Original Article printed in the New York Times, Jacques Steinberg
I’d like to quickly respond to some of the inferences and ideas presented in the article. To quickly summarize, the article conveys how a growing number of high school students are taking Advanced Placement courses and exams for pragmatic reasons - getting into better colleges mainly - instead of simply being ‘intellectually curious’ and having some sort of innate love for higher learning.
First, I would like to say that this article is rather misguided, and that the parties involved are increasingly unaware of what it is actually like to be a high school student, especially a high school student in the current day.
The article is misguided because the term ‘intellectually curious’ is a wet-dream; yes, I loved science and engineering because they taught me about the world and it was cool, and maybe this played a little part in motivating me to take harder classes, but when I was in high school really a lot of it was the structure my parents created for me, their encouragement, pressure they applied, my own competitiveness to win, wanting to beat out the others, no doubt. Intellectually curious? Not really, I just wanted to be the best. I didn’t care what it was, science or checkers or pogs. Now I am beginning to understand my own motivations, and encouraging myself in other ways; but in high school, very few successful students do it on their own, or from their own ‘curiosity.’
Our culture is changing, things are getting more aggressive and competitive; we know that competition breeds innovation; but seriously, students pushing themselves to learn more is never a bad thing, and I can’t imagine why anyone would ever think it was.
“But they are doing it for the wrong reasons” — you say. “That’s bullshit,” I say.
People do things for a variety of reasons; just because you get off on that ideological dream that scientists or smart people are innately curious doesn’t mean that’s how it should be, or even how it is now. Some scientists are in it for the money. Some scientists just want a job to pay the bills.
You’re not allowed to pick the motivations for someone - they do that on their own.
In the article, I find it absurd that some teachers think that “students are not ready for these College Level Classes”. If a student is going to push himself, why the hell would you ever say ‘no’? Can you imagine, even through suffering through a hard year of class, how much that student will learn and grow? Why would you want to keep students on the ‘dumb track’? Students are getting smarter by my estimate (not those stupid ’standardized exams’ no one gives a shit about). The internet is especially changing this, allowing students access to so much knowledge; they are informed as hell, and its awesome.
And by ‘Smart’, I mean having enough understanding of the world and of people to adapt and survive within a certain niche or situation. Basically being the most fit for any environment(think natural selection), which technology enables via a computer screen (think how many niches you can connect with). Who cares what that situation or niche is, you can find a place for yourself and flourish. For example, you can only know how to write c++ computer programs, or you can only know how to create a web page. Either way, you’re smart if you’re able to find the niche where these skills are useful.
By the way, I went to a fairly accredited public school, and trust me, AP Classes are NOT college classes by any means. Students are ready to challenge themselves — its time to let them.