10/07/2011 08:36 am ET | Updated Dec 07, 2011

Why We're Schooled

In elementary school I had an infamous P.E. coach.

He had been teaching there for longer than anyone could remember, and his reputation was certainly mixed. It included impassioned preaching about morals and religion, a harsh rivalry with a former principal whom he called The Big Cheese, and a likely-exaggerated story of how Angelina Jolie saved his job. The Coach taught us many things, such as how to shoot a basketball via a step-by-step procedure and how to be ironic via eating McDonald's after telling us to eat healthily. He degraded us and praised us, rewarded us and awarded us, but the thing that has stuck with me the most is what he'd yell at us while we ran the dreaded Mile Run.

Our tenuous fourth grade bodies weren't apt to this inhumane exercise. (Note: I later joined the cross country team, so, in hindsight, this is pretty funny to me now.) We'd struggle around the artificial turf rectangle. Huffing and puffing, we'd take small breaks to walk, which Coach didn't mind. We'd stop for water, which he also didn't mind. But when we'd round off the corners of the field to slightly shorten our run, "No C.C.s!" he'd yell. Cutting corners, or "C.C.," was taboo. None of us, including the coach and including me, knew the significance of these words.

Since starting high school, I've been incessantly thinking about universities and grades and community service and SATs and extra-curricular activities, and the rest of that fiasco. And recently, I've been wondering if high school is just a liaison between adolescence and college. At this point, I realized that we aren't directly taught why we are taught. We learn it through utopian and dystopian novels, through Orwell's 1984and Huxley's Brave New World. We learn it through understanding the suppressed of the U.S.S.R. and North Korea. But it's never spelled out for us. And more, especially when I struggle, I ask why we need to take trigonometry and read mythology. When will I ever need to quote Shakespeare?

However, I came to understand that high school is so much more than a liaison. Up until graduate school, education is not about mastering the specialized tools of our future professions; it's not about learning to be a lawyer or a waiter or a surgeon. It's about learning to be worldly, about having meaningful conversation, about understanding Woody Allen's jokes, about understanding why there's discord in the Middle East.

So, when reading Shakespeare on SparkNotes, maybe we'll pass the class, and maybe we'll get accepted by a respected university. But what's the point? We'll continue cutting the corners of our intellect until we find ourselves mistaking Concord, New Hampshire for Concord, Massachusetts, or finding our lengthiest discussions being based on Jersey Shore. By fooling our teachers and schools and admissions officers, we're only fooling ourselves into a dull life, stripped of vitality and torn of understanding. Thankfully, I learned all this before recess. Now, I have the rest of the day to play.