Sharon Kennedy: questioning our education system

In a few days, the school bells will ring to signal the start of the school year. Whether it’s distance learning at home on the computer or in physical classrooms, some students will be thrilled that summer is over and others will cringe at the thought of another year. school. Either way, learning must continue from K-12. It’s 13 years of confinement, 15 if a child is sent to “preschool”.

Sometimes I wonder if all those years are needed to assimilate the essential knowledge required after graduation from high school. Will knowing the difference between a noun and an adjective help an 18-year-old get a better job? Will learning to play the trombone guarantee a well-paying nightclub gig? How will understanding geometry help flip burgers at a fast food restaurant?

Wouldn’t it make more sense for students to be able to read, write in cursive, spell without the help of their computer’s spell checker, and grasp basic math concepts? How many years would it take to learn critical thinking skills and the art of debate? How much do students retain from history books? Do they watch free YouTube documentaries so that the story catches the eye and students learn about great wars, their causes and effects, how democracies work, how autocrats rise to power, and who really controls the purse strings in Washington ?

Is bookkeeping still offered so students can learn how to balance their checkbook? Can they tell the difference between an opera aria and a rap song or Mozart and Mellencamp? Do they graduate knowing what a multiplication table is? Can girls sew a dress or boys build a bookcase and vice versa? Are they welding, changing a tire, working on a car engine, drawing illustrations or knowing how to read basic instructions and assemble furniture that comes in pieces? Do they know the difference between oil-based and water-based stains? Are they equipped to deal with the emotional upheaval that is sure to occur when they are no longer pampered and handed a trophy or ribbon every time they sneeze?

Is education the same as learning? Are there still “standard” tests and if so, how do they measure individual approaches to learning, i.e. visual, auditory and kinesthetic? Does 13 years of compulsory confinement encourage creativity and ambition or do they stifle it? Some schools have larger budgets and can offer a variety of hands-on classes, but many don’t. Students must be bussed to another school if they want to learn auto mechanics or welding, but where will they be transported to learn about art, music and other creative pursuits?

I’m all for higher education, but I think we educate ourselves out of common sense. Sending children to college immediately after high school is often a waste of time and money. When I taught freshman English composition at LSSU, some students were ready to continue their studies, but many were not. They were bored and easily distracted. Some didn’t bother to show up to class and others never missed a day.

As a substitute teacher and middle school instructor, I have seen many positive things, but I have also witnessed many things that seemed meaningless in the 21st century. I believe students drop out or are called troublemakers because they are bored and frustrated. In many ways, our outdated education system, like our political system, is broken and we don’t know how to fix it.

To contact Sharon Kennedy, email her at

Janice G. Ball