This is a guest post from Thi Nguyen. She is 15, and she is the high school student I wrote about last week after she interviewed me for a class assignment. These are Thi’s own thoughts about life in high school. 

I live in the Bay Area. I’m a sophomore at Amador Valley High School. It’s a highly ranked school, #171 in the nation, but to me it’s just a failing institution with a massive pot problem.

Amador looks like a perfect high school. Pleasanton is upper middle class, and the city could not be described as anything other than affluent. Test scores are off the charts and the teacher student ratio is 15:1.  If you wanted to send your kid to the best public high school out there, you could not get much better than Amador.
The thing is, everyone here knows that school is a joke. School is basically a game we’re forced to play to get the grade we want. Here’s an example:

For our second semester research paper, we have to research facts online, physically write down every fact we find on notecards, (putting only one fact on each notecard, no more), and then incorporate the notecards into the essay. Finding the research and adding it directly into the essay, or compiling the facts together into one place electronically like someone in the 21st century, would be much more efficient. But teachers insist that facts have to written down in an outdated and pointless intermediate step. It’s not only a waste of note cards, but of time.
This kind of drudgery, this kind of “We don’t know why you have to, but it’s part of the requirement” response from teachers is what breaks the will of students. School is teaching me that putting my head down, keeping my mouth shut, and doing the busy work will get me the grade, instead of reinforcing the value of meaningful work. Going into the real world, I’ll expect to get rewarded for busy work, not actual work. And anyone who knows what the world is like knows that’s not going to happen. So basically school is setting all of its academic successes up for failure by preventing learning. Any learning that happens at school happens regardless of it, not because of it.

Teachers know it too. One of my teachers has openly acknowledged the “game” of school and has tried to make it less stupid to “play.” But the fact that this even has to happen is a testament to how ridiculous school is.

For now, students are still willing to play the game. I’m willing to do whatever busy work there is to get the grade. I look good with the A+ and the administration looks good as having facilitated stellar grades. And for the most part, that’s a satisfactory tradeoff for both the students and administration. But so much creative energy, time, and talent are wasted in the process.

Which brings us back to pot. One of the side effects of marijuana is memory loss and increased difficulty remembering things. Students know that. Yet they’re still willing to use it to escape the suffocation of school, knowing that smoking pot will only make school harder.

You know how parents are always trying to protect their kids from “bad influences” that will make them do drugs? School is that bad influence.