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GRE Issue 17: Formal Education Tends To Restrain Our Minds And Spirits - With A Free Essay Review

PROMPT: "Formal education tends to restrain our minds and spirits rather than set them free." Write a response in which you discuss the extent to which you agree or disagree with the statement and explain your reasoning for the position you take. In developing and supporting your position, you should consider ways in which the statement might or might not hold true and explain how these considerations shape your position.

I partially agree with the statement that formal education tends to restrain our minds and spirits rather than set them free.

It is true that without proper pedagogy, formal education is more likely to restrain students’ minds and spirits instead of setting them free. Take Chinese schools for example. Because of the exam-oriented education, a large number of teachers in China focus too much on how well students recite the material and information from their textbooks. In history class, for instance, teachers demand students to memorize when this or that event happened, who the leader of this activity was, and even ridiculously to recite word for word what the significance of events is according to textbooks. By these means of education, students become a robot, taking great pains to repeat what the books say and memorize them without thinking. Ironically, after taking final examinations, students immediately forget all they recite and hardly gain any ability of critical thinking. Besides, in some areas, a uniform curriculum places rigid restrictions on what subjects can be taught and what ought to be taught in each course. This infeasible action fetters students’ minds and spirits indirectly since teachers have little freedom to talk more beyond the scope of textbooks for the sake of intriguing students’ minds and imagination.

Admittedly, in some schools, formal education may have a detrimental influence on students’ minds and spirits, but it can also set students’ minds free through correct pedagogy. Compared to the rigid teaching method mentioned above, in a quality-oriented education, an experienced teacher will ask students to evaluate a historical event and use their own words to express their opinions different from textbooks’. Free from reciting lots of boring dates and names, students can pay much attention to reflect and discover the hidden meanings behind each important event. So, whether formal education will restrain students’ minds largely depends teaching methods and education policy.

In addition, some courses inherently have a feature of letting students engage in deep thinking. In philosophy class, for example, a professor may ask students some pedestrian questions. But with these questions, students will have a heightened ambivalence of alternating right and wrong, by which the teacher can intentionally make students think deeply and complicatedly so as to explain some contradictory situations and defend their own argument made before. Analytical writing class also has a favorable impact on students’ spirit and minds. Take me for example. When I attend this course, my classmates and I will always have a heated discussion about topics, such as “whether in any field, those in power should step down after five years.” During this debate, all of us not only have a brainstorm and unconsciously set our minds free, but also hone our critical thinking ability and learn how to treat one thing comprehensively and objectively. Therefore, formal education can set students’ minds free rather than restrain them.

In conclusion, formal education does not tend to restrain our minds and spirits unless improper pedagogy is made. Also, some subjects, such as philosophy and analytical writing, are bound to helpful with respect to free thinking.



This is a difficult prompt because the meaning of the claim is not very precise. It's not entirely clear, for instance, what it means to set a mind and spirit free. (Note by the way that if you come across a prompt like that, it is reasonable, and even advisable, to point out the imprecision of the claim and the fact that such imprecision makes evaluating the claim difficult.)

The general form of the argument presented in your first two body paragraphs is that the impact of formal education depends on such things as curriculum and pedagogy. That's a good argument, but I suggest you ought to articulate its general form explicitly instead of just giving examples of possible positive and negative outcomes of formal education. Generally, it is a good idea to try to demonstrate your ability to think both abstractly and concretely (by way of example), and this prompt, despite its difficulty, is conducive to both, and given the imprecise meaning of the prompt, demands both.

Best, EJ.

P.S. I've no idea what meaning the following is intended to convey: "students will have a heightened ambivalence of alternating right and wrong"; Also, it is possibly not a good idea to use a GRE prompt (“whether in any field, those in power should step down after five years.”) as an example of the kind of thinking you debate in your analytical writing class.
Submitted by: hahaxiao66

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