In my American Studies class, I never had to study for a test. Looking back, I only ever picked up my textbook because I truly wanted to understand and learn. We were told from the beginning that this was not a class that would “teach to the test,” but rather a class that would teach us how to think.
While I spent last year growing as an intellectual in Studies, Gaston Caperton, CEO of the College Board, earned $1.3 million. Nineteen other College Board executives earned over $300,000. While these figures seem indistinguishable from the salaries at a successful for-profit corporation, the College Board claims to be a non-profit.
These executives have been compensated so regally because they excel at putting students and schools in a box, with clear outlines of how success and intelligence are defined.
But what this box lacks is a way of learning or thinking that is creative, useful or relevant to any future we will choose to pursue. I suppose it comes down to the difficult question of what is more important: the learning or the grade.
In Studies, I wasn’t drilled with multiple-choice questions, or practice problems for the AP, but I was challenged to be curious, hungry for knowledge. And although my other classes have aspects of the American Studies ethos, these are undermined when APs or subject tests are brought up.
Deerfield can boast about the teaching of “creativity intellectual maturity and individual growth,” but our school will never truly live up to its lofty claims as long as it falls prey to outdated ways of learning.
Last year I was met with challenges and setbacks on a weekly basis, and as a result, I was taught to discuss and ruminate for as long as possible before deciding on a viewpoint. Every student contemplated ideas and was willing to take more risks, rather than being consumed with always having the “right” answer.
The College Board, on the other hand, doesn’t allow for prolonged thought, discussion or setbacks—it’s a black-and-white system in a polychromatic world.
In Studies, learning was based on our own interests and strengths, and in this context we were able to take away a lot more than a few memorized dates, or names of battles and Supreme Court Justices. In this class, I saw the Platonic Deerfield, the one bursting with creativity, intellectual maturity and individual growth.
And despite the fact that I never studied in the “traditional manner,” I felt more prepared for any AP exam or standardized testing that I took.
This was not because I had perfected the skill of studying or test-taking. I had simply been taught a way of drinking, which far surpassed any imbibed knowledge needed for these tests.
But frankly, I couldn’t care less about the perfect standardized test score or that 5 on the AP: that is not how I choose to be defined. That is neither the student nor the person I have become in my years at Deerfield.
My Deerfield career would be nothing if I had never actually thought for myself, and if I had never truly learned.