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Guest opinion: Age is just a number, but what numbers really matter in Utah education?

SHARE Guest opinion: Age is just a number, but what numbers really matter in Utah education?

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As a high school senior, I have recently experienced the full entirety of the Utah school system. I have lived in Utah my entire life and have been educated in public school from kindergarten to 12th grade.

I have had a relatively positive experience in the school system. I was usually liked by my teachers in school. In elementary school I was never behind in my reading or math levels. Parent-teacher conferences were always a positive experience. I have always kept up on my homework, and I have enjoyed challenging myself with advanced placement and honors classes. Fortunately for me the American instruction-based school system works.

Unfortunately for many others, the school system works for me because I have had an idealistic upbringing. I was good at reading in elementary school because my mom sat down with me every day when I was 3 years old and spent time teaching me the phonetics of our language. I did my homework every day because my parents told me knowledge was important, and if I didn’t understand they got me the help I needed. They helped me gain habits that I brought into middle school and high school. Sitting in a class and listening to a teacher has become second nature. When I get home, I know that I need to finish my homework before going out with friends. These habits worked for me and have helped me succeed.

Many people, however, do not have a similar experience to me. Some did not have a parent finish their math homework with them because their parents simply could not do it, they didn’t have time or they didn’t care. Why is it that a teacher is expected to teach a student who learned addition when they were 4 years old as well as the student who has never seen an addition sign in their life? How is a teacher supposed to cater to more than 30 different students with different knowledge and backgrounds all in the same class during the same seven hours over the same five days every week? The only thing they have in common is their age. 

This is an issue seen all over our state right now. A local first grade teacher has expressed that she feels it is impossible to reach the needs of every student in her classroom. When there is such a wide array of knowledge and talent in a classroom, a teacher cannot teach the same material to everyone without some kids being extremely bored and others being so lost they stop trying.

When we as a society assume that a child’s age should define their level of knowledge and ability, we are assuming incorrectly. The divide in elementary schools is greater between students than it is in middle or high school, yet we insist on sorting them by their birthdate and not their level of understanding. Students would be more likely to perform better in secondary and postsecondary education if we could change our view of school from passing preconceived objectives to actually teaching children the skills and abilities they will need to succeed in the rest of school.

It is not fair for the teachers to force every student to pass the same levels of a game for which some players haven’t even received the training. It is not fair for the students who are bored, and it is not fair for the children who are lost. If a child has not even been taught to recognize letters, how can they be expected to learn how to read?

Jacquelynne Peck is a senior at Herriman High School. She will be attending Utah State University in the fall and plans to study English education.