10/12/2011 09:47 am ET | Updated Dec 12, 2011

Hands-On Memorization

I am an 18-year-old senior. I am a product of ineffective schooling.

Test scores are falling, teachers are accused of cheating, and education budgets are slowly sinking. Educators and policymakers are trying to find everything and anything to blame for the failures of education.

There are those who are in a frenzy to cure this "education crisis." Controversial topics are approached such as teachers' pay, tenure, the difficulty or even effectiveness of standardized testing. The list keeps growing as these educators dream up of ideas to explain lackluster test results and falling student interest.

This education problem is not one that can be easily remedied. It cannot be solved by merely removing the sub-par teachers. Nor can you expect to see true change by downsizing classes or by spending more money per student.

The true problem lies inherently with the entire structure of schooling. With the advent of standardized testing, the problem is even more profound than before.

Most notably, my Advanced Placement classes were geared towards "teaching the test." Every day, the teachers would stand before the class and lecture on everything that would appear on the test. We'd be assigned copious amounts of homework to cover that which we had no time in class to study.

While this sort of rigorous style course certainly instilled knowledge into my overflowing brain, most of what I learned has been forgotten since summer vacation began two months ago.

In our modern-day schools, I feel as if I'm not learning how to think. Teachers merely convey the information that the curriculum states students need to know and I take notes on it. These classes are not teaching me how to think creatively. To be successful within each class, I need to only memorize facts. It's a sad type of education when adaptation and application of knowledge does not necessarily ensure success.

As a student, I wish to be able to do things, not just know things. Knowledge is useless unless one can thoroughly apply it. Modern schooling has not prepared me to apply any of that knowledge.

Experience and understanding of how to use what you know is a skill paramount to surviving the harsh world students are preparing for. If I, along with many other students, merely forget the information launched at us for an entire year, then there is no benefit of public schooling.

The National Commission on Excellence in Education wrote a letter to the American people titled "A Nation at Risk in 1983." It speaks of how our country's livelihood is at risk
because schools are not preparing students to enter the workforce.

The letter was written in fear when international test scores of the United States failed in comparison to many other growing countries.

While there is indeed reason to worry, I am skeptical to the thought that a national average of 516 on SAT math would really bring jobs back to America. In my own AP Calculus class, students complained, asking the age-old question, "When are we ever going to use this?" This elite group of math students still has trouble grasping the application of our many formulas and theorems. The problem is not test scores. We don't even understand what we're learning. The problem lies with the American structure of education. You simply cannot expect a young generation to be prepared to enter any workforce if all schools taught only dates, facts, and formulas. There is no thinking process, no knowledge of human interaction, and no social etiquettes that have been brushed upon in my 12 years of education.

An educator by the name of John Dewey (1859-1952) believed in something known as Hands-on Learning and Experimental Education. Mr. Dewey believed an education where the students could interact with the curriculum was one that was bound to create a well educated society. School would not be merely knowledge, but the creation of a well-cultured and socially interactive society.

Mr. John Dewey believed in hands-on interactive education. Similarly, I believe an education where we teach problem solving, instead of teaching about ancient Mesopotamia, is one that can truly solve our education crisis.

Most of my views spawn from my wonderful journalism class. We as a class create a newspaper, conducting interviews ourselves, each of us searching for a unique story. Throughout this entire process, we learn ethics of journalists, AP style, and how to properly interview. Essentially, everyone in the class is a budding journalist. It is the hands-on learning this class provided that has led me to write for this very website.

In contrast, my AP physics class was conducted much like a sermon. Each day would be a lecture on a different topic in which I would hastily scribble notes praying to the physics gods that I would pass the class. It's sad to think now that after so much feverish note taking and sleepless nights, I don't remember Hooke's Law. Nor do I remember the motion equations. I don't even remember what magnetic flux is.

It's quite depressing that off the top of my head, the only thing I remember is that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. But I knew that in sixth grade.

There is an incredible difference in the way each of these classes were taught. My journalism class coincided perfectly with Mr. Dewey's belief. With the experimental education, I not only learned, but I remembered.

Continual pressure of test scores will not only create a monotonous drag throughout education, it will continue the decline of American education. Routine memorization is no basis for learning. It's high time that a science class meant actual laboratory work and understanding, not just the fill of laws and theorems that we are forced to remember. Let's have a math class in which we can experience the learning through actual experimentation.

Forget test scores. Raise up actual understanding. The future of America is about to be thrust into the hands of people not prepared to take it. All we know in school is how to listen. All we've learned from school are useless dates and facts. It may be too late for my class, but I hope that the generation below me will have the opportunity for an enriching education instead of the lectures that now fill every avenue of schools in America.