is the only way we, the students, can get our voice heard.

Education isn’t facts being stored in our minds so we can get tested. Education is the beauty to nurture creativity, to fuel curiosity and most importantly to create a well-rounded person.

America is battling its way out to the top and promising that no child will be left behind. Behind this competition, we forget the purpose of education. Schools become business, and factories where children come out as pale as ghosts with everything being structured “perfectly” and “properly” in their minds.

Somewhere in our race and pursuit of meaningless papers, diplomas and money, we have lost the true meaning of being educated.

During our insane worship to win the race, during our mad love to become number one, we forget that our schools are raising children that are racing to No-where.

Line Dalile, is a homeschooled teenager. She is a Tedx speaker, a passionate writer, published author, and poet who is interested in education reform and learning. You can read Line's blog here. You can read more about Line here.


  1. I agree with you to a point, but its not like you are just being creative by suggesting that 10-7 = 5 or that "people" is spelled "peeple" - some things need to have right/wrong answers. And art can be assessed subjectively and objectively - you can argue that the kids that got an F for their tree just saw the tree in a way the teacher couldn't, but it's far more likely that they failed to capture what they set out to do, because they haven't mastered the techniques yet. If getting an F is enough to turn them off art and declare they can't draw, that says a lot more about their determination than it does about the education system. As a film student, my work is constantly being ripped to shreds, and I'm grateful for it because it helps me hone my craft.

    1. My son was turned off of art in kindergarten because he was coloring creative masterpieces and the teacher said to me in passing that he can't spend all day on his coloring assignment because they had to move on. In other words, this ain't homeschooling anymore, this is public school. My baby quit painting after that. Thanks public school for killing that creativity for him.

    2. So because there were other things to explore and other subjects to discuss, creativity was destroyed? I don't get how that works. And where do you fit into that scenario? Did you foster that creativity at home and give him back the time he lost painting at school by buying him a set of paints and an easel and giving him the time to paint? Did you sit down and have a constructive conversation with the teacher about painting instead of simply talking "in passing"? Your blaming schools for killing creativity is way too easy here.

  2. I'm sorry, Anonymous, but that is a straw man argument. Those of us pushing for creativity in schools are never saying that 10-7 ought to equal 5. A pilot still needs to be able to fly a plane. An architect still needs to know physics. We are saying that education that begins from within the student and is motivated by passion and enjoyment produces better ideas, better innovation, clearer voices, more energized thinkers and doers.

    1. Anonymous was right in that creativity often involves getting your work ripped to shreds, whether it means by a teacher or a peer or a critic. The tree analogy was flawed because if its simplicity and its lack of a defined purpose. Why were the students drawing the tree? Was there going to be anything to build upon the lesson about drawing the tree that would lead to something more complex? What aspects of the drawing of the tree were being criticized?

      You learn at an early age that feedback is important to the creative process; furthermore, you learn how to give constructive feedback (instead of just saying, "This sucks!" or "This is great!", which is ... 75% of comments on a homemade YouTube video). That way as a creator and a critic you can grow and your passion can grow with you.

      Anonymous has a point about reflection of character and determination when it comes to quitting after one piece of negative criticism, and if you want to call straw man on someone's argument, the very tired "These are great people who dropped out of school" argument is definitely one of them.

    2. Tom, you obviously don't know anything about children's sensitivity toward their creations. If you think shredding a child's piece of art is going to help them, then I'd hate for you to teach my kids.

    3. Mary, I beg to differ. As a creative person myself and a parent I know how sensitive anyone--child or adult--is toward his or her creations. However, I also know how important criticism and feedback are to the creative process. I never suggested that "shredding" a child's piece of art was a good idea or was going to help them; my point (which you obviously missed) was that the original analogy was far too simple for the argument being made.

      Of course you don't get too critical of a young child's artwork or any of his creative endeavors. He's just starting out and is experimenting; furthermore, he does not have the ability to process complex criticism. But get someone who is older, and more seasoned and criticism mixed with praise helps them improve. Workshopping is not a new concept, and I suggest that you reread and reconsider both my and Anonymous's comments before deeming me unfit to teach your kids.

  3. "Years have passed, students have graduated. Our education system is a dictator that’s not willing to step down and give its thrown away yet!.

    Thrown away? It should be [...]"give its THRONE away yet", and this is a good example of why we still need an education system! Well written article though.

  4. If you're creative enough, you can thrive in traditional schools. Use your creativity to work the system, it'll teach you how to make use of your gifts. Not everyone is, or wants to be creative. Those ARE the people you will be working with in the future. If you don't know how to direct your uniqueness it'll be wasted.

    Great article, good conversation starter...

    1. Andrew, you shouldn't have to survive school. It's not a battle zone. It's supposed to be a safe happy place for kids.

  5. Cutchswife, I don't think the writer is a native English speaker. So I'm willing to forgive a few spelling and grammar errors. The larger argument is still a good one.

    1. Jeff, you must be from Arizona. Am I correct?

  6. I am a 20+ year educator. (reading this while eating my lunch...)
    I whole-heartedly agree with the young lady, and have ever since No Child Left Behind came about.
    I work in a district that was innovative 20 years ago--we still taught the basics, but we made students THINK as well--teaching & learning were exhilarating.
    Since NCLB, the ONLY thing that this district (and most others) care about are TEST SCORES. So everything teachers do focuses on tests. And teachers are told there is ONE way to teach each subject--new teachers are being taught to be robots, also.
    I applaud the "renegade" teachers who say we refuse to be sucked into this test vacuum--we will teach STUDENTS, not tests. But they do it at a risk--what if EVERY one of their students isn't "proficient" in EVERY subject by 2014? (yes, even special education students & English Language Learners--even if they just came to the United States a week before the test...)
    In a society that is ever changing, creativity & flexibility are essential if our students are to thrive...yet our schools are doing little to prepare for such students to master the world they are entering.
    This student is SPOT ON; it isn't about not learning the information that is black & white; the concern is the elimination of everything else.

  7. Great article, well written and highly engaging! Thanks for sharing.

    Since I saw §ir Ken Robinson's talk, it has been wonderful to see more & more discussion around this issue. If only we could nurture the imagination of children for our whole lives. Surely some schools can do it?

    Kind regards, michael

    (btw, your title: its vs it's?)

  8. Spot on, Line. You write about school and education in ways that adults often can't, being so far removed from the system themselves. I'm absolutely certain that school killed my creativity and motivation to try. A grading system never helped me draw trees; getting an F or a C or even an A taught me nothing, it only built up fear of failing and fear of doing well.

    Some of the comments on this article are good feedback, and some almost surprised me with their shallowness. Really, telling the author to go back to school to learn grammar? (That's not how grammar is learned - reading is how grammar is learned!) But then I remembered that these comments are just products of the school system itself, where grading people on grammar and spelling rather than content and actual creativity is far easier and better accepted than questioning what we thought we knew.

    1. Making snarky comments on people's grammar has little to do with the public school system and more to do with the Internet.

  9. Teachers should shouldn't not shoot the kids down. They should always tell the kid he/she is doing a great job. By doing that the kid doesn't feel down, and will keep doing good thing, so he/she can still make the teacher be proud of them.

    1. Don't confuse constructive criticism with insult. The former is essential to the creative process. The latter is unnecessary.

  10. I agree that the NCLB focus on test scores has devastated education, and I agree with some of what the author of the article wrote -- as well as with some of the authors who responded. I think a large reason the author hates education is related to her comment, " classmates made fun of me because I was different." (Bet there's more there than meets the eye.)
    But...some of education needs to be standardized: math concepts, grammar rules (which continue to crumble in our society), scientific principles, historical facts, etc. Beyond such things, however, creativity needs to be allowed. The author's emotional arguments are the same old thing (gee, just what she hates) teenagers always complain about, as another poster pointed out. Teenagers--and like everyone else, I used to be one--tend to be ruled by their emotions because their center for rational thought is not fully developed. Just because someone feels a certain way about something doesn't necessarily make it good, bad, or anywhere in between for society as a whole. I have to give her credit, though: she writes a fairly well-written essay. It will be interesting to see where her future takes her.

  11. This article has so many good points that I was almost able to get through all of it without feeling the need to get out my red pen!

    Oh, who am I kidding; the very TITLE of the piece made me get it out!

    I agree that America's current standardized system of one-size-fits-all education is wrong, stifles creativity and curiosity, and it holding us back. But there's some things that everyone needs to know, and grammar conventions are one of those.