why school sux

Education is purposed to help us make sense of our identities while providing the skills for shaping positive and participating global citizens. In westernised countries, where we spend the majority of our waking formative years engaged in compulsory schooling, the role of education in fashioning well balanced contributors is undeniable. Unfortunately, the curriculum of the current system is so cluttered by meaningless requirements and bound by so much red tape that organic growth is stifled and significant exploration of self and world are commonly deemed unfeasible.

One of the biggest tragedies of this era is the way in which students’ inherent capacity for innovation is persistently and ruthlessly squandered through our education system. The way in which we continue to dismiss the value of creativity in favour of a blind and empty emphasis on reading, writing and arithmetic is a primary facilitator of this problem. Despite massive changes to educational theories, our approaches to teaching and learning continue to discourage intellectual risk taking, simplifying concepts and limiting discovery by implying that there is a right and a wrong answer to every question.

It’s absurd that in the twenty first century, we continue to award an apparent value to subjects on the basis of outdated perceptions of economic utility. Somehow, despite radical changes to the global climate, subjects such as mathematics and the sciences are still considered overwhelmingly more important than creative alternatives. Consequently, our education system remains geared toward right brain thinkers. Those with a propensity toward academia who respond to traditional forms of instruction and assessment are able to thrive, and are used as evidence that the system is working. Meanwhile, students who are otherwise inclined are abandoned by the system. Their inability to tow the line is interpreted as antagonism and behavioural rebellion and is typically remedied through discipline. Bombarded with blame and accosted by seamless experiences of crushing failure, these students see themselves as the stupid problem. Hopeless or hardened, they eventually enter the world with a sense of resignation that penetrates the core of their identity and what they could have been. On an individual level this is a tragedy. On a societal level, this epic loss of untapped potential is inexcusable.

Too large a portion of our country’s adult population spend their lives mindless and miserable, waiting for the weekend so they can drown their discontentment by indulging in excess. We waste our existence tolerating the greater part of our waking hours because from our earliest educational influences, we were discouraged from pursuing our passions and dismissed from developing a greater knowledge and understanding through poor teaching. Studies show that those fortunate enough to fall into fulfilling fields of work are more content, less aggressive and far superior contributors to their professions and broader communities. So why, when the benefits are evident, does our education system place so little value on individuality, programming us to fear failure, to strive for less?

Exponential growth in technology and rapid changes to cultural and lifestyle philosophies in the past half century are redefining the role of education. Possessing the skills necessary for survival in an increasingly left brained, beyond the box world is becoming increasingly requisite. Educators should be obliged to equip young people with these tools. Through necessity, our approach education needs to quickly evolve. Yet instead, we remain reliant on an outdated nineteenth century model, originally developed to meet the needs of the industrial age. A system of schooling which favours conformity and standardisation can have limited benefits in a twenty first century context. It’s time to rethink our view of intelligence, as we are entering an era where innovation, difference and diversity will be the qualifiers of success.

Every government makes a superficial attempt at reforming education. Unfortunately, their efforts are usually limited to adding more requirements to an already overloaded curriculum, placing unrealistic pressure on staff and students while leaving the archaic philosophies that undermine the model untouched. The system is failing. What we require is a fresh page on which to begin drawing something suitable for our shifting culture.

For better or worse, schools are shaping the next generations of our society’s adults. Our approach will dictate whether we use this time to prepare positive and passionate contributors or disheartened, indifferent drones. Education should be fuelling students’ fires. As it stands, our system does nothing but squander our kids’ enthusiasm, driving them to opt out; if not literally then certainly figuratively. The repercussions of this reach way beyond the realms of the playground. Education is the institution which is deciding the dynamic of our country’s populace. It’s imperative we begin to get it right.


For a deeper understanding of our need for an educational revolution, enjoy this informative presentation by Sir Ken Robinson, a world renowned expert in the field of education. If you’re interested in hearing more, I’ll post a selection of his more engaging pieces on the Facebook page.


2 thoughts on “why school sux

  1. I agree with the sentiment here – but I think it’s less of a case of creativity being stifled and more of a case of understanding being stifled.

    My strongest area is mathematics, forming the basis of the field of computer science in which I’ve studied and now work – so I’ll use this as an example. In lower grades, we tend to understand why the math we are learning works intrinsically. For example, when you learn your times tables, you KNOW that 13 x 13 is 169 BECAUSE you are adding the number 13 together 13 times, but eventually we are moved away from this model of basic understanding and towards a model of increasingly complex “Monkey see monkey do”.

    I noticed the further I progressed through my education, the less those around me understood the math they were using. Sure, they had memorized formulas and when to apply them, but they had no base understanding of why or how the formula actually worked, and there was no accounting for this in the results. People I knew were incredibly intelligent were failing around me because they either got bored, distracted or simply became defiant towards the system they were forced into. The system rewarded those who burned the exact steps into their brain via hours of mindless repetition, with or without an understanding of the process they repeated time after time after time.

    My greatest memory of this was during 4 unit maths with a teacher named Mr Gil. He was a nice fellow, but had absolutely no understanding of what he was teaching. The first test came along, and at this stage I’d never been to class, as such I sat the test and left. When the marks came back I was last in the class. At this point we did the usual ritual of going through each question in the test. Each time I found I had given the right answer and gotten no marks, and had to have it fixed and marks added, as we went through the problem became increasingly clear.

    As I’d never been to class I’d never learned the formulas, I had to just figure out the answers by applying previous knowledge. The first topic in 4 unit math was imaginary numbers, and the associated multiplication, division, and exponential equations involving them.

    I had, during the test and without realizing it, written a strange but complete proof for De Moivre’s formula, using it to complete the equations. I had demonstrated a complete understanding of the problems, not simply regurgitated a step by step solution, and in doing so stepped out of both the comfort zone and ability range of my so called teacher. The answers provided weren’t simply a carbon copy of what was repetitively drilled into the heads of my peers and therefore assumed to be wrong. Even when I explained my working, instead of being happy that I had created an entire proof from nothing but previous knowledge, I was told that next time I should just learn the formula. The fact that I was eventually elevated to first in the class was even frowned upon for this reason.

    At the end of this what little faith I had left in the system wilted, and I never showed up for another ‘lesson’ – my viewpoint on the system was solidified.

    School isn’t about understanding and creativity – where by evolution or design – it is a system to filter children into the correct job, rewarding obedience and the ability to repetitively and mindlessly repeat increasingly complex tasks. It’s ‘Monkey see monkey do’ at it’s finest – and even moving into university this, for the most part, never changed.

    “Finished school? Ahh yes, let’s see here, says you are completely obedient in class and can memories complex formulas quite well. Welcome to the machine.”

    I’ve been extremely lucky to move into an area of employment where understanding and creativity are extremely important, but my strengths and ability now have little to do with the ‘education’ I was given.

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