Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Why High School is Bad for Anyone with a Brain

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. We were the Outsider.

First and foremost, the purpose of high school is to produce athletes, and after that, to produce students who make high grades. Entertainers and Drone Workers. It's as if they're little factories designed to remove your brains and characters and replace it with the Borg. - to debrainify me.

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, whose purpose these days is to not think and instead just follow orders.

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.

I got the creepy feeling school was a kind of machine - of course soulless, as are machines are - and we were but cogs in it. Sit, march, sit, ring the bell, right side of the hallway, listen, take tests, do homework. I realized in the seventh grade than school was not a place for smart people. That year was when school really became intolerable. And so, soon, some of us rebelled.

For others – 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 or else were repulsed by them, since they considered them mutants.

The group I belonged to was the party kids. 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. We swam, rode minibikes and horses, and even had a Styrofoam sailboat called a Sea Snark, which, I swear, held three of us without sinking. We went to bonfire parties with 500 people. We hitchhiked across the country. It was in many ways a cross between American Graffiti and Animal House. And I had a blast. The only problem is that I wanted more of it.

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 80% party animal and 20% nerd (Pareto's Law here). 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 hippie-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. They're considered Dilberts and Wallys, stuck in a society of pointy-horned/haired Satan bosses. 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? And that it's unbearably boring to anyone with a brain and any creativity? To the extent these people exist they did it on their own, in spite of school.

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.

For all practical purposes, I didn't learn anything past the first grade. I could have been cut loose to wander the country-side looking at tadpoles and bamboo growing by the rail-road tracks and wondering what they were and where they came from - which is what I did when left alone.
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. Schools are boring and designed to produce brainless drone workers. They can't even do that anymore, not with a 40% drop-out rate.

Education is supposed to be about identifying a student's talents and drawing them out. It hasn't done that for a long time, except for a few select groups.

The only cure I see to this problem is closing down the public schools and allowing private schools to compete with one another - as long the private schools don't imitate the public schools with the sit/match military/prison organization. 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.


dana said...

if you never read it, youll LOVE this, "the underground history of american education":

Unknown said...

Yes and for an update on the current trend on education, Common Core, visit thie blog:

She argues that Common Core is designed specifically to extinguish future Axemaker Minds, those who become scientists, engineers, independent thinkers who can conceptualize and then act.

Athletes are no threat to the status quo. Neither are those who are active but think with their emotions. And everyone can learn the benefits of diversity and seeing the world through a lens of approved social activism.

Anonymous said...

A psychiatrist friend of mine said that several of her patients' psychiatric problems were at least partly as a result of their school experiences. It's a topic that psychologists speak of privately, but few state it publicly because they don't want to be perceived as anti-education.

lowly said...

Ok, but every tribe has a way of shaping it's young 'uns into working members. You're going to have some uniforming model, else you won't have a tribe, and people want, and need, their tribes. No matter the system, there will always be those that would be better served by a different system.

sth_txs said...

George Carlin does a good job summarizing the issue:

Quartermain said...

Just an aside:

Difference between Al Bundy and Hank Hill.

Al Bundy had a life, family, and job he hated.

Hank Hill had a life, family and job he loved. Plus, he usually tried to do the right thing and came out ahead.

Ironically, Married With Children was more cartoonish than King of the Hill, which was more of a slice of life series.

Any way with that said, great post all in all.