Saturday, March 12, 2011

Why High School is Bad for Many People

It’s been many years since I was in high school, but even back then it dawned on me that high school fulfilled the purpose it was designed for – and it was a purpose in which I and many other students were not included.

First and foremost, the purpose of high school is to produce athletes, and after that, to produce students who make high grades.

It is a sad fact that the word “athlete” means “dumb jock,” and for all practical purposes it’s one word: “dumbjock.” Very few of them could
make it as professional athletes, so they joined the military and then became police officers.

So, then, one of the main purposes of high school was to produce not-too-bright rule followers, ones with police and military mentalities. The athletes, far more than any other group, got the attention, the crowds, and the newspaper pictures and articles.

For some of them – the Al Bundys and the Hank Hills – being a high school athlete was the high point of their lives. After that, it was just treading water.

Those who studied and made high grades, while they did not get nearly the attention the athletes did, still got praise and awards. Every high school has its valedictorian. They may have had fairly high IQs, and good memorization and analytical skills, but lacked creativity and originality. I always considered them to be potential corporate drones, programmed to spend their lives in cubicles.

Those were the only two groups that high school is designed to create. Athletes and grinds. Sports entertainers, soldiers, police officers, and corporate drones. No one else ever received any kind of support, and as far as I can tell, still don’t.

There was another group, which was pretty much invisible. They were the nerds. I was friends with a few of them, and one I knew since I was six years old became a scientist. Others became engineers. But in high school they were invisible, spending their time hanging out with the chess or science club, and never being invited to parties, since most kids never knew they existed.

The group I belonged to was the party kids. In my day, they were called freaks, and we were not invisible. In fact, we had to keep an eye out for the police. I ended up in jail twice, innocent both times.

We had hair down past our shoulders, and spent our weekends cruising, going to parties, and drinking and smoking dope. It was in many ways a cross between “American Graffiti” and “Animal House.”

Very few of us were intellectual, and those of us who were (which I was and kept hidden), found an overlap with the nerds. That’s why I realized I was about two-thirds freak and one-third nerd. I could easily move between both worlds, and when I was a junior I would before school play chess with one nerd in a science lab.

Had I been raised in another part of the country, I would have ended up being a long-haired, dope-smoking, science-fiction-reading, Twinkie-eating, computer-programming freak-nerd. Since I was not raised in another part of the country, I was all of those things except a computer programmer, since we had no computers where I lived, unlike, say, in Seattle.

To this day I still find it amazing that our culture praises those who contribute little to the advancement of society – athletes and actors -- and ignores and in many ways denigrates those who contribute a great deal, e.g., scientists and engineers. You just about have to be in a wheelchair, like Stephen Hawking, before anyone knows who you are.

The media, politicians and researchers howl about our educational system’s inability to produce graduates proficient in math and science. Has it ever occurred to them the schools are not set up to produce critical thinking, educational excellence, and good character? That they are set up to produce anti-intellectual athletes and corporate worker bees?

What can be done to fix these problems? Our socialized schools are ossified with bureaucracy and red tape. How do you “reform” that? You can’t.

Schools can try to force students to take more classes in math and hard science (and will try), but when it comes right down to it, they’ll still be designed to produce athletes and valedictorians, not mathematicians, not engineers, not biologists, not chemists, not physicists.

Most of all, they are not designed to produce smart, truly educated people.

The only cure I see to this problem is closing down the public schools and allowing private schools to compete with one another. In the not so long ago, there were no public schools, and America produced people like Thomas Jefferson, Ben Franklin and George Washington.

With competition, public schools that imitate the public schools will go out of business, and that is a good thing. It’s no loss at all. Trial and error, and the creativity that comes with liberty and the free market, will quickly show what works and what does not work.

If there are schools for athletes or those who want to make high grades, it’s a wonderful thing. But there should also be schools for those who are not interested in such things, and have more of an interest in the life of the mind.

Not only will the students benefit from such schools, but, in the long run, so will society.

No comments: