What’s wrong with school?

Let me try to answer that, and with an unordered list of a few of the things that are wrong with the schools. I take this question from a recent Quora Question, “What is wrong with American high schools?” changing it to include all American schools. (I  have placed Quora’s answer, written by a Gwen Brooks, below.)

  • It’s the idea that there is a place where children may best learn, everything and anything. That’s wrong, there is no such place.
  • It’s the idea that in this same place virtue can be taught. That’s wrong. There is no place that can claim to have ever taught virtue, although that’s not the same thing as saying that virtue can never be learned there, for virtue can be at least acquired, if not learned, anywhere.
  • It’s the idea that a school structure can be originally devised, subsequently and continually reformed and tweeked to eventually come up with a perfect school structure for learning. That’s wrong. Closer to the truth would be that there are as many ideal school structures as there are students in the school, no single structure good enough to make other structures unnecessary.
  • It’s the idea that skills (not virtue) can be taught by people/teachers not necessarily in possession of those skills themselves, be it playing the violin or finding unknowns as in mathematics. Wrong. Skill learning or acquisition is most effective, if done at least in the presence of those in possession of the targeted skill. There are skills that can probably be acquired from scratch, like dunking the basketball, or the vibrato produced in vocal or instrumental music by rapid, slight alternations in pitch.
  • It’s the idea that kids of the same age learn best together. That idea is really wrong, horribly wrong. Tell me did your parents keep you with your older and younger siblings, or did they look for your companions among other children of your age? Well both of course, but from whom did you learn the most? Perhaps the greatest mistake the schools have made is to assume that one learns best from others of the same age. Whereas it is common knowledge that learning, learning of new things, is best done with the help of those not of the same age, but older, and even younger, than you.
  • But what’s most wrong with the schools is probably their being based to a large extent on the founding ideas  of Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) and Horace Mann (1796-1859).
  • These founding ideas are still the very same ideas that energize the people who today most defend the public schools. Mann was not yet born when  Jefferson, as a very young man in 1776, wrote our country’s Declaration of Independence, but Jefferson’s words that all men are created equal, are endowed with certain unalienable Rights, including Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. must have been much on his mind when he wrote himself that universal public education was the best way to turn American children into disciplined, judicious republican citizens. Jefferson, no less that Mann, was an firm advocate of public education. In a 1786 letter to George Wythe, he remarked that most important is the diffusion of knowledge among the people. He believed that “no other sure foundation can be devised for the preservation of freedom and happiness” and that failing to provide public education would “leave the people in ignorance.”

  • Wrong, as the Donald would say in a tweet. The schools, in spite of our most cherished beliefs and wishes for them have never been that, an institution to turn our kids into a responsible citizenry. A kind of virtue that never has been and won’t ever be taught in the schools. This is what’s wrong with the schools: having constantly failed over a period of nearly 200 years to do what their founders had in mind for them. It’s not that they didn’t know a lot about education, Jefferson in regard to his own skills and knowledge being almost a university himself. But in Jefferson’s case what he knew most about was his own learning path, being probably the very best example out there of life long learning. And those of us who entertain similar life learning ambitions look to him as the model. But he never saw what the schools would become, although in his letters he does show that the kids were unruly, not as ready to learn as he first thought.
  • Have to stop, but my list of what’s wrong with the schools is not by any means completed… Add your own to the list. Or make a list of what’s right with the schools. Are there things that are right with the schools?

Ooh, this should be fun!

Well, for one, they come about at a very inconvenient period. When the people forced to go are exploring themselves, their identities, and the world around them. So, school in itself just seems like a distraction from all the self searching and junk.

People are telling you who you should be, what you should want when you don’t even know that for yourself. You’re doing your work but all you’re learning is that you definitely don’t fit in and don’t belong at school. What’s the point if you’re just going to end up with a boring office job, living in a house at the end of the cul-de-sac, trapped in a loveless marriage, with three children your dream will become more than you ever would but you know they never will?

It’s like you’re on your third cup of coffee finishing up a project from your English class and then you stop yourself and think, If school is preparing me for the future, is this what my future is going to be? Sitting alone in the dark hunched over work that I really don’t want to do? Is this what my life is going to be until the sweet, sweet release of death?

And then when you tell your therapist this and they have the nerve to send you to a psyche ward like you’re suicidal. Oh, am I inserting my own experiences into this? I’m sorry my bad. Well, that brings me to my next point:

They treat people with depression/anxiety/learning disabilities like dogs. I had to go to a mental ward for a couple of days. Not weeks. Not months. Days. It wasn’t like I was trying to kill myself, I was perfectly stable. I was just stresssd from all the work and social pressure that was on me.

When I was released, they acted like I would shoot up the school or something. All the special ed kids had to sit at the front of the bus and get dropped off at their houses and not the designated bus stop. So, I sat in the front of the bus and I got dropped off at my house and everyone on the bus thought I was a lunatic. The doctors put me on anti depressants (which, I never took because I didn’t need them, I just wanted someone to listen to me), and I had to get called up to the office everyday to take them in applesauce like I was a child. Do you see a pattern here?

My third point, no one listens to teenagers. Which, in some cases is justified, I mean we do say a lot of outrageous things. But I implore you to please just sit down and talk to your kids, you don’t even have to talk just listen. Don’t judge, just listen.


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