How I Would Change Education

Roy Zhu, News Editor

Note: This article is an extended version of an application essay that I submitted to an academic program not affiliated with BC High. The prompt was to describe one problem that you want to try to solve.

I am a passionate person, and above all the clutter of school courses and tests, I believe that none of that truly matters if it doesn’t culminate in people doing what they love and finding fulfillment. The inherent problem in this formula is exactly the way colleges, scholarships, and award agencies seek and accept students. And the most irritating part is that I am good at being part of this system—a system of standardized tests, AP courses, and honors programs that I believe are insufficient to judge a person’s character and that create a society that discourages people who are otherwise incredibly motivated and determined in achieving their goals.

This is, to be clear, not meant to be an attack on higher education or programs like the one I am currently applying to. I understand that it is hard to select people from pools of thousands without some kind of objective measuring system, and I understand that the ideal of meritocracy is something that every school wants to champion. But if there is one thing that I want to figure out, one fiery problem that I want to point out and solve within the proud institution of education, it is developing a better way to judge the content of human character.

This system has deeply rooted itself in our society, and I deeply want to change this. I understand and experience this problem every day as a student—what colleges and scholarship agencies value does not equate with what we as people value in human life. When I get a good score on a standardized test, I inspire feelings of jealousy and lack of worth in people around me, when these tests were not designed to be indicators of worth. My friends congratulate me, but then I notice those friends who have gotten scores just a few points lower than me feel the need to retake the same standardized test in order to be eligible for college—a test that I felt was more than partly luck.

We admire students that take multiple APs and discourage people who want to focus on community service or activism. We are afraid of chasing pipe dreams like building activist groups or writing our novels or forming garage bands or doing anything outside of the box simply because we see the safe route as being valued more by colleges—success shown through tests and grades in honors classes. Around my school, I see people with a tremendous sense of moral responsibility and passionate positive voices that are not represented well by honors programs or tests—the kid that jokes around a bit too much in class, or shies away from the competition, or is simply not tailored to the institutional nature of high school, but nevertheless spreads love and wellbeing among their fellow students and builds a community that we can call home. These are the people that our educational society fails. The spirit of competition that exists in my school and every high school can be toxic to a spirit of human collaboration and passion that nourishes the soul and promotes events like social movements and mass activism.

The current system is lopsided towards academics and standardized measurements of human worth—test scores that offer a convenient and objective classification of humanity. I acknowledge that tests will perhaps always be an essential element of the college admissions process, but I challenge that these scores should be meant only to give a baseline of what a student is capable of. Because at our core, we are more than just students, more than just occupants of an institution, more than the title of our careers—we are humans, capable of experiencing a broad range of the human condition, and of tremendous potential.

Standardized tests are to me only adequate for testing how well we, as people, fit the title of “student”. But should colleges not look to us as the people that will affect change later on? Shouldn’t the passion that we put into academically meaningless events like friendships and school pageants be taken into account? How can we measure passion? Why are these questions not emphasized?

I believe there are several ways to fix this, from small steps to major: colleges should request multiple recommendation letters from people who know the applicant in many personal forms, not just to validate their academic ability: a close friend, a family member, a teacher, someone they feel they’ve mentored. One required essay prompt should be to merely talk about something the applicant is deeply passionate about. Test scores should be optional—applicants should not need to validate their academic competence more than once. Emphasis should be placed on extracurriculars, but not just ones that are “safe bets” for college—passion projects where the student must explain how their life or views were impacted (research projects, poetry, fashion concept art, forming a band, producing a play) rather than the usual demonstration of leadership in groups that many other people have fully fleshed out in meaning and are less intimate and personally important. I could even go so far as to suggest forcing more “elite” students to attend public colleges to discourage the fixation we as students have on attending elite schools in order to validate our worth as humans. One day, I ultimately hope to build a more collaborative, passionate, loving world where stress over checking boxes to get into school is less important than reconnecting with a friend or pursuing that dream of being a freelance journalist—a world where being a good person and a good student are one and the same.