Here are three quotes about school from people of differing backgrounds and ideologies (near as I can remember them):
“It is a universally acknowledged truth that high school sucks. In fact, high school is where we are first introduced to the basic existential question of life: how is it possible to exist in a place that sucks so bad?” Jesse Andrews, Novelist and Screenwriter
“If we schooled people from the time they were babies, in ten years people would be wondering how someone could learn to walk outside of school?” — Dave Smith, Comedian
“School sucks!” — 90 percent of students
Isn’t it strange how we ignore that last quote even though it’s repeated so often by the very people school is for? Why do we not find it a problem that, among kids, school is as popular as broccoli?
“Perhaps,” you might say, “broccoli is a good comparison. They may not like it, but it’s good for them.”
But is Education, American-Style, Good for Them?
Preliminary: I'm not questioning education itself, which is obviously a good thing if you don’t screw it up.
I'm talking about the modern American model followed by public schools and most private schools. I'm talking about institutions that think John Dewey had anything good to say about the education of children.
From the ages of 5 to 18, we wake kids up at an hour before anything holy has entered the world, load them onto busses, and pack them in crowded rooms where they are confined to a desk for seven hours, only getting breaks at the behest of a bell, where they then mindlessly go to their next station. At one point, they get a lunch break which is monitored and consists of food that manages to be unhealthy and tastes bad, before they once again trudge into the assembly line hallway to their next station.
School Today was Made to Train Factory Workers
With the benefit of hindsight, I look back at what the stoners told me while I was in high school and realize they were right: school was made to train factory workers.
But at least the factory workers' work day ends when the bell rings.
Students, they get homework, which is usually time-consuming busy work.
If students have trouble focusing in the unique setting of being trapped in a desk, then we prescribe them amphetamines.
If someone rebels, we extend his sentence with detention.
If after all of that, they’re just not good at school, that means they’re stupid.
There are No Bad Teachers. There are Just Stupid Students
In The Karate Kid, Mr. Miyahi said there are no bad students, just bad teachers. But schools completely reverse this. A student can flunk out, but a teacher is almost never fired due to incompetence.
The only reason I ever hear students say they like school is because it’s where their friends are. Yet, just as we’re more schooled than ever, we’re in a crisis of loneliness.
And for what? Why do we put children through this? An education?
Are we really more educated than we use to be?
It’s likely true that at no other point in history could so many people read, but as a society, we’re terrible readers.
Not long ago, Mark Twain, J.R.R Tolkien, and Robert Louis Stevenson were considered appropriate reading material for children. Now you’re more likely to come across them in AP Literature classes than on elementary school bookshelves.
And if you can’t read well, forget about writing. We’ve devolved back into hieroglyphics 😂.
I dare anyone with a social media account to tell me that we’re a society of well-read and articulate thinkers.
Math has stuck with me reasonably well, but I get the impression that is not always the case. Knowledge of science is pretty much specialized: you’re either an expert or you just know that the mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell.
And school had reduced the stories of our countries and ancestors to a series of dates.
What’s the Alternative? Anything!
Politicians relentless run on the issue of education, and all they can think to do is throw more money at the schools.
It's amazing that they don't see how ridiculous this is: If the foundation sucks, it doesn’t help to stack more bricks onto it.
It doesn't have to be this way.
Read letters written by Civil War soldiers and you will find them to be colorful and erudite. And I'm not talking about the generals, I'm talking about the cannon fodder.
Or read the toy-making books that use to be popular for children in the early twentieth century and see if even you, an adult, can follow the instructions as well as the typical kid back then could.
My goodness, if we just took kids’ phones away and told them to find something to do outside, you might find that they will develop friendships, creativity, courage, and problem-solving that surpass anything that can come out of a classroom.
A Few Ideas to Help Educate Kids
A few years ago, I heard testimony of a teacher who was in charge of the “bad kids” and they just read stories together. They came out of the class unable to do math, but they could read and write and, most importantly, were instilled with a sense of wonder.
We can hold teachers’ unions and school boards accountable for bullying teachers who have success by going off script (as was the case for “Stand and Deliver” subject, Jaime Escalante). We could just tell them to screw off and fire teachers who suck at their job. Some of you might scoff, given the teacher shortage, but maybe if there was an aspiration to excellence, we might see better candidates. Besides, I reject the notion that a bad teacher is better than no teacher. Just cancel the class and shorten the day if that’s the case. Plus, you can pay the good teachers more without a bad teacher eating into the budget.
Speaking of which, there is no reason besides day ”care” for schooldays to be as long as they are. At a certain point, a child is not going to learn anymore. In Finland, which far outperforms the United States in terms of education, the school day is five hours long with homework being rare.
If the impact of shortened school days will be too much pressure on families where the parents have to work, then make outdoor recess four hours long. I don't really care. Just don't flip out if a student scrapes a knee, cries after losing a game, or gets into a fight.
Speaking of recess, when did we decide that kids no longer needed to go outside once they turned twelve? Let those boys outside and scrum; let those girls outside and run.
Saint Gregory’s Academy in Pennsylvania simply gave high school students shovels and sent them outside. No further instructions. They ended up digging holes, finding coal, and using it as currency in a miniature economy.
These are neither deep nor expensive ideas.
But somehow, we only come up with the solutions that don’t work.
Kids, who are naturally filled with liveliness, wonder, and inquisitiveness, end up bored, cynical, fat, pale, and miserable.
My stoner friends were right: School sucks.