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Education system fosters a competitive nature

By Katherine Yaremko, Columnist

Writing an article about education in a college newspaper might seem redundant. However, I still feel as though the U.S. education system could greatly benefit by altering the structure and means by which it teaches, particularly during the elementary and secondary education years.

Colleges and universities generally provide greater freedom when it comes to pursuing one's academic path. However, the freedom is not present during the formative schooling years. which is when students need more structure. However, the way the current system is structured seems to leave little room for students to truly explore and develop different forms of intelligence that may not be as readily recognized within today's fast-paced, job-centric economy. The theory of such diverse types of intelligence, as determined by Dr. Howard Gardner, includes inter- and intra-personal, linguistic, musical, spatial, bodily-kinesthetic and logical-mathematical intelligence. Naturalistic intelligence is also frequently included.

The educational system, particularly within elementary and secondary school, primarily focuses on developing logical-mathematical and linguistic intelligence in students. While other areas of intelligence are certainly taught, such as musical and bodily-kinesthetic intelligence, it seems these areas, as well as others, are overlooked at the expense of creating students who can outperform in science and math. Especially, on standardized tests. Establishing an understanding of logic and language is undoubtedly important, yet to overemphasize this at the expense of other forms of intelligence often leads to their underrepresentation.

It seems that education has moved away from the ideal it was meant to embody during its conception as a tool for improving one's life as a whole. Obviously we live in a modern, practical world that requires the development of certain skills that will be relevant to whatever field or industry we enter. Certainly those techniques should be taught within the system. But perhaps the system could benefit from not merely viewing education as a means toward a job, but as also the cultivation of skills that enhance life in general.

In particular, the extreme emphasis on achievement and high grades over the actual process of learning and attainment of knowledge is that it begins to foster the idea in us that our identity is, to an extent, located in the goals toward which we strive and the accomplishments we accumulate. I think this increases an excessive selfishness in which satisfaction with whatever we have accomplished becomes increasingly more temporary, propelling us towards further achievement. While not necessarily negative in itself, it can lead to a lack of fulfillment. 

Emphasizing a narrower path of education may lead some students to feel subtly discriminated against if they do not possess a natural aptitude for linguistic or mathematical intelligence. The beauty of having a world capable of accommodating so many careers is that students who demonstrate a preference for naturalistic or spatial intelligence should not be made to feel intellectually inferior simply because they might aspire to be a mechanic rather than a CEO. Our context as an information-based society has created a desire for individuals who are highly proficient in impersonal logic. There is nothing wrong with this, as long as others do not feel as if they are displaced because of it.

If crises such as the recent recession are to be averted, if our understanding and acceptance of opposing political or religious systems is to grow, if resolving interpersonal conflicts means developing a closer awareness of our thoughts and emotions, then students and the educational system that aids them would benefit from space in their curriculums for the cultivation of such abilities. When it comes down to it, life is not a competition. Some of our biggest challenges will require us to cooperate far more than compete.

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