Have you ever wondered about how effective the American education system is in developing young adults to be problem-solving, forward-thinking members of society? Why are students labeled by their grades and not by the skills they have developed to think critically?
When Martin Luther translated the Latin Bible, which at the time only priests could read and interpret, he found that commoners were illiterate. Thus, the initial and practical purpose of education emerged: to teach people how to read, write, and understand basic arithmetic so that they could read and interpret their own Bible.
While education was still in its growth phase, apprenticeships remained common among the middle and lower classes who did not have the opportunity for a traditional schoolhouse education. In fact, it was more common for teens to receive their education through apprenticeships lasting seven to ten years than in a classroom setting (Snell, 2019). Apprenticeships were highly structured, with apprentices usually moving into the master’s home and living as a member of the family. They would adopt the master’s trade, daily routine, and adhere to the same standards and discipline as the family’s children (Snell, 2019).
In today’s world, that ratio is entirely reversed. It is now a rarity to see students in such involved apprenticeships. More students are spending time in highly structured educational environments due to the federal law mandating education from ages five or six to sixteen. What was the original intent of education in its early stages as it became more common?
As education developed, the original concept of schooling was to teach students intellectual information and mold their minds to think critically and analytically by teaching them basic skills such as reading, writing, and performing basic math, closely paralleling Martin Luther’s idea of education (Snell, 2019). To teach them these subjects, students studied grammar, rhetoric, and logic, categorized as the Trivium of the Seven Liberal Arts (Sayers, 1947, p. 13). The purpose of the Trivium was to provide students with the proper skills and tools to apply to the later subjects in the Quadrivium (Sayers, 1947 p. 14). The Quadrivium consisted of astronomy, music, geometry, and arithmetic. Once the students were proficient in the Trivium, they could apply the newly learned tools to the Quadrivium and continue their learning of the subjects as they further applied their learned tools from the Trivium. The emphasis was on the quality of information and on developing the necessary skills to master new information rather than on the quantity and complexity of the information and the test score for each unit. The complexity of the information should not matter as long as the student has well-developed critical thinking and problem-solving skills that empower them to break down new information.
Peter Gray, PhD, argues that today the education system relies on inculcation of students. This involves forced repetition and tested memory of information and material, often forgotten after the exam or assignment is completed (2008). Learning is now seen as a student’s job, not a practical tool to aid in the development of traits and skills that will enable students to succeed in their chosen career or for the longevity of civilization. Students’ lives have become structured around school, rather than school being structured around a practical learning environment that allows them to learn and apply their knowledge toward the bigger picture of their success as an adult.
What was intended to aid students to be productive members of society who contribute to their chosen field of study has turned into an assembly line of producing students who do not know how to file taxes, cook, have limited hands-on experience in their field, and are ranked by grades and test scores.
While the school system has adapted and grown with technological and curriculum advances, it has not grown in its ability to teach critical thinking and skills that will help a student be successful in life (Well, 2021). Today’s world needs forward-thinking minds that can think critically about how to problem solve. Solutionary thinking in our education systems will develop students’ minds to think forwardly about problems they are faced with. Allowing them to work in their industry as apprentices will help them apply their critical thinking skills and help them develop them further (Well, 2021).
Educators and parents alike need to understand that while our education system has extended the opportunity for education to any person of any class, it may be lacking in producing contributing members of society who can think critically, individually, and have the necessary skills to survive in the world as an adult, regardless of their career choice. It is not an impossible task; Martin Luther himself started the chain of events that led to teaching the public how to read back in the 16th century. However, changing the system is a slow process. Surely the American education system can be revised to teach our students less about being labeled by a grade and cramming an overwhelming amount of material and focus on developing young minds to think forwardly and critically so that they can progress through their adult life as solutionary thinkers. The American education system has provided unprecedented structure that has extended the opportunity for schooling regardless of social status. Now, educators must work together to rethink how to develop solutionary thinkers who will carry our society to success for generations to come.
Creating solutionary thinkers does not happen solely through teachers in the classroom. Solutionary thinkers are developed by managers, supervisors, coaches, and peers. Creating solution-based mindsets is a team effort from the classroom to work life to daily life. It is important for us all to challenge the youth by giving them the tools to solve a problem, but ultimately letting them solve the problem on their own through guidance. I can empower and challenge the students I work with to be coachable so that they gain the skills they need to think critically on their own. A coach is meant to guide, not to do the work for their players, just as the education system is not meant to teach to a test or allow our student to be characterized by their grades. Rather, students’ education should develop their minds to think analytically so that they might seek and digest new information with the skills they have learned in order to maximize their potential and contribute positively to society.
Gray, P. (August, 2008). A Brief History of Education.
Sayers, D. (1947). The Lost Tools of Learning.
Snell, M. (February, 2019). The Learning Years of Medieval Childhood.
Well, Z. M.A., M.T.S. (February, 2021). What’s Wrong With Education and How to Make It Right.
About the Author: Hannah Waroway is the Assistant Hunter Seat Coach at St. Andrews University. While she is working for St. Andrews, Hannah is working towards earning her Master of Arts in Education (MAED). Originally from Michigan, Hannah earned her undergraduate degree in Equine Studies at Midway University and after working for an Olympic show jumper in New Jersey, she moved to St. Andrews to further her career in the equine industry and pursue higher education. Aside from her passion for horses, Hannah has a passion for teaching students how to manage and ride horses, photography, and anything outdoors.