“Calculus is no use because a calculator can do everything. It’ll be handy if you want to be a maths teacher though.” This is what my high school teacher told me when I asked her why we learn calculus. Aside from the fact she single-handedly made every student in that class lose all motivation to study maths, calculus does have some use. That teacher could have told us that it teaches you problem-solving and has been the quantitative language of science for more than three hundred years. Of course, it’s also fairly useless for most after high schoool, but if you’ve got a room full of students who have opted to take that class, then inspiring them a little doesn’t take too much effort. One of the best parts about young people is their hunger for knowledge, and that passion should be fed.
Last week a student at Napier Girls’ High School gave a speech at school telling everyone what she thought of the education system in New Zealand. She was told to talk persuasively about something she felt strongly about. Sadly, a lot of people — including some influential figures in the media — slammed her for “not respecting her elders” and said that it “smacked of a bitch, not an argument”.
She cared enough to criticise, she cared enough to comment. To put her down for this, when most of the time young people are consistently put down for being apathetic, is hypocritical.
Schools should be teaching students to speak up, to say their opinion. Then they should help students improve how eloquently they can give that opinion, help them see the opposing sides, and then discuss, like adults, what can be done. The student claims she was suspended, and whether or not this is true, it clearly wasn’t dealt with as it should be in a country of free speech.
There is a problem with the education system. There are too many teachers who hate their jobs. There is too much focus on grades rather than deep thought or creativity. There are serious gaps in the curriculum.
Teenagers are capable of thought — they are more capable than many adults. All it takes is teaching them how to think more deeply, and showing them all the different things in the world there are to think about.
Use history to teach them why it’s important to speak up, why the world is what it is and how we can make better judgements. Use sociology and geography to teach them about diversity and what’s going on the world. Use science to teach them curiosity, logical thought and how the world functions. Use English to teach appreciation for language, poetry, lyrics and great writing. Use religious education to promote understanding, tolerance and freedom of beliefs.
Plenty of other areas need an overhaul. Another discussion came up last week about the proposed use of an opt-out system for teenage women, offering them long-acting contraceptives before they decide to have sex. The education system is still working off the world we lived in 50 years ago, but this proposal would be an easy option (if you dismiss the resulting STI issues). Talk to students about sex and relationships. If we open up the discussion, then they’ll know the consequences. Too often they just don’t, and leaving it to parents is not good enough. Health education class is meant to do this, but the conversation with young people is still not being had openly or honestly enough.
Yes, the powers-that-be need to fund schools, reduce class sizes, etc. But waves are not being made to make that happen. A teenage girl started one and then “adults” decided to criticise her for it. Teachers, schools and all the other critics should be open-minded enough to think about the message she was giving and back her up.
To the girl who did that speech, the monsters in your life can often be your greatest teachers. If you know there’s something wrong with the system and know how it should be — keep talking, keep discussing, keep asking why.