School Sucks is what I hear teens say most often when describing school. The reason you feel that way is school does suck, and for a long time!
It’s okay to hate school—nothing is wrong with you!
3 Big Reasons School Sucks
1. You Don’t Have a Choice
Abuse in Texas Truancy Program
You are forced to go to school. Not just by your parents, but by the full authority of the government and the threat of police action. Can you think of any circumstance where something good is forced upon you by armed government officials? There are alternatives to school, but they require strong commitments from your parents. You don’t have a vote. The current schooling system is designed to educate you its way whether you like it or not (I’m guessing you don’t).
2. You have no autonomy
The force doesn’t end once you get to school. Since you have no choice in attending, schools have a monopoly over your time. Monopolies don’t normally respect their captive audiences. They typically do what’s best for them. That means a lot of “my way or the highway”. You might rather spend extra time understanding a new math concept? Too bad, the bell has rung—move on. You don’t agree with a sanitized version of US American History? Tough, it’s common core.
How do the following features contribute to a life-long thirst for knowledge: no-talking, no phones, no gum, no hats, no music, no boisterous behavior, no running, no control of your time, no collaborating… you get the idea.
3. School isn’t designed for you
You could probably live with the first two reasons if you thought you were achieving educational and personal goals leading to your brightest future. That’s almost certainly not the case. US public schooling is an import of the Prussian (pre-German) system Volksschule, designed to impose a strict ethos of duty, sobriety and discipline to prepare students for a life of military service and industrial work (you may thank Horace Mann). You are being processed through a system designed to mold you into compliant, punctual factory workers. Does that sound like the future you’re dreaming of?
You may wonder why you hate school so much, but don’t know exactly why. Or, you may think the authoritarian, high-discipline, get-focussed environment is the best thing to prepare you for the future. You just have to learn to deal with it, right? But the truth is your brain isn’t yet fully developed—especially the prefrontal cortex that your teachers are teaching to. All. Day. Long.
What’s up with my brain?
1. It’s taking risks which adults say the benefits aren’t worth.
Teen brains are much more prone to focus on the possible positive outcomes than the possible consequences1. This is especially true when trying to impress friends or future romantic interests. The statistical evaluation doesn’t come up. This isn’t actually a defect, it’s an evolutionary feature which helps teens strike out on their own, impress future mates, and confidently become who they imagine. Parents should appreciate this feature that helps teens eventually create a life of their own.
2. It’s Doing stupid things that may wind up on your permanent record.
Your prefrontal cortex is the agent responsible for regulating decision making and impulse control. If you want a good example of how this works (or doesn’t), watch a drunk adult who has put their prefrontal cortex to sleep with alcohol. They say stupid things, do stupid things, and sometimes end up with permanent (police) records. Their judgment is impaired. Just like every teenager’s judgment is impaired.
Stress further reduces your prefrontal cortex thoughtful control in favor of immediate emotional responses with sub-optimum outcomes. Ever head of a teenager with stress in their life?
3. It’s multi-tasking sucks.
Your executive agent (yes, the prefrontal cortex) isn’t fully developed2. So, when you get a pile of work to do in seven different subjects, due at various times while angling for a weekend date, trying to impress your friends on the ball field, and looking for your lost notebook… Wait, what were you talking about? I got lost.
That is exactly what happens to teens every day. Forgotten homework, lost items and other mental tasks adults can’t believe you lost track of. Blame your non-cooperative executive agent.
So, I can count on people to help me get through this?
Now that we’ve established your brain isn’t yet working right, adults could cut you some slack and help you figure out how to work with the hormonal, impulse-driven, poor-decision-making stew you’re dealing with. Or, adults could make things worse for you by making up some arbitrary punishment frameworks like zero-tolerance or three-strikes-and-your-out that ignore your currently poor judgment, and degrade your future with permanent records. Guess which you’re likely to face from your Prussian-designed, authoritarian education team? Yes, the team drinking coffee with the police (aka resource officer) in the school break room.
The cops are waiting for you to screw up
Between 25% and 41% of you will be arrested for something worse than a minor traffic violation before you reach your 23rd birthday4. The USA imprisons youth at six times the rate of all other developed nations3. Schools, working closely with the police, get tough with you so you’ll learn early to be a good boy or girl. Unfortunately, it works just the opposite. Teens who are incarcerated are three times more likely to re-offend4. This scenario is called the school to prison pipeline, and it doesn’t help teens at all.
Please think about the profound opportunity cost of 13 years (16,000 hours) of schooling vs. something better.
Certainly, your school teachers and administrators don’t wake up in the morning wondering how they will crush your creative spirit, and have you locked up in prison. But, they work within a system that constantly coaxes you toward compliance or discipline.
Academically, they have standard metrics for you to achieve. Socially, they have protocols that increasingly require police involvement for behaviors that would once have been handled between school officials and parents5.
Staying out of trouble isn’t enough
If you’re thriving in your current school, great! You’ve lucked into an environment that works for you. At least it works for you now. But, remember that doing everything you’re told to do in school, then doing everything you think you’re supposed to do in college doesn’t guarantee you a job or happiness. It certainly doesn’t prepare you to stand your ground when you should.
For those who think school sucks, your numbers and alternatives are growing. Now is the time to begin looking for engaging learning models that prepare you for your best future. Sir Ken Robinson describes how our current education system is killing the creativity we need for success in the coming decades.
Sir Ken Robinson Killing Creativity
We need an education revolution
Our current marketplace (jobs if you will) value self-motivated, creative, entrepreneurial innovators. Teenage risk-taking and adventure are well suited to developing these attributes. But, our monopoly school system is perfectly designed to crush these qualities in order to produce standardization and compliance. I do not believe our current school system can be reformed. It is designed for a past era—even the buildings are designed for control.
Sir Ken Robinson describes the revolution we need in his 2010 TED Talk
School ≠ Learning
You might think I sound anti-education. Please know I think lifelong, self-directed learning is the key to success and happiness. Not school—learning.
School is where you have to go about 180 days per year from morning until afternoon. While you’re there, teachers will try to educate you. Whether you learn is up to you. If you can manage the environment, you may very well get a fantastic education. If not, you probably will not be able to focus on learning—so you won’t.
Learning is what you decide is worth understanding well enough to incorporate into your thoughts to be used in the future. Some teachers are fantastic at enticing you to see the allure of topics that might otherwise seem unexciting. Some settings create the allure. Most of you develop interests organically, but may find your interests are crowded out by prescribed subjects from a full school schedule.
We need a new model
We need to figure out what parts of learning should be just-in-case learning, and what parts should be just-in-time learning. We need to figure out how to separate day care from learning so students are eager to be involved in their learning groups. We need to figure out how to emphasize collaboration over competition, critical thinking instead of memorization, and how to sift through enormous volumes of information to extract meaning. Then communicate that meaning to others. Most importantly, we need to find learning systems that appeal to many different types of learners—people will not learn if they don’t want to!
Learning may happen in large buildings, but may just a likely happen in small groups in a home, at community centers, or at a coffee shop. What is important is that we create paths students can follow to achieve goals they deem important in ways they prefer.
Every day, everywhere, our children spread their dreams beneath our feet. We should tread softly. Sir Ken Robinson, TED 2006
What can you do… for you?
Please come back in a couple of weeks (or become a HighPrep member to receive an email) for the next article describing how you can create learning opportunities within the current system. Ones that help you learn more, be better prepared for the real world, be less bored, stay out of trouble, and better enjoy being a teen.
For now, take some comfort in knowing It’s okay to hate school—nothing is wrong with you!
Irreverent articles and sites that don’t agree with the current schooling model:
1. CNN: Elizabeth Landau, E. (2011, October 19). Why Teens are Wired for Risk. Retrieved April 10, 2015.
2. LiveScience: Staff, B. (2005, May 17). Why Teens are Lousy at Chores. Retrieved April 10, 2015.
3. New York Times: Liptak, A. (2008, April 23). U.S. prison population dwarfs that of other nations. Retrieved April 10, 2015.
4. Time: Szalavitz, M. (2011, December 19). Study: 1 in 3 Americans Arrested By Age 23 | TIME.com. Retrieved April 10, 2015.
5. Wall Street Journal: FIELDS, G. (2014, October 20). For More Teens, Arrests by Police Replace School Discipline. Retrieved April 10, 2015.