Are you currently going to school? Are you an adult who went to school? If you can read this, odds are that you went to school. Not because school taught you how to read, but because most English speakers in the world have attended school as students. We have been schooled.
But we haven’t been educated. The list of things which school doesn’t teach us is long and astonishing in it’s omissions. This list is not meant to be comprehensive, but a brief and broad overview of the complete failure (or success, depending on who you are) of schools to educate us in the things that matter.
First, A Super Brief History Of School
Have you ever asked yourself how our current schooling system came about? You know the kind; students, starting from age 6 until age 18, sit still for 8 or more hours a day while a “teacher” stands at the front of a classroom and lectures students on a subject. With “teachers” rotating through subjects or classrooms at the periodic sound of a bell or buzzer.
The history of the current model of schooling embraced by our civilization is as fascinating as it is disturbing. Children all over the world spend their childhood following the schooling system’s dictum, yet they are never taught “why” or “how” things came to be the way they are. This is because the ostensible reason given for schools’ existence, education, is superseded by the actual, tangible lesson school is meant to teach:
The public schooling system as most of us know it is derived from the factory model of schooling first introduced in Prussia in the early 18th century. This educational system was “[…] deliberately designed to produce mediocre intellects, to hamstring the inner life, to deny students appreciable leadership skills, and to ensure docile and incomplete citizens – all in order to render the populace “manageable”” (John Taylor Gatto, “Weapons of Mass Instruction”).
You can learn about this and more in Academy Of Ideas’ fantastic video essay: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6CDaflxJJ0g&t=9s
Were You Taught To Be Obedient? Me Too!
Now that we know a bit of the history of the schooling system, we have a simple, yet sturdy, platform from which to begin our exploration of the things school doesn’t teach us. You will see how the fact that school doesn’t teach these things is not an unfortunate overlook, but by design. To keep us obedient and ignorant.
What comes might seem hard on teachers. This is only because teachers are the front liners of the education system. What is really being criticized is the system which created these teachers, not the teachers themselves.
Schools Doesn’t Teach Money
Money is a curious thing. Everyone needs and wants it but we rarely talk about it. It’s like sex. You’re supposed to have a lot of it, but you’re not supposed to talk about how to get it or how it works.
Whatever be our beliefs about money, one thing is certain: if you live in our society, you need money. Money is important. It comes into play in every facet of our basic necessities; health, housing, clothing, food, water and warmth. Money allows us to satisfy our basic human necessities so we can focus on our higher, non-animal, requirements; self-actualization and living a life of meaning. In fact, money even plays a role in our non-animal requirements as it can allow us to travel to and pay people to help us out with them.
Yes, money is important. And yet.
Is money ever discussed in school? If money is such a crucial tool for us, why is it never discussed in school? A possible answer is that we don’t get taught about money in school because that’s not what school is for. Well then, what is school for? If children are spending upwards of 8 hours a day in school and they aren’t learning about money, a tool which comes into play everywhere in our civilization, what are they learning about? Rocks? Yes, rocks. We should be happy students are learning about rocks, that way if they’re ever about to be crushed by a landslide they can point to and identify the rocks as they bury them alive
I Learned Nothing About Money In School
I received a graduate degree and still, I had learned nothing about money. By my late mid-twenties I knew almost nothing about money. Aside from little bits and pieces which my parents let slip to me while growing up. I knew you could invest it in stocks and real estate and make more money that way, but that’s it. I didn’t know how you invested it, how you kept track of it, how you managed it, nor anything else that a functional, financially responsible adult needs to know about money.
In fact, I believed money was the root of all evil. To me, wanting lots money was a sign of greed. I wanted nothing to do with money. I wanted to do great work and serve others out of the goodness of my heart. Money was for other people, not me.
It should come as no surprise that I lived below the poverty line for the entirety of my twenties.
School Doesn’t Teach Self-Empowerment
The aphorism “Knowledge is power” is attributed to Sir Francis Bacon, an English philosopher and statesman of the 16th century. Whether or not it was he who first made that statement can never be proven. What can be said is that the pithy, much-touted-by-scholars-of-the-inane, statement is that it’s incomplete. Knowledge for the sake of knowledge is as useful as a holey bucket.
Knowledge is worthless until it is applied. Look around you, all wealth created by the human species is a product of applied knowledge. Had the knowledge just sat in people’s heads no art or science would have ever happened.
I mentioned that students learned about rocks in school. I learned about rocks in junior high. I was forced to sit on my butt and memorize dozens of types of rocks, which I never even saw firsthand, so I could then write about them in an exam. Do you know when that knowledge came in handy for me?
But the day a landslide crushes me I’ll be prepared. Actually, I won’t because I forgot everything I learned about rocks.
Knowledge Is Power, But Only When…
Knowledge is only power when it allows us to make better choices for ourselves. “Better” being relative to each individual’s needs. A blacksmith could benefit enormously from learning about the molecular structure which gives steel it’s strength, but what good would that knowledge be to an accountant?
Because each person is unique, with our own interests and motivations, we will only find value in knowledge which is relevant to us, to our needs. If our need involves knowing about the different types of codpieces worn by 18th century french aristocrats, then by all means go ahead and learn it. But why should someone who has no need of the knowledge be subjected to learning it?
Yet that’s what school does. It forces students to ignore their own interests so they can be forced to learn (which isn’t learning) subjects which have been decided on by centralized authorities who have probably never even visited the students’ communities and are utterly ignorant of its needs.
How can we expect that schools will form responsible, confident, compassionate adults, when every chance for children to learn about what it’s like to be an adult in our society is taken away from them by school and television?
Are Students Learning About How Their Emotions Work?
We all have emotions, all of our decisions are based on them, yet when do we ever learn how to manage them and express them in healthy ways?
Are students learning about nutrition? Last I checked, we all eat. We live in a world of vast nutritional opportunities, most of which are garbage, and yet students receive little to no guidance on how to navigate our civilization’s complex nutritional landscape. This serves the requirements of cereal manufacturer’s well, as all they have to do to ensure greater sales is to fill their cereals with more sugar and stamp a crazed, candy-addicted leprechaun on the box.
Are students learning about their body’s movement requirements? Our bodies evolved to be in regular, dynamic movement. Surely, this is something schools are teaching. But no, aside from a meager recess break, which is on the chopping block in some school districts, and an hour or two of “physical education” a week, students today have little chance to learn about their body’s need for movement. In fact, quite the opposite happens, as children start being forced to sit still from the age of 6 and on.
If student’s aren’t learning about all of these important things, these human things, then what are they learning about?
Schools Don’t Educate. They Indoctrinate.
What is education? My definition of education is the learning of empowering knowledge. What that knowledge is doesn’t matter, if we can use it to improve our lives then we are being educated. Education is our birthright.
Schools don’t educate. They don’t teach us what we need to know to succeed as human beings living in our complex society. Schools do, however, indoctrinate.
Indoctrination is the limiting of imagination. It is the curtailment of our vision, the clipping of our wings, our induction into the monotonous stomp of groupthink, the standardization of our humanity.
Jean-Jacques Rousseau was a Genevan philosopher and writer who lived in the 18th century. He contributed to the progress of the Enlightenment and the French Revolution. He stated:
“Man was born free, and he is everywhere in chains. […]”
And some of the heaviest links of those chains are forged in school. Human babies need to be socialized, we need to learn how to positively engage with others, in that way we are not born totally free, nor would we want to be. We have to learn how to play well with others, otherwise things fall apart. And our communities teach us how to do that, which is good.
But Schools Don’t Teach Us Community
Schools take us out of our communities into artificial, inorganic, age-segregated pens to be managed into compliance. Schools teach us to compete with each other, to derive our value from the numbers on a page or a screen, to listen unquestioningly and follow orders blindly, to look to others for directions on how to live our lives, rather than to listen to our own hearts.
Schooling does nothing to encourage our inquisitiveness. In “A More Beautiful Question”, a book about questioning by Warren Berger, he shows that before school children are avid questioners, as soon as preschool starts, this natural inquisitiveness begins a steady decline, until it reaches the lowest point in high school.
Carl Sagan, an astrophysicist, author and science communicator wrote in his book “Cosmos”:
“You go talk to kindergartners or first grade kids, you find a class full of science enthusiasts. And they ask deep questions! They ask: “What is a dream, why do we have toes, why is the moon round, what is the birthday of the world, why is the grass green?” These are profound, important questions! They just bubble right out of them. You go talk to 12th graders and there’s none of that. They’ve become incurious. Something terrible has happened between kindergarten and 12th grade.”
That “Something” Was School.
This decline in questioning is directly related with a decline in adventurousness. Questions open the mind. They broaden our vision, expand our sight away from what is observable at the surface, towards new, unexplored terrain. All human achievement started with a question: “I wonder what happens if I eat this mushroom?”, “I wonder what happens if I hit these two stones together?”, “I wonder if we could ever fly like the birds?”
The thing with questions is that they are subversive. Questions and authority don’t mix well. They are anathema to each other. Companies, government, religious institutions as we know them don’t thrive off of free-thinking, inquisitive people capable of independent thought and analysis. The modern institution needs obedient workers who do as they’re told and don’t question authority. Who knows their place in the social pyramid and obligingly, but not happily, remains there.
That’s why schools exist in the state they do. For decades there has been talk that schools are failing. But they’re not failing, they are doing exactly what they were designed to do: produce systemic, easily manageable people who can’t think for themselves.
In Conclusion, Schools Succeed At Indoctrinating Us
Until we wake up to the terrible damage that school is doing to us we will continue to accept its existence. I’m an expert in school. I went through it, I spent 20 years of my life in it, if you count preschool. I know what it’s like to be indoctrinated into servitude. I know how school succeeded in making me a thoughtless drone. The one thing I’m grateful to school for is that it allowed me to find the friends which have brightened my life. But that’s it.
If you’re like me and you are aware of how school hobbled your development, you are not alone. More and more people are waking up to their indoctrination. Some get angry and stay angry, remaining as victims to their circumstances. I don’t recommend that. There is a cure for the damage done by school. We don’t have to accept the damage it did to us, we can change it, we can heal our inquisitiveness.
We can either accept the damage done by schools or we can stand up for ourselves and demand change from those in power. They only have power because we allow them to. We must reclaim our power if we are going to get rid of the indoctrinating school. We need to scrap it all, there is no reform that can fix it, because it isn’t broken, it does exactly what it was meant to do.
We reclaim our power by educating ourselves, an opportunity which has become readily available with the internet. These days, ignorance is a choice.
What will you choose?
To our wealth and success.
What was your experience in school like? Do you know what you’re curious about? Have you ever wondered if there is a different way to live than the one you learned at school? I welcome your comments!