School is where ambition goes to die.
I know what you’re thinking: Is this guy really saying that education is a threat to our children’s well-being?
The answer, of course, is yes. I argue that education as currently practiced in the United States has a detrimental effect on kids. And I’m speaking as a survivor of the American public education system.
Schools are too big to succeed.
Most of the institutions we send our kids to resemble prisons more than places of learning both physically and procedurally, resembling something out of a Pink Floyd song. This is an undeniable fact. And the psychological effects of this are incredibly damaging.
Think about how many kids you knew who were never the same after you got to high school. Maybe your kid was the one. Or maybe it was you: The child who loved learning, was eager to do math, say, or loved to read, or learn about history or the universe, and in general enjoyed life.
And then they went to school and something happened . . . they fell in with the wrong crowd, or were targeted by bullies, or teachers. Add into the mix the normal difficulties with growing up, and this person came out changed. Sullen, depressed, fearful, addicted to something, and with no interest in getting that important education.
The biggest threat to your kids is other people’s kids.
Other people’s kids, more so than the teachers, and more so than parents themselves, have more influence on your kids than you like to imagine.
Peer pressure is a powerful force, and kids are far more likely to be influenced by their peers than by their teachers. Combined with the fact that, for the majority of American kids, school is where you spend the bulk of your waking hours, and you have the potential for disaster.
I thought of this when discussing things recently with a bright, pretty, smart, and generally well-dispositioned seventeen-year-old. She seems well-adjusted on the surface, but her experiences in school clearly bothered her enough to start talking about it to all of us.
The bullying she related was astounding, and I don’t think atypical in schools, even affluent ones, from what I have heard from others and seen myself. From being physically assaulted by other girls for being smart, to having boys conspire to take her virginity, to rumors that she was a whore and a slut or a lesbian, because she wouldn’t sleep with any of the boys, to being thought uppity because she dressed well, to having organized on-line bullying campaigns against her, my heart broke for this girl. I also thought back to what I witnessed when I was in school and feared that my own kids would soon be facing the meat-grinder that is American public education before too long.
Things got so bad for her girl that the school told her, in conjunction with her therapist, that she needed to take six weeks off of school lest she hurt herself. What happened to her tormentors?
Come on, it’s current year. You know how this story ends.
And this girl went to good schools! I shudder to imagine what bad ones are like.
School’s can’t monitor and remedy everything, and that’s the point. Going to school is like prison for a crime you didn’t commit:
- Schools have become so big, so bureaucratic, and so institutionalized, you may as well be in the prison yard
- The principal is the warden
- The teachers are guards
- The kids are all inmates
- The cafeteria food is generally garbage
- You get recess . . . if you’re lucky
- The kids’ lives are regimented by a bell and the orders of the teachers
- Everybody has to sit down, shut up, and wait in line
- There doesn’t seem to be any consistency or justice
- There is no reliable authority students can appeal to for redress of grievances
And worst of all, most schools fail in their core function of turning out educated citizens.
American education has gotten so preposterous, so deficient, that something has to be done. I’m no expert, and I’m not about to go into the reasons why that is here (hint: Politics), but I can see that something has to change. Obviously education is one of the most important functions a society can perform, and every kid deserves at least the opportunity to learn, and if you live in the right zip code they’ll probably get a decent one. But we spend so much money on education in this country, and for what?
Apart from the lack of learning, our education system is detrimental to our children’s physical, emotional, and yes, spiritual well-being.
But what do we do? We can’t privatize our educational system, we’re told. And we can’t have everybody be homeschooled because “muh teacher’s unions.” We need public education.
Assuming arguendo that this is true and public education is the only way, what can we do to make it better?
Everyone bangs on about student-to-teacher ratio, that we lose sight of the fact that schools are just too big.
I propose we have smaller schools. Forget about small class size. I’m talking about small school size. Shrink the whole damn place.
Most towns will need to have more physical school locations. Will this cause more overhead in the form of electricity, plumbing, duplication of resources? Perhaps. But some resources can be shared (a central gymnasium or large auditorium, for example). Isn’t getting better results actually worth spending the money on?
Do schools really need to have thousands of students? Like most things in life, the bigger and more bloated the get, the worse everybody does. Things become too unruly, too difficult to manage, too layered, and at the end of the day if the administrators are getting paid, they don’t give a fuck about the education your kids receive.
Shrink everything. Cut it down. Have smaller schools with class sizes of no more than 100. If this means more buildings, so be it. But our education system needs to stop resembling our prison system. People are functions of their environment, after all, especially impressionable kids.
And it may just be easier to police the students that act like prisonyard bullies and the teachers who abuse their power.
Here’s another novel idea: If a kid repeatedly proves that they’re unfit to mingle with the rest of civilized society, expel their ass, permanently.
Why should everybody else’s kids have to suffer because some other parent sucks at their job?