This summer, there were many days when I felt lost, unsure of what to do next or how to accomplish my goals. The sharp contrast between the freedom of summer and the strict framework of school puzzled me. After all, are students not attending school in order to learn how to be successful on our own, when they do not have rigid schedules or structures? I often wonder how being in an academic institution, where I am given someone else’s recipe for how to succeed, will help me succeed in the future.
School is a super-structure of rules, recommendations and guidelines. I am often surprised when I hear administrators call for increased support of students from teachers, whether it be to provide detailed syllabi, divide papers or assignments up into incremental stages or suggest detailed explanations for how to create the optimal study guide. As adults, students will not be given such intricate guidelines for how to best prepare a business presentation or complete a complex project. Rather, they will more likely be handed a deadline and have to figure out how to get it done on our own. Formulas for how to succeed in school should be replaced by students’ personal styles of studying, which they develop through experience.
Many argue that in order to teach students how to be successful in the future, teachers must provide them with structure and time-management techniques. I fully agree with that statement, but there are more effective ways to teach these important principles. Artificial deadlines do not help students learn to pace themselves; they merely provide a crutch. Even though an assignment is broken into small increments, for example, one can still procrastinate until the last minute to complete that section. Detailed directions on how to prepare a study guide prevent students from learning for themselves how to effectively organize information. Similarly, binder checks force students to conform to a method of organization that may not suit all of them.
Instead of placing so much stress on following specific formulaic steps for succeeding in school, teachers should encourage students to find the way that works best for them after being offered examples through trial and error. While students might fail once or twice while experimenting with different techniques, they will quickly adjust and, on their own, figure out how we work best. Similarly, the attendance policy in school seems at best, unnecessary, and at worst, detrimental to students’ future choices.
At school, it is not only discouraged but harshly punished for students to show up late or skip class. But the real reason that they should attend class is not to escape being disciplined, but instead, to avoid missing out on new knowledge and to take control of our learning.
If some students decide to follow the rules only for the sake of following the rules, then they will be more prone to naively make those same mistakes when there is no rule. For example, in college, not all classes require attendance, but if students decide to skip class, they will learn the consequences of making the wrong decision when they don’t learn the material or do poorly on the exam. A student who believes that they would be better off cutting class should learn the consequences when they are confused on the next test, rather than when they are forced to sit through detention for 40 minutes.
As students transition to the next stage in their lives, they will be presented with the reality that they are on our own, and they will no longer have the crutches that we have become so accustomed to in school.
While it may result in short-term pain, replacing the vast system of rules and guidelines with suggestions and strategies found through their personal experience will make them more successful and independent adults in the future.