Mending a Broken System

Alexandra - Claremont, California
Entered on April 24, 2009

I believe that the American education system can be fixed.

When I was seven years old, my parents removed me from my local public school and enrolled me in a private college prep school. Since that grade, my education has been defined by plaid skirts and saddle shoes, frighteningly dedicated teachers, and absurdly intelligent peers. My schoolwork challenged me, but whenever I felt overwhelmed I could rely on a built-in support network to make sure I succeeded. During my seventh grade rebellion, my math teacher even held a pseudo-intervention to make sure I completed all of my homework on time – in every class.

An avid New York Times fan, I realized that my educational experience differed greatly from the majority of Americans. I read articles which detailed the depressing state of the public school system. Regardless, I never fully understood the profound impact my school had on both my knowledge and my dedication to learning. With the exception of that brief homework strike, I wanted to go to school. Somehow, I could never imagine that other students did not feel the same drive.

Last year, to ward off senior-itis, I signed up to tutor at a local elementary school. My main goal was to fill my own schedule as I bided my time until graduation. At my orientation meeting, the teacher tried to prepare us for the cultural shock we were about to experience. He warned that the students spoke little English and enjoyed aggravating their teachers. I largely ignored this advice, content in my unconscious belief that all children want to learn.

A week later, I arrived at Central Elementary school. My assignment was to review reading comprehension with a group of eleven-year-olds. As I sat down to help Alejandra with her workbook exercise, I quickly grew exasperated. She refused to speak at an audible volume and ignore my attempts to explain subject-verb agreement. Eventually, I learned that Alejandra barely qualified for the English-speaking classroom. She rarely understood the reading comprehension lessons provided in English, and thus struggled with the material in both languages. I sought help from the teacher, but she just looked at me with browbeaten apathy – the twenty other students in the classroom needed her attention as well.

When I reigned in my frustration, I realized that those two hours taught me more about the American education system than any newspaper or lecture ever had. At that point, I realized how dire situation was – and how badly it needed to be fixed. Instead of feeling guilty for receiving a better education, I feel that the most appropriate use of my background is to try and solve the problem. I am now pursuing a dual degree in Government and Psychology, in hopes of addressing educational policy after graduation. It may have taken me eighteen years to discover how broken the public school system was, but hopefully in the next eighteen, I can help fix it.