If you’re anything like me, your past school experiences are something you’d rather forget. Be it sleazy behavior, the people there or the concept of being forced to memorize textbooks to prove your intelligence, the majority of us have disliked school at one point or another. In the following I will talk about the negative effects school has had on me in the past 18 years.
The last time I truly enjoyed attending classes was when I was around 10. Everything up until that age was centered on creativity, fun, character development and self-acceptance. My classmates, though a bit too extraverted for my taste, where all tolerable. I genuinely enjoyed absorbing new material and gaining knowledge. It was when I got into the prepubescent stage of life that everything slowly started going downhill. Being known as the shy and also only dark-skinned person in my entire school, it was a bit of a challenge to find my place. If it wasn’t for my refusal to partake in bullying or fashion trends that involved buying expensive clothing, there was always a feeling of not belonging. Sadly, it was at that point where students started to make up rumors and start silly feuds to keep themselves entertained. I somehow quickly became the butt of all their jokes. My frizzy hair was apparently such a big issue that I managed to give into peer pressure and start straightening it, a ritual which years later my hair is still carrying damage of. I started dressing more “feminine” and started caring more about my appearance than my grades. Studying was frowned upon in my “friend group,” which in hindsight was just a big circle of competition and harassment. I started slacking in classes, not doing homework and trying so desperately to fit in. I no longer enjoyed school, even though the concept of learning was still something I loved.
Years later, I couldn’t regret my poor academic performance more. It hindered me from finding an apprenticeship at the right time and I soon realized that I had to play by the rules to have a successful career anywhere close to my white friends. Whilst they were handed job offers left and right from their parents, who “had their connections,” I was still on the hunt for a company that would hire me. I had completely given up hope when I decided to do a gap year to improve my grades. My credibility was constantly being questioned, all because of a few numbers on a sheet of paper. My own self worth was determined by my grades. I realized that if I wanted to prove my worth in this country, I had to play the system accordingly. So I started studying again, whilst sucking up to judge-y teachers to stop them from seeing me as less talented than my fellow classmates. This time, there was no passion or thirst for knowledge whatsoever. My sole focus was to get my life back together. I ended up getting an apprenticeship offer and am now attending college alongside my education.
Whilst these things have motivated me to keep going, there is still a sense of dread deep inside me, a little voice asking me what could’ve been if I hadn’t gone down that path. If only the school system wasn’t so fixated on rewarding the ability to memorize information rather than understand it and to force socially anxious pupils to do public speaking instead of encouraging them to creatively express what they’ve learned, where teachers are more concerned about dress codes than sexual harassment claims, where class discussions are just a way to make fun of genuine problems and trivialize them, instead of actually providing resources to educate ourselves.
What could be changed? Well for starters, maybe take into consideration that not everyone is able-bodied and can walk up 10 flights of stairs every day. Make classrooms accessible for everyone. Provide us with lockers or space to put books we don’t need to carry around daily. Invest in chairs that are ergonomic. Take different personalities and learning types into account and don’t center your lectures around the easiest type of student to teach. Allow and slowly train socially anxious students to give presentations in front of a few people, instead of 20 at once. Recognize that mental health plays a massive role in someone’s academic performance and take problems seriously. Improve your sexual education to be more inclusive and actually helpful. Either have an universal dress code that applies to everyone or don’t have one at all. Give those who can’t speak up a chance to have a voice. Don’t dismiss bullying and harassment at your school. Enforce gender-neutral bathrooms and changing rooms. Make your classroom open and accepting in every way possible. Treat students like you’d want to be treated instead of patronizing them for not knowing everything.
The school system might have failed me, but it doesn’t need to happen to everyone else. These small changes could already make someone’s future academic experience much more enjoyable. Our technology is evolving, therefore so should our school system.