As a 16-year-old and a junior in high school, I have made the choice to be an independent learner because I believe that the structure of schools is too rigid and that its rigidity not only leaves its students disengaged, but it also prepares them for a game of winning instead of genuine learning. What do I mean by school is too rigid? Well, schools tend to direct the students' learning experience, telling them what to do, how, and even why to do it, and while that works for young students/learners, as a 16-year-old, I have become increasingly disappointed that schools have not taught me the skills on how to learn without the pressure of a teacher or grade.
One of the biggest ways in which the rigidity of schools lead me to desire to become an independent learner is by the fact that from Pre-K through high-school, schools tell you what to learn. And although being told to learn basic subjects like Math, English, Science, and History, was vital to my early education, as I grew older and began developing more diverse passions and interests, school gave me hours of homework that left no freedom to explore what I was truly curious about.
In addition to limiting the time that I would have used to examine and discover my interests, many schools also make it extremely difficult for students to try to design their own learning by taking (or not taking) classes that were not part of the schools 'set in stone' course curriculum. And don’t get me wrong, I have been blessed to be a part of several challenging schools and to be taught by a variety of experienced teachers who showed me areas of learning that I didn’t know existed, but even with all of the great teachers and schools, I still was being told what to learn, and that bothered me.
Another thing that began to leave me disengaged in the classroom as a high-schooler was school's insistence not only to tell you what to learn, but how to learn it as well. Although all of my teachers in high-school were extremely supportive of me and my educational experience, only one of them taught me to step outside of my comfort zone and to try to self direct my learning. Being consistently pressured by the grade, I often chose to follow the rules in order to get an 'A', but the cost to following the rules in this circumstance is that I stopped becoming excited to learn, I would rarely remember the materials my class had covered after the test was over and the grades were final, and I became increasingly more concerned in getting a good grade or competing against my peers than actually learning.
Finally, not only do schools make it hard for their students to develop a self-directed learner mindset, but they also control the WHY of learning in schools: Why should students join clubs? For diverse resumes that can be shown to colleges. Why should students volunteer and do extracurriculars? To appear to colleges as a better candidate than the next student over. Why should students take honors and AP classes? To get the highest GPA possible, thus appealing to colleges. Almost everything students do now is towards the goal of getting into college. The overwhelming desire to "win" the education game that so many schools and students play has erased any motive to take classes, join clubs, and participate in extracurriculars solely for the purpose of learning.
As I began high-school, the pressure to do things exclusively for the resume increased dramatically. In my eyes, it seemed impractical and deceptive to do things only for how I would look on a college application. And for that reason, I did not audition for my all-school musical, or volunteer at the Houston Zoo for two years, or take all Pre-AP classes, or swim competitively to look appealing for some college that I will apply for in my senior year of high school. I did all those things because I wanted to learn. I did not have any experience performing, so I decided to step out of my comfort zone and audition for a musical I knew I wasn't going to get into. I was interested in wildlife conservation and marine biology so I applied for a teen volunteer program at the zoo, hoping to increase my understanding of conservation and make connections to expand my network. I liked to challenge myself so I took all of my core classes at the Pre-AP level to push myself and strengthen my ability to do challenging things. I have been swimming competitively since I was 6 and whether colleges think that my commitment to swimming is impressive or they don't, I will continue to swim because I truly enjoy it and I am excited to see how fast I can become in the water.
Nowadays, students and schools do everything to get the outward appearance of success (high GPA, full resume/portfolio, acceptance into prestigious colleges, etc.) instead of trying to achieve inward success (understanding more about yourself and the world, the ability to present and communicate well, having a diversity of experiences directed by the student with the goal of broadening their knowledge). And although I completely understand the need and desire to get into college so that you can advance and complete your educational experience, I still believe that self-directing my learning and having a life-long learner mindset is more valuable for me as a 16-year-old than doing things solely for the resume.
In conclusion, I will end with a quote by James Clear from his book, Atomic Habits: “The human mind wants to 'win' whatever game is being played. This pitfall is evident in many areas of life. We focus on working long hours instead of getting meaningful work done. We care more about getting ten thousand steps than we do about being healthy... in short, we optimize for what we measure. When we choose the wrong measure, we get the wrong behavior.” The traditional education system plays the game of transcripts and resumes, but I refuse to fall prey to the idea that the only way to learn and to succeed in life is to play the old education game. As an independent and life-long learner, I chose to play a new education game, a game where the measure is learning, not a grade, and a game where I can truly discover who I am meant to be.
Click here to learn more about this new education game that I referred to in the previous paragraph.