Schools: A Threat to Mental Health?
With everyone back in school, perhaps not uncoincidentally, I became aware of a rash of articles and videos - some new, some old - that sternly indict our education system (at least in the US) for the damage they inflict upon our children.
At the same time, I came across stories of kids who were thriving outside of the school system.
The gist of these pieces ran as follows: Our school systems have long ago outlived the era of industrialized education - mass-produced learning for a mass-produced age. In our fast-changing society, there is a premium on thinking creatively to meet new challenges.
Unfortunately, schools these days seem to specialize in crushing kids’ spirits and killing their creativity. A lot of this has to do with preparing kids to take standardized tests rather than teach them how to think.
This has been a process decades in the making.
At the same time, we have structured every second of a child’s life, depriving them of unsupervised play and the time and space to learn to think and act for themselves, not to mention develop their social skills.
Meanwhile, in an increasingly winner-take-all society, we are stressing our kids (not to mention their parents) to the breaking point.
The breaking point is worth special mention. I am no educational expert, but what I can say with absolute authority is this: There is no way - knowing what we
know now about what toxic environments can do to biologically vulnerable brains - I would have survived in today’s educational system.
This includes grade school, middle school, high school, and university.
I barely survived way way back, in the supposedly good old days. I was a slow learner in grade school, I experienced depressions in middle school, had an extra year of high school, and crashed and burned in my first attempt at college.
I try to imagine myself as a kid today. No way. If the prison-like environment of today’s classrooms didn’t do me in, then the surfeit of exercise and play time and surplus of junk food would. I would be bouncing off walls and ceilings, falling asleep in my chair, tuning out my surroundings, and waking up wishing I was dead.
I would be a statistic, one of those kids with multiple behavior problems who needed to be on some kind of medication. Not just psych meds, perhaps for allergies and diabetes, as well. Perhaps the medication would work, but for what? So I could go on to college and endure my next round of having my soul destroyed?
And end up as what?
Okay, I’m starting to wax existential - a term I did not learn in school, incidentally.
No doubt there are counter-arguments to every issue I raised. Indeed, we can all point to someone’s kid as Exhibit A for what our schools do right. Not only that, many of us continue to be inspired by the enlightened teachers in our midst.
My point is this: A generation ago, the conversation was a lot different. We assumed that school, for all its faults, was the key that unlocked our potential, the gateway to a meaningful life. The debate centered around how to make education work for everyone.
Now many of us perceive schools to be the problem, not the solution. We see a public health hazard that poses major challenges to our kids, physically and mentally. Growing numbers of parents are opting their kids out of the system. Many more would, if they they could.
Kids display remarkable resilience to toxic environments, but resilience should not be a trait we need to be selecting for. Precious minds, too often, enter this world enclosed in fragile casings. These are your children being left behind.
Selected reading and viewing: