Joshua Medcalf: Reflecting on the Purpose and Structure of Modern Education

Joshua Medcalf is a former soccer player at Duke and author of “Chop Wood, Carry Water.” In this podcast, he shares his opinion and experiences on the education system, and how he would like to reform it.

Listen to the podcast here!

Education: A Status Check

Medcalf’s current assessment of our school system is that it is in need of dire help (true). He says that right now, students and teachers are only concerned about what’s happening right in front of them- what tests do I have? What homework do I need to complete? Am I prepared for the midterm? This kind of teaching, Medcalf says, damages the natural process of learning. In order to actually learn is to live in the moment and gain experiences, because while you might forget how to solve parametric differentiation problems, experiences will stay with you long after you graduate. And the most important thing of all is your product: how will you leave an impact? Will you change the world? Will you improve the lives of those around you? All of these points are paramount in crafting the perfect education system, Medcalf says.

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Student or Robot?

I think a few of Medcalf’s ideas are great and should definitely be incorporated into the school system. For example, his class is mainly about going out there and getting your own experiences, and then using those experiences as a foundation for your education (instead, say, a textbook, being your foundation). This is especially important because I feel like the do-or-die way that school runs right now robs kids of experiences- students literally never have time to do anything because they’re too busy making up a story for English about that time they Definitely, Like, Climbed A Mountain Or Something And Then Learned About The Importance of Friendship. Knowledge and experience should always go hand in hand. But on the contrary, these exact ideas are the ones that scare me.

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I think a balance of both “taking risks/being left on your own” and “staying in the safe lane” would be the most beneficial for students (or at least for me). Guidance is important in education- I know personally when teachers just throw work in front of me and force me to teach myself all the material, I get very frustrated and give up. Their class is not the only class I take, and while I would love to work on what they give me, I simply cannot complete things without guidance and then be expected to pass the end-of-unit test.

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Even if one TRIES to make a gradeless class or a self-taught class because studies say it’s beneficial, certain aspects of the school system will always be there. They will always be required to input some sort of grade, give us tests, and make us prepare for standardized tests. And if that’s what the education system is always going to be like, then yes, I want to conform so I can ultimately get good grades. It’s not good to set your students up for failure by not teaching them anything. This is where the balance comes in- let your students take the reigns sometimes and explore their interests. If they fail, help them get back up, guide them through the process, rinse, repeat. If anything, my 10 years of schooling has taught me that there IS a way to be a good teacher and prepare your students for the “real world” while also offering a useful, stimulating, and challenging class where students can experience things for themselves- teachers just need to find that balance.

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Rule #1: Don’t Demean Your Target Audience (I thought I wouldn’t have to say this…)

A large part of the podcast is how the evolution of technology has shaped the experiences of the youth. The fact that both Medcalf and Wettrick just categorize an entire generation into mindless zombies who just stare at their phone all day is ridiculous. Adults in general are so quick to demean the generations below them because they think they know best. They call us “soft,” “lazy,” “entitled,” you name it. “Well, when I was your age, I was destroying the economy and the housing market, I didn’t have any time to frolic around on my phone and eat avocado toast!” Sentiments like these only hinder society’s progress. After a quick Google search, I found a myriad of ways in which Millennials have been shaping the world as we know it (note to Boomers and Xers: Google (link here) is a great tool! Now you can check if the outlandish things you’re saying are actually true before you write another vacuous opinion piece!). For example, millennials are starting businesses at much younger ages than their Boomer counterparts (27 to their 35). They’ve also lead the way in societal changes like the legalization of marijuana and gay marriage, pushed for granting citizenship to unauthorized immigrants, raising the minimum wage, advocating for diversity in the workforce, and so on.

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Hoards of youth today have such creative imaginations and a pure drive to make the world better, and we need to foster this within our school system and allow it to grow. If we give kids a good learning environment and an opportunity to explore their interests, there is no doubt that they will all achieve great things. Will they cure cancer or colonize Mars? Maybe, maybe not. But don’t yell at that kid who draws all over his notebook in class- give him a computer and he’ll become a web designer. Don’t punish the outgoing kid who loves to talk and talk and talk in class- give her an outlet and she’ll become a famous writer.  Our youth WANT to change the world- we just need to give them a chance. While each generation might have had their downfalls, they also all contributed their own unique and important things to the world- that is undeniable. However, we, as a society, cannot brutally dismiss our youth because they are the basis for the generations to come.

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All in All…

This was overall a rollercoaster of a podcast- I wholeheartedly agreed with some things Medcalf and Wettrick talked about, while other things were outright insane. For example, one point that really sums this up is when he talks about how privileged and lucky he is to be white with money (and named Josh) because it opens up a lot more opportunities for him than if he were a person of color from a low-income community. Which is completely true. Yet, ironically, he doesn’t take the opportunity presented to him. If you have a privilege and can use it in a positive way, then take it. What he did by throwing away his education in its final phase is, quite frankly, extremely selfish and brainless. And, I quote, “Move your family to Africa, move them to the Philippines, go somewhere where struggle is a daily part of their existence instead of trying to manufacture opportunities for that to take place in your daily environment.” (around 15:15) What??

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When I first heard this, I honestly had no idea how to respond, but I’ll try… if you are blessed with opportunities to make your life great, then by all means, do it! Go to school, get a degree, get a job, change the world! Why not? I’m going to be brutally honest- going to Africa or the Philippines isn’t going to make up for your white guilt. Appreciate what you have, make the most of it, and if you still feel that guilt, then use your education to better their situation, instead of looking at struggling communities like you’re window shopping for the “perfect life experience.” You shouldn’t need to exploit those who are worse off than you just to put your life into perspective. Experiences will come to you through your education and through your day to day life– going out and saying “I’m going to look for an Experience™ today!” completely defeats the purpose. Education is an amazing way to not only better your own life, but the people around you, and ultimately leave an impact on the world– so while you should never stop pushing for change, also appreciate the education you were given.

“Education is what remains after one has forgotten what one has learned in school.”

                                                                                                                         -Albert Einstein

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End of Year Reflection

When I first came into high school, I was nervous but also ready to take on my classes. I was expecting high school to be completely different than what I experienced before, but what I’ve found is that it’s not that bad and I look forward to the years to come (especially graduating, because then I can be done with public school once and for all).

Overall, I am a more confident in the work that I produce, and through getting a larger workload, I’ve gotten better at managing the work that I get

Extracurriculars made the year more enjoyable, as I joined the debate team this year and had a pretty successful season considering I just started. After science club ended early on in the year, after a lot of problem-solving, it will most likely exist next year. Extracurriculars not only gave me a new community of people to interact with, but helped expand what I was already doing in school.

GHEnglish class has been fun as the dynamic between “gifted” students is much different than in your typical honors class. Through it, I’ve become a better writer and became more aware of my surroundings. Unfortunately, I didn’t “figure out who I was” or “find myself,” as, I’ll be brutally honest here– I don’t think a 9th grade English class will help me find who I am, as figuring out your identity takes years of thought and self-reflection, not just studying about philosophers.

For next year, I hope to get better at not procrastinating, as one of the worst parts of this year has been me not getting enough sleep at home and falling asleep in school. Despite my procrastination, I’ve always managed to get my work done before it was due, thanks to my extreme anxiety about all things school-related. I don’t want to say that I hope to be more nonchalant next year, but in the long run, the experiences you have (like hanging out with friends, spending time with family, going outside, doing extracurriculars, etc) are more important than whether or not I studied or my math test. I doubt teachers like to hear that or want me to say it in this essay but… it’s true.

Overall, I am happy with the things I accomplished in my first year of high school. For the years to come, I aim to challenge myself more with the things I do and push myself with my work. I will also continue updating this blog throughout the next year. Thanks!

 

New Beginnings

Hi! My name is Taja and I am a freshman in high school. My favorite subjects in school have always been science, english, and art. In my free time, I like to read, write, draw, as well as play piano. While this blog was created as a digital portfolio for my Gifted Honors English class, I hope over the course of these years it will grow along with me. I’ll be using this blog to post projects, book discussions, opinion essays relating to school, and other miscellaneous posts, so I hope you’ll join me on this journey! Thank you.