Does a Standardized Education Impoverish a Child’s Future?

Does a Standardized Education Impoverish a Child’s Future?

In a thoughtful research essay for her AP Seminar class, Tshokey Gyaltshen explores the impact of standardization on education and work. Her piece both demonstrates the quality of academic writing students practice at Woodstock and reveals the need for new directions forward in education, which Woodstock is exploring through the Centre for Imagination.


Has your child ever come back from school with tshokey-gyaltshentheir face downcast and their youthful fire burned out? Take a closer look, this may be because they are not engaged in what they are required to learn. “A World Without Work,” written by Derek Thompson and published by The Atlantic, talks about how most people do not feel engaged in their job, which significantly lowers their levels of productivity. This concept is applicable to the academic lives of many high school students, and on a larger scale, the education system. Viewing the education system through this lens, similarities between work and education emerge. Students do not feel engaged in classrooms. Under the current education system, students are confined to a certain lifestyle and are therefore unable to realize their full potential. Albert Einstein once said, “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” As students, we are the fish and climbing the tree is our current education system—we are prevented from pursuing our true talents and dreams, thereby ruining the quality of work.

Education is deeply connected with work, as what is learned in school often serves as the platform for finding an individual’s purpose or career path. “Work is: […] an activity that lends meaning or purpose to many people’s lives” (Thompson, 14). Quite often, people correlate success with going to school and getting a job. In his powerful spoken word poetry, Suli Breaks recites “So you want… to get a degree. Why? Let me tell you what society will tell you: Increases your chances of getting a job, provides you an opportunity to be successful, be a lot less stressful, education is the key.” “The word school, comes from skholē, the Greek word for ‘leisure.’ We used to teach people to be free, […] Now we teach them to work” (Thompson, 14). Thompson brings to light that the very essence of the schooling system has been lost. The current education system is so intertwined with work that it revolves around the way the factory system works. Prince Ea, a spoken word artist, argues that schools “were made to train people to work in factories, which explains why […] students [are put] in straight rows nice and neat. Raise [their] hand if [they] want to speak, give them a short break to eat, and for eight hours a day tell them what to think.” Eric Sheninger, a thought leader on digital leadership with the International Center for Leadership in Education stated that, “Standardization follows in the footsteps of a century-old education model focused on industrialization, which influences teachers and administrators in a way where the artist in each of them never evolves. This entrenched system produces students that lack creativity, are fearful of failure, work extremely hard to follow directions, and are leaving schools with undesirable skills in a post-industrial society.”

Students are currently living in the most intensely stimulating time period in the earth’s history, they are besieged with information and forced to pay attention, trying to meet the standards of the future by following the confining standards of the past.

Ken Robinson, an international speaker on education, stated in his Ted Talk, ‘Education Paradigms’ that, “Education is modelled on the interests of industrialization as well as the very image of it.” Schools are still organized like Ford assembly lines, primarily for the purpose of efficiency. Students should not be forced to work and think like every other person. Rather, they should be learning what they enjoy and excel in. Madeline Levine, who has expert knowledge as a psychologist with a Ph.D, tells the readers in her book, Teach Your Children Well, “Children need to be invested in their own goals and accomplishments. Part of feeling successful at something is being good at it and most of being good at something has to do with effort and persistence” (34).  The problem at hand lies with the fact that people have become so comfortable with this education system, that they are not willing to switch to a more progressive one, for the benefit of the younger generation. Students are currently living in the most intensely stimulating time period in the earth’s history, they are besieged with information and forced to pay attention, trying to meet the standards of the future by following the confining standards of the past. “[The] current education system was designed and structured for a different age” (Robinson).

Here is why the existing school system is at fault—the problem is being tackled in an inefficient matter. “Education right now is on the path of standardization” (Robinson). Perhaps in the past it was necessary to make people do the same thing in order for progress to take place as Amy Witherbee and Denise Geier, authors of the peer reviewed article, ‘Point of view: Standardized Testing’ argue, “standardized tests are important, not for the testing, but for the standards. They are, in essence, a benchmark that when properly done, set out for students, teacher, parents, and a nation, goals for the next generation.” However, our world has greatly advanced and continues to do so at an accelerating rate, which is why what is needed now are innovative minds. “The world has progressed but now we need people who think creatively, innovatively, critically, independently with the ability to connect” (Ea). “A focus on standardization narrows the curriculum and creates a teaching culture where creativity, exploration, and critical thinking are scarce or non-existent” (Sheninger). Standardization is no longer progressive, hence, what we truly need is the freshness and originality of creative minds., an organization that focuses on “the skills and knowledge students need to succeed in work, life and citizenship” states, “learning and innovation skills increasingly are being recognized as the skills that separate students who are prepared for increasingly complex life and work environments in the 21st century, and those who are not. A focus on creativity, critical thinking, communication and collaboration is essential to prepare students for the future.”

The way education currently functions trains individuals to get a purpose, without looking within themselves first.

The current education system succeeds in killing a child’s bright imagination as it heavily focuses on standardization, which forces children to think in a limiting way. John Gatto, an educational activist and author of the piece of literature, ‘Against School’ states that, “the aim [of schools] is simply to reduce as many individuals as possible to the same safe level, to breed and train a standardized citizenry, to put down dissent and originality.” People of the same age are required to meet the same standards and that is not fair when people have different interests and talents. Standardization makes students less engaged and dedicated to the academic content. “If students score well on standardized tests, they move on to the next grade level […] These are forms of extrinsic motivation and will work in short term, but performance will not be sustainable as it will be with those motivated intrinsically” (Sheninger). “Education is about inspiring one’s mind, not just filling their head,” (Breaks). The same concept is carried on to work. According to Gallup, only 31 percent of employees are engaged in their jobs. Susan Engel, a well-known psychologist believes, “[the current] educational system […] has been guided by the premise that boredom in school is an acceptable price to pay for future success as a bored adult.”

This oppressive education system confines students to have a one-track mind. “Our somewhat single-minded focus on education as a means to a financial end, rather than on children themselves, evokes a much earlier time when children were viewed primarily in terms of their financial utility” (Engel). “It is of course fair to say that employers expect from schools and higher education systems that students be ready for the world of work as well as world of life” (Rubin). At school, students are constantly told what to do and think, therefore they rarely get to truly think for themselves which is why the way education currently functions trains individuals to get a purpose, without looking within themselves first. “Children are pushed to view every stage of their schooling as a platform for some future accomplishment ending in wealth. This deprives them of the chance to figure out what they really care about, how to think about complex topics with open minds, and how to find a sense of purpose in life” (Engel). If the education system were modified to promote this idea, students would be far more productive in their future careers as well. A creative education will lead to a better future for work, as individual thinking will be encouraged and will not only help make a student’s ideas flourish but also enable them to fix problems that our world is facing today. With students learning what they enjoy and actively participating, education and work would be far more bountiful. Right now, “[Students] are so afraid of failing that they challenge themselves far less, take fewer risks, and therefore limit opportunities for growth” (Levine, 56).

Every student has heard the intimidating phrase “Think outside the box,” but what is the point of saying so, if schools only want to produce an army of one type of student?

Work is changing and people are creating their own unique jobs; however, this is not happening on a wide scale and for people to create their own work, education needs to change to meet the needs of everyone. In Richard Nixon’s famous 1971 speech on labor, he states, “We must open up new and equal opportunities to allow a person to grow in his job,” This is exactly how education should function and be built around a system like this. “We must make it possible for workers to try “refresher courses” and “second careers” to open up the chance for a new variety in work” (Nixon), which emphasizes on abolishing standardization. A holistic approach would perhaps be one of the best solutions to the problem of standardization as everything is given equal importance and no area of study is undermined. Children with artistic talents can now be told that they are just as valuable as a doctor or economist. Currently Finland is ranked number one in its education system and this is because they have a well rounded education which does not focus on standardization. Diane Ravitch and Antonia Cortese, authors of the peer reviewed article, ‘Why We’re behind: What Top Nations Teach Their Students but We Don’t’ state, “the nations that consistently outrank it on the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) deliver a comprehensive, content-rich education to their young citizens”. A teen speaker, Adora Svitak, said if, “[She] got to design [her] own school, the classes that students would take would be based on two main components: what students are interested in, and what students will need for their lives after graduating.” A more interesting education will lead to more productivity, therefore a better job future. “That’s why we say job satisfaction is a key to productivity” (Nixon).

Every student has heard the intimidating phrase “Think outside the box,” but what is the point of saying so, if schools only want to produce an army of one type of student? This is where the system is flawed: there are so many different types of learners, ranging from visual to tactile, but a one-way education is taught. Education is one, if not the most important, factor in determining the direction of an individual’s future. What they are taught is pivotal in deciding their career. Along with the development of the world, education had evolved, up to a point where it has stood still. Standardization was once efficient, during times when a nation’s economy depended primarily on industrial activity, as most people did the same thing. In today’s world, standardization is still applied to the education and work systems, which is greatly hindering the capability for progress. “School trains children to be employees and consumers; teach your own to be leaders and adventurers. School trains children to obey reflexively; teach your own to think critically and independently” (Gatto). Throughout the development of the education system, standardization has remained prominent ever since its implementation. In the industrial age, this was an efficient method of learning, but for our world today, of entrepreneurs and game-changers, this system is detrimental. Students are prevented from finding their true calling, and change is greatly needed to brighten their future.

Tshokey Gyaltshen, Grade 11 student


Desired Learning Outcomes


Works Cited:

Administrators. “Framework for 21st Century Learning.” N.p., 2002. Web. 23 Apr. 2017.

Breaks, Suli. “Suli Breaks – Why I Hate School But Love Education [Official Spoken Word Video].” Online video clip. YouTube. YouTube, 2 Dec. 2012. Web. 14 April 2017.

Engel, Susan. “We’re Making Our Kids Miserable in School.” The Huffington Post. The Huffington Post, 07 Aug. 2015. Web. 14 Apr. 2017.

Gallup, Inc. “Americans Still Favor Real Estate for Long-Term Investment.” Gallup.Com – Daily News, Polls, Public Opinion on Politics, Economy, Wellbeing, and World. Gallup, 20 Apr. 2017. Web. 23 Apr. 2017.

Gatto, John Taylor. “AGAINST SCHOOL: How Public Education Cripples Our Kids, and Why.” Against School, by John Taylor Gatto. McGill School of Computer Science, Sept. 2003. Web. 14 Apr. 2017.

Levine, Madeline. Teach Your Children Well: Parenting for Authentic Success. New York: Harper Perennial, 2013. Print.

Peters, Gerhard, and John T. Woolley. “Richard Nixon: Address to the Nation on Labor Day. – September 6, 1971.” The American Presidency Project. The American Presidency Project , 6 Sept. 1971. Web. 22 Apr. 2017.

Prince Ea. “I JUST SUED THE SCHOOL SYSTEM !!!.” Online video clip. YouTube. YouTube, 26 Sept. 2016. Web. 14 April 2017.

Ravitch, Diane and Antonia Cortese. “Why We’re Behind: What Top Nations Teach Their Students but We Don’t.” Education Digest: Essential Readings Condensed for Quick Review, vol. 75, no. 1, 01 Sept. 2009, pp. 35-38. EBSCOhost.

Rubin, C.M. “‘Schools Should Prepare Students for the World of Work, Not College Entrance Exams’.” Tes. Tes, 02 Nov. 2016. Web. 14 Apr. 2017.

Robinson, Ken. “Changing Education Paradigms.” RSA Animate, Ted Talk, October, 2010. Keynote address.

Sheninger, Eric. “Standardization Will Destroy Our Education System, If It Hasn’t Already. “The Huffington Post., 25 July 2012. Web. 14 Apr. 2017.

Svitak, Adora. “Does School Prepare Students for the Real World? This Teen Speaker Says No.” TED-Ed Blog. TED-Ed, 25 Aug. 2015. Web. 14 Apr. 2017.

Thompson, Derek. “A World Without Work .” The Atlantic. The Atlantic Magazine, 2015. Web. 22 Apr. 2017.

Witherbee, Amy and Denise B. Geier. “Point: Standardized Testing Is the Best Way to Establish Education Standards.” Points of View: Standardized Testing, 3/1/2016, p. 2. EBSCOhost.

Photo credit

Flock of sheep: böhringer friedrich, S Veahmätle13, Cropped image, CC BY-SA 2.5


1 Comment
  • Anupam Yunas
    Posted at 14:36h, 08 November Reply

    Tshokey, you have written a lot of what goes on in my mind in a clear and interesting voice. Well done! I was wondering if you had some thoughts and ideas on how today’s education system, especially elementary and secondary, should be conducted. Thank you for capturing my imagination and inspiring possible future changes at my own school.

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