For most American children, the routine is the same. Go to elementary school. Learn the alphabet. Go to middle school. Have an awkward sexual awakening. Go to high school. Sweet-talk your way into good grades. Go to college. And so on and so forth.

For these children, an education is the standard; it is expected. But this new normalization of education has led to dire consequences. On one hand, it is absolutely wonderful that American children are almost guaranteed a basic education.

But, on the other, what is a basic education? The standard for education has clearly declined over the years. Basic but essential programs such as grammar are being cut from American school systems. Teachers are poorly paid and are held to the standard of a few standardized tests. Now, if I meet an individual, young or old, who knows the difference between “your” and “you’re” or “there” and “their,” I choke up as I long for yesteryear.

You see, growing up in South Africa, I was exposed to the belief that education is a gift. I was driven by a natural curiosity that led me to read for fun and want to multiply before all the other kids. Even at an older age, people strive to excel.

Here’s an example. In South Africa, every graduating high school senior, or matric, takes “matric exams.” These exams encompass everything students learned throughout the years and are the biggest indicator of whether a student is strong or not. Students can pass their exams with an “exemption,” which is an A, or even a “distinction,” a B. Given the difficulty of the exams, both of these grades are coveted.

Weeks after taking these exams, South African students crowd national newspaper distributors at midnight to hear — you guessed it — their matric results. Everyone in the country can see your grades and see whether you got your high school diploma or not.

Gasp. Of course you’re angered by this very public display. Why wouldn’t you be? You’re from the land in which some schools don’t rank their students and children never win games because “everyone’s a winner.”

Too bad. You know why? In a real-life setting, not everybody is a winner. Nobody is going to hold your hand and tell you it’s okay. And if you mess up, everybody knows. You can’t sweep your shortcomings under the carpet as an adult so why should you be able to as an almost-adult?

Here’s a wake-up call, America. This refusal to give students a real goal and purpose is taking all the meaning out of education. Countries that were once considered the bottom of the barrel are completely overtaking us because in those countries, people are not afraid to work and they are not afraid to face failure. And if they do fail, they are not afraid to get back up and try again.

This wishy-washy education routine that forces students to do nothing more than merely memorize is no longer adequate. On an international scale, American students are no longer competitors.

America has the resources to teach its students and that is wonderful. But systemic laziness needs to be removed from the education system and there needs to be a revitalization in the desire to not just get a degree, but to push beyond that.

You did it once, America. Why not do it again?