Upon the Edge of My Endeavor : Understanding How to Learn.

Upon the Edge of My Endeavor : Understanding How to Learn.

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Upon the Edge of My Endeavor : Understanding How to Learn.

I stand awake and alert. A first year college student with my sights fixed firmly ahead and my goals just within reach. A positive light is cast upon my future endeavors. Yet, as I reflect upon my educational experiences, I find myself drawing parallels between the direction in which my life is headed now and the similar paths I have traveled along before. I am forced to ask myself if I am truly prepared for what lies ahead. I have asked myself the same thing many times. I was once in a similar position. A fledgling student wavering just between the lines of hesitancy and motivation. I was beginning my freshman year at Oakmont Regional High School in Ashburnham, Massachusetts.

Ashburnham Massachusetts is the stereotypical image of the small New England town. Its boundaries are drawn not by geographic limitations but by the unspoken societal messages that all students are exposed to at some point during their educational experience. "Dress a certain way, don't ask too many questions, don't ask the wrong questions, always follow the directions, etc…" Most of the incoming freshman had been born there and had experienced similar opportunities from the day they all learned to tie their shoelaces to the day they received their high school diploma and shook hands with the superintendent.

I was the exception to the rule in some respects for I had moved to Massachusetts from the Philadelphia area at the end of elementary school. I had not had the same experience as my peers. Not to say that my previous education was in any way superior to the one I was about to receive. However, I did encounter a bit of a culture shock upon my arrival.

Freshman year of high school careened past my very eyes before I had the maturity to fully comprehend the knowledge and life experience that was being imparted to my young impressionable intellect. The somewhat nebulous idea of high school loomed before me, acting as both a mirage and a reality. The atmosphere itself was cramped. Every detail about the school was small, building size, classrooms, the student population. Yet in a broader sense I was overwhelmed by the enormousness of the task that lay before me. I was more concerned with surviving the first year than with anything else.

Quite obviously I did survive, but not entirely because of the welcoming and nurturing environment that public school systems are expected to adopt.

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In reading a segment of Jonothan Kozol's The Night is Dark and I am Far From Home, I found certain similarities between his philosophy on public schools and my own experience with a public high school. However, I essentially disagreed with Kozol's insistence that public schools are geared towards shaping students to be "good citizens rather than good people".

As far as society is concerned, my high school did its job. It offered a "well rounded education for those student wishing to pursue higher education." Specifically those interested in a four year college or university. However, in the same respect I do not entirely agree with Kozol in that the belief that the school should be responsible for nurturing the moral, ethical and humanistic approach to student development. I think that this particular responsibility lies within the institution of family. Of course it is not realistic in today's society to expect that children are maturing in the atmosphere of a healthy home life. Ideally, the family itself would allow for this type of development, not the school system. But rarely do children escape the turmoil of dysfunctional family relationships.

Unfortunately, many kids come into the school system with severe emotional problems. The question society must ask is, "is it the sole responsibility of the tenth grade teacher to make sure that a student controls his 'violent tendencies'?." No. obviously it would be an incredible burden for teachers to have to deal with this aspect of discipline. In reality though, many educators do take on this additional responsibility and should be praised for their efforts. My point is that this is an unnecessary role that Kozol assumes the public school system should take on.

Kozol's idealism is admirable. Yet a school is established to present information to students in the spirit of knowledge and understanding; not to act as a guiding force in a child's moral development. Society always finds the need to blame someone. Public schools often receive the brunt of society's exasperation. I do not think it is wise to blame the school systems. Focusing on repairing the American family rather than the classroom could eliminate much of the problem.

In relation to Kozol's The Night is Dark and I am Far From Home, I ask myself if my own middle class experience with public schooling truly provided the best possible resources that it could, taking into account the economic diversity of my area. My intuition leads me to believe that it didn't. However, unlike Kozol I do not choose to blame my high school or its philosophy.

I agree that the entire school system is far too political. Students are virtually lost in the chaotic structure of state funded education. In Ashburnham Massachusetts the schools rely on the tax money from the majority of voters. In this case the majority of the voting population are the elderly, and although they make plans to support public schooling, it hardly ever happens. Therefore students are left in the lurch either without supplies or updated technology. These shortcomings are indeed disturbing.

Yet the question of whether or not the school makes a positive impact on a child has more to do with its teaching philosophy than it does with general lack of materials and aesthetically wanting environments. Innovative teaching methods are essential as are the necessity for connections between students and their mentors. If intellectual differences can be bridged, children will develop a strong sense of belonging and partnership in their own education.

Perhaps I resent the fact that I had to start my freshman year of high school without the comfort of belonging. That also leads to the fact that I often did not understand the attitudes and philosophy of the school system I was part of. Often times I felt that creativity was hindered and artistic license was suffocated. Rather than let a faulty system sweep over my high school career, I chose to take an active role in my education. My purpose in doing this was of course because I enjoyed it, but also because when I knew what was going on I felt more secure about my surroundings. For many, high school was a nightmare. For me, it started that way. But I chose to individualize my education.

It is easy to blame the school system for everything. Indeed, many societal problems could be alleviated if public schools in America were able to identify the needs of specific children and custom craft educational experiences for every child. Unfortunately this is not the case, nor shall it ever be. Teachers carry too much of a responsibility as it is with out the added burden of knowing that they have failed to cater to every child's emotional needs.

The attitude, environment, and community, which surrounded my high school, were not necessarily conducive to new ideas. Nor do I feel that this aspect will ever change. I do not feel that I was fully prepared going into my first year of high school. Ironically I do feel that it was the first year itself that prepared me. My first year of high school was a year of exploration. I discovered the rules by which to play and I quickly determined which rules were non-applicable. I imagine that the first year of college will be similar in many respects. It is a time of adjustment. I can not expect the school to automatically conform to suite my needs. I must acknowledge the fact that situations are not always perfect. Rather than dissect the uncertainty of my predicament, it would be far more beneficial to figure out how I can better suite my new environment.
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