Why My College Degree Is Meaningless: Years in the Education System Has Soiled My Learning

06/26/2015 05:10 pm ET | Updated Jun 26, 2016

It was my second class of the day, and I was bored. My professor was prattling on about some menial event that transpired sometime in the 18th century, and I was more interested in the popcorn ceiling than his lecture topic. I even went as far as trying to blow my bubble gum into a heart-shape -- if you've never tried it, it's actually quite fun. Until it blows up all over your face. In front of a hot football player. *Cue putting brown paper bag over head and never going outside again.*

As the day progressed, my boredom-induced exhaustion caught up to me and I found the struggle of keeping my eyelids from drooping over my eyes to be too much to bear. So, I went home and took a nap, skipping my third and fourth class of the day. As a peer and passerby of the day-to-day experience of collegiate youth, I've noticed that this is a common practice among many millennials. "This" being skipping class in favor of personal errands or just skipping class altogether because a better offer presented itself.

Admittedly, the above statement is a generalization. I go to a state school, so my experience may vary drastically from other college-goers. However, approximately 21 million students were enrolled in a college program in 2014. With state schools being among the largest collegiate institutions in the country, I think it's safe to say that a lot of student-age millennials are having the same experience as me. Why is that? And is this a college phenomenon or have we built up some kind of behavioral attitude towards learning?

I fundamentally believe that the passion that should lie within the education and learning institutions countrywide is being sucked out by our system. Breaking it down even further, I think the dispassion of students can be attributed to two things: For secondary education, I think tenure is the culprit. For primary education, standardized testing.

Let's start with primary education: Standardized testing is bastardizing how teachers teach. It takes the brilliant flame of bright, brilliant students and snuffs it out like a candle, thus creating a generation of bored and unengaged youth.

For those unfamiliar, the system of standardized testing was brought about by the well-intentioned No Child Left Behind Act. This act was adopted to push schools to better themselves, and measured their progress with age-related standardized exams for students.

While this sounds like an exhilarating idea, it's the opposite: it creates an environment where teachers tailor their curriculum to pieces of paper handed out at regular intervals instead of cultivating trade practices, life skills and engaging kids with hands-on learning experiences.

Arne Duncan, Secretary of Education under the American Educational Research Association, expanded on this Act's flaws with the following statement, released during his 2013 speech: "State assessments in mathematics and English often fail to capture the full spectrum of what students know and can do. . . Students, parents, and educators know there is much more to a sound education than picking the right answer on a multiple-choice question."
Well, it's not working.

The World Economic Forum ranks the United States 48th in the world in quality of mathematics and science education

And then we move on to secondary education: Many people, especially those belonging to generations passed, would scoff at my notion that tenure is a primary source of academic disinterest. I can understand this; in your minds, as people who went through the college system some years ago, tenure seems like a fairly merited promotion for long-standing professors. However, I think that this ideology is flawed.

Tenure allows professors to become lax and disinterested. For example, Emily Bell, a student at James Madison University had the following experience:

"I was struggling through my gen-Ed oceanography and having to sit through PowerPoints and videos from the 70s. When I complained about my professor's teaching style, he said 'well I've worked here for 14 years so there's not much you can do about it.'"

According to a documentary titled "Waiting for Superman", only 1 out of 1000 teachers are fired for performance reasons. According to a study conducted by Public Agenda in 2003, 78 percent of those surveyed said that many fellow teachers with tenure "fail to do a good job and are simply going through the motions."

So, not only are students struggling with tenure-protected instructors, but fellow staff are also stating that tenure protects bad teachers. As for myself: I genuinely think that professors get lazy and/or bored themselves. They relax into their positions and lose their passion. We have failed our education system by letting its leaders slack into their intellectual couches and forget that teaching is an ever-evolving practice. How can we offer on-going and stimulating professional development for our teachers?

In sum, our education system is failing its students, beginning in their primary educative years and bridging on into their secondary institutions. As a current student myself, mixed in with the maelstrom of sociopolitical conflict and economic stringency surrounding this issue, I can honestly say that I've noticed a dramatic impact on my drive and motivation as a student and scholar.

I used to be the girl who got up three hours before school, reading twice as many books as necessary and spending all the time that I could possibly donate to my institutions because I loved the warm environment it provided for me. As my years in the school system have begun to stack up, this passionate flame has been extinguished.

My teachers became bored and frustrated with the system, my peers exhausted themselves trying to prepare for exams we were forced to take, and we ultimately missed out on the primary objective of education: to learn. We tailored our curricula and learning to our tests and missed out on actually learning the material. So, now, as I sit here as an intern typing my life away, I find myself using almost none of the skills I should have learned in school. This is a tragedy.

The system needs to change. Now.