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May 4, 2013
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May 27, 2013

What Is Wrong With The School System

4993917792_bab489e1dbSo what is so wrong with the school system? I’ve believed that the school system is very flawed for a long time. I can be a bit intense about it now, but for the most part controllably so; years ago, though, I was so intense about it that I could hardly speak a comprehensible word on the topic. I would choke on my own words. I was consumed by rage.

(Image Source)

Why? I guess I didn’t know how to deal with anger very well. But what didn’t help was the fact that I found these things so obvious, and yet no-one who I talked to would really understand me or even listen to me on the topic. I felt like everyone around me was complicit in a major crime. And yet I was the one who they thought was crazy.

My views are still essentially the same as they have always been, since I became aware of my instincts on the topic. It’s only my rage that has gone down. I still feel that this truth is as plainly obvious as I always have. I still think that the school system is a soul-and-life destroying horror on par with the genocides. (Seriously). But I can talk more calmly about it, and avoid feeling the need to throw around blame.

The School System Is Not About Learning

So what is so wrong with the school system?

First: The school system is not what it says it is.

You go to school to learn, right? That is the school system’s explicit purpose. So that children can learn.

But what do you learn in school? I mean really? What really stays with you?

Well, you learn to read and write and to do basic math. That’s good. If you’re lucky you might end up with survival level in a second language too. Okay.

But as you know – as everyone knows – almost all of the rest of it, you forget. Sometimes only two days after you crammed for the exam.

History? You forget all of the dates of events that only dead people ever cared much about.

Science? You forget the organs of plants and the formulas for working out the velocity of a falling object.

Literature? You forget those books you were forced to read and only remember how much you hated them.

You can learn everything that you actually remembered from school in about two years. I’m not exaggerating here! How long did it take to learn to read and write and do basic math? Not long. Four years at most. And if you hadn’t been distracted by the useless stuff combined with that… yeah, two years sounds reasonable.

So school is not about learning. If it was, people would have realised how much more efficiently it could be done. About 10 years of school time, then, are wasted from the perspective of learning.

It’s my contention that those who created the school system knew what they were doing, though, and from their perspective – not ours – the time wasn’t wasted.

School Is Genocide

My old self – who I can hear as an echo in my psyche – would have said: TEN YEARS!! TEN YEARS!! TEN WASTED YEARS. TEN YEARS REMOVED FROM MY LIFE. ONE EIGHTH OF MY LIFE WAS MURDERED!

I don’t want to make this article about venting, but you can see her point, maybe.

Imagine if school was your whole life. That would not be a life at all! I know I would kill myself rather than face such a life. And I think most people would too. If everyone saw school as a form of prison like I do, of course they would.

School, though, is only one eighth of your life… right? But, that still means that for every eight people who go to school, one life is “lost” overall. And it’s also true that billions of people experience the modern school system these days. So I don’t think it’s so far from truth to call it a genocide. Or at the very least, the scale of damage is that of a genocide.

I say this calmly. Nowadays I won’t use the word “murder” because it contains a judgement. I no longer want to judge the action, to condemn. I know now that that doesn’t help – all it does is poison me. But I still believe all that I’ve ever believed. School is not what it says it is.

School Is About Obedience

So what is it? In essence, school as we know it is a tool to teach people to be obedient.

It is made to shape them in a lot of ways, in fact, and very little of that shaping is to do with maths and science or any of that. But obedience training is the biggest thing that school is made to do.

I believe that school should not be obligatory. It should not be obligatory to go; and when you’re there, it should not be obligatory to stay or to do things in the way they tell you to.

My old self would have raged against this so hard. She just couldn’t accept being told what to do. Nowadays, I don’t have anyone telling me what to do, so I’m okay. But I still feel that authoritarianism is wrong.

Wrong because we have free will and dignity. Wrong because it just doesn’t work very well to control others through authoritarianism; people access their creativity best when they work together on a common goal with people who consider them equals. Wrong because authoritarianism inevitably involves discipline, humiliation, and punishment.

But all of those reasons are a little unimportant to my argument. My argument is devastatingly clear if I only point out this fact: obligation is unnecessary because most of the time we spend in school is unnecessary.

You could say that we should force all children to learn to read, write and do basic math. I disagree, but I can see where you are coming from. But basically all of the rest of what we do in school – for ten whole years – is demonstrably useless.

So, at the very least, the ten years in which we are learning useless things should be optional. There’s no justification for those years; not for existing at all, and much less for them being obligatory.

Take a little time to let that sink in.

Why are these 10 wasted years obligatory? Simply because it is not facts we are teaching; we are teaching children to respond to obligation itself.

Obedience Training

The message of obligatory schooling is this: you are not your own person. You have to do things according to the school timetable. Come when school starts; go to every lesson, whether you like it or not, at the set time. You have to do what your teacher says, even if it’s wrong. You have to ask permission to go to the frikkin’ toilet for god’s sake. The toilet. Do I even need to point out how ridiculous this is?

All of these things teach you to require authority. It teaches you to expect that other people will tell you what to do all day. It breaks down your resistance.

In the end, in fact, it makes you need it. Your independent will is so thoroughly broken down that you don’t even know what you want anymore. You just wait passively until an authority tells you what to do. In your “free time”, you don’t pursue your own passions any more: your attention is funneled into safe outlets such as television and Facebook. You are rendered effectively clawless.

Jobs pick up where school left off. They continue to fill up your time and stop you from ever finding your independent will. They keep on encouraging, requiring obedience.

Forever clawless. Unless you wake up and break out of the system, of course.

Free Schools And Unschooling

…So what about better schools, like Waldorf and so on? Well, for me Waldorf schools are a bit better but they miss the point. So long as school is obligatory, you are impinging on a child’s basic human dignity. You are teaching them to need authority rather than have their own ideas and initiative.

Some schools, however, are obligation free. These have various names: free schools, anarchist schools, or democratic schools. (Don’t be put off by “anarchist” by the way; the word actually just means no leader, which is exactly what this is. The other two terms are more common anyway).

Summerhill is my personal favourite, a long running project created by a visionary leader. There are many others, though, including a chain of schools by the name of Sudbury Valley or just “Sudbury schools”.

There is also the possibility of homeschooling. Non obligatory homeschooling is called “Unschooling” — or “Radical Unschooling” to differentiate it from diluted versions of the philosophy. The word is also used to mean the parenting philosophy of non-obligation — independent of which school your children go to. I find that part very important too, as school is only going to be part of your child’s early life.

Either way, the important thing is that free schools and Unschooling work. Children who go through these systems come out incredibly well balanced. Don’t believe me? Just check those websites for some testimonials. You can also read some experiences in this article.

And they do learn. Actually, the normal school system is what teaches children to hate learning. People are natural learners by nature, and those who go through Unschooling or free schools never have that instinct squashed. They become lifetime learners. But they do it on their own schedule.

Some children who go through these systems learn to read at age 3. Some, who enjoy more physical activities or for whatever other reason have their own plans, leave off reading till up to age 14. Generally these children learn to read around the same time as normal children, or just a little later. But here’s the thing: they all learn to read.

The apocalypse scenario envisioned by proponents of obligatory learning never comes to pass. No one becomes an uneducated, defenseless hick. On the contrary, people who avoid their obedience training grow up psychologically MUCH stronger and more independent. I would argue that the mere lack of obligation culture makes them less stupid on its own. And yes, they learn. They learn without anyone telling them to.

This, in itself, is enough to blow the concept of obligatory education out of the water. If children do not need obligation to learn, why does obligatory schooling exist?

Just let that question hang in the air for a while. Stare it down. Let it seep in. In itself, it is enough to change everything. It is a truth that can knock down towers.

If you believe in facing up to truth, all you need to do is to sit back and let it do so.

John Taylor Gatto

Now, perhaps some of you have read this far and still have doubts. Naturally, I haven’t been able to tackle this from every angle, because that would need a book. I haven’t written one yet. But John Taylor Gatto has. And they are devastating.

John Taylor Gatto delved into the history of the school system and found out what its original purpose was. The information wasn’t even hidden; just ignored, buried under all of the lies about what school’s purpose is.

Read his account of the history of modern schooling, check his sources, and I promise you, you will see what I see. The history is real and verifiable — and its meaning is unmistakable.

But see for yourself.

You can read some free articles on his website. They should be enough, really. But if you want to really blow your mind, read any of his books:

Dumbing Us Down

Weapons Of Mass Instruction

A Different Kind Of Teacher

I think I’m justified in saying: I rest my case.


Image credit to Jerry / Flickr user "waytogo"


Did this just blow your mind? Support Sophia’s activism with a donation. Each one directly gives her more time to focus on this blog and related projects.




Related Posts:

John Taylor Gatto

Football As A Tool Of Manipulation

A.S. Neill & Summerhill School

Children Are Political Prisoners

Obligation Is The Death Of Responsibility

Leave a Reply


  1. Amy says:

    Very well stated.

  2. Jan Boyd aka radical gran says:

    I agree with the sentiments and termed logic of this article, inasmuch as I understood from an early age that the majority of what is termed teaching in UK schools is abysmal, it bears no connectedness to life-learning. A competitively oppressive set of regulations governing inequality, selectivity and more than that the continued historical subjugation of race, class, politics and religion. Frankly quite the bummer that real life learning is no where to be seen, felt or indeed touched by the young heart & mind. My remedy would be for parents to get together and force change on the national curriculum and methodology, schools are and have been for many, many years a breeding ground for a collusive political agenda that clearly has nothing in common with life learning and or skills sets. Additionally no child should be made to feel insecure or injured because they view the world differently, more accurately than what is being foisted on them, this is surely a gift, when surrounded by so many adult sheeple…baa-baa humbug indeed!

  3. Sophia Gubb says:

    Love your comment Jan 🙂 Thanks.


  4. Gail says:

    After reading this blog, it is quite fitting with the issues that my 9th grader is dealing with. She struggles at times with school because she says it is all about writing this essay or that paper. She is especially having difficulty with a earth science course where the teacher hands them a packet every four weeks and expects them to finish it within the time allotted. Instead of teaching the class, I think the teacher would rather have them sit down and shut up. Well that’s it in a nut shell, but anyway I like the commentary.
    Albany, NY

  5. Ian says:

    “But what do you learn in school? I mean really? What really stays with you?”

    I didn’t end up with survival level in a second language – I failed French O-level so badly, it’s not even on the certificate. It did teach me more about English grammar though.

    History? Some dates remain, but what certainly has stuck with me for life are things like just how frequently those governing a place have everyone’s best interests at heart, the consequences of letting rulers do what they want, and how lucky I am not to have been shipped off to a war or invaded.

    Science? I may not be able to label them all now, but I remember how plants grow and reproduce and thus know things like why bees matter for more than having honey on our breakfast table. I do remember the physics formulas. Even if I didn’t, I hope it would stick why speeding matters: if your velocity doubles, the energy increases by four, so it’s much harder to stop.

    Literature? Erm, again no. I’d have not gone to so many plays without it, and I don’t just know bad plotting in a book/play/film/series when I see it, I know why it is bad.

    Even the PE, which I did not always love, got me to accept that running can be fun.

    Beyond that, my school – a UK state grammar – taught me loads about myself. I acknowledge absolutely that not everyone got that sort of education in my time. I am utterly delighted that my daughter is about to.

  6. […] what is and should be the purpose of modern institutional education in What Is Wrong With The School System, posted at Sophia Gubb’s […]

  7. Indigo says:

    I agree with you a lot there. I just personally don’t feel a lot of the RAGE that you and other indigo children/adults feel/felt regarding the public school system there. I read what Gatto wrote and it certainly is enlightening. He is criticized though for not really suggesting changes that could be put into place or being ignorant of certain bits of history that I’ve read of other’s reviews of his work.

    Overall I was in “school” from the age of 3 or 4 (in Cchat school where I was taught to not sign but to speak verbally instead and to tolerate my hearing aides since I was born hard of hearing), to around 9th Grade at the age of 15 yrs old because my health issues conflicted with school. The higher level classes was interesting and more suited to my natural curiousity but had so much work and the teachers rarely wrote notes down on the board for me to be able to just copy and keep up. That was very frustrating and kept me from making good notes and she refused to change her habits and that made learning harder because I couldn’t get what the other people did. The lower level classes moved slow enough for me to take good notes and really figure out the information and learn it, however it moved TOO slow, and it was a PAIN trying to listen when the rest of the class would be all noisy and slow it down more. Either way it was a horrendous drain and made it very difficult to continue. The school also refused to make allowences for my health issues that were not that well known then, but what WAS well known and recorded was how often I’d get sick (in 8th grade I missed in total a 1/3 of the ENTIRE SCHOOL YEAR just from sick days and pulled out A’s, and only one B) and yet somehow still pull A’s and occassional B’s (even in honor classes!).

    I also had an existiential depression of “Who am I? What meaning is there in life?” and similar thoughts and tried to cut myself in 9th grade and scared myself and my mom (whom I had ran to in order to get comfort from that weird/scary urge as well as to help explain it to me why I felt that urge) enough for her to be ALL for pulling me out of the public school into homeschooling. I read up on homeschooling around this time and became all for it, then advocated the unschooling approach.

    My mom is an engineer and feels strongly that good understanding of math is needed in life, and has expressed to me (we discuss the school system at times and it took her a while to come around to even understanding the slightest bit that the public schools are… suckish and why they are) that she feels school is necessary or how else would kids learn some subjects they may not like in order to have it in case of future need. I replied that they could easily learn it WHEN they need it, that the NEED to know it would encourage them to learn it and retain it because they HAVE the motivation and real-life need to know it. She still is skeptical of that though and is of the mindset of “things suck so just push through it and get it over with.” I’m of the mindset “That shouldn’t be! That just sounds like a horrible thing to force yourself to do. Why not just have that motivating NEED from within be the one to guide you into what to do when?” And she tried to get me to “call up that motivating inner need on command” (not her words just my summerizing up what her words basically meant) so that I can do all the “painful but necesary” things whenever I need to regardless of whether that inner need is TRULY authentic because one forced it rather than allowed it to naturally come up.

    She does have some frustration with me at times since I’m VERY much inner-motivated person and dismiss exterior motivation that is pushed on me by others. In fact (if I do not agree with the reason behind that motivation nor agree with the need to do it) doing so to me would make me just do the OPPOSITE thing or just flip the person off in my head and walk off. Even more so if I feel like my input, experiences, understanding, and data that point to something else, is not being heard or respected.

    My mom still prefers if I would go to college, finish my math curriculum, take the SAT, ACT, and get a job and be entirely self-sufficient. She says that I’m good in math and doesn’t seem to get why I just…don’t like it. I don’t like the founding belief of math in that “EVERYTHING can be converted into a formula or equation” and that *dies of laughter* “Math is THE language of the Universe and found everywhere~” which to me is just as egostical as the belief that Humans are the best and no other species has EVER gotten as close to intelligence as Humans have. (I barely could type that belief out without trying to stab myself with a fork to distract me from the mind-melting pain of that.)

    To me I’d prefer to just do art and writing for a living. xD I have a strong belief that if I need to know something, when that time comes I WILL learn it and learn it quick because it has VALUE and MEANING to my life and life-experiences. Beforehand and especially with disregard for what real-world application this would ever be USED for, then it becomes a chore and mind-numbing drudgery. My mom doesn’t get it though. Ugh.

    Sorry that was a bit of a rant but just wanted to share that since it seems like we get the same things and the same frustrations though.

    I did enjoy learning at my schools though, just well… LEARNING NEW THINGS WHEEEEEE~~ And figuring out the importance of things and making connections and all.~ Math doesn’t….really lend itself to making connections. =.= At least how they TEACH it. >_> Science and history are way more fun though! … I never got why they in-depth analyzed books in English however… especially POETRY. C’MON. If I can just jot down really good poetry and not bother myself with making EVERY WORD EXACT, then why the hell do you approach ALL poetry like the poet made EVERY WORD PERFECT and must analyze that to death? Same with books godsdammit. Not like everyone is word and grammer freaks and puts down EVERY single word PERFECTLY and thus should be analyzed to death. Ugh never got that. I also didn’t get why the hell the teachers saw fit to restrain me from reading ahead. Just tell me to not spoil the other people and I won’t. But don’t try to force me to keep from reading ahead and finishing while the others are relunctantly on chapter 1. I didn’t like P.E. at all. It taught me that excercise is a word best avoided and that brought PAIN, and judgement, and never measuring up to others, and a great dislike of excercising in front of others or letting others know I ever did and how for fear of not measuring up. Its blocks and issues I still have to deal with even as an adult. *sigh*

  8. Sara says:

    I am sending you a metaphysical hug.
    Thank you.
    Thank you SO much.
    As someone who unschooled up to age 10 and is now squashing down her fury with the school system, I am so incredibly grateful that I’m not the only one who sees things that way. I want to cry. They make people hate knowledge. Knowledge! This is so RIDICULOUS! They are making ME hate knowledge. Homework congests all of the time I have that is not spent thinking about how much I hate homework and how many creative things there are out there that I could do and my mind would be so free and I would love my life so much and oh no now I’m actually crying. I don’t want to be here. Society wasn’t made for humans. Why do we do this to ourselves? And if we hate knowledge then how is any of this suppose to get any better? We’re trained to live in a box and think no further than that box because the box is how things are and that is all we will ever be and all our children will ever be. A tiny. Bloody. Box.
    Sorry…this wasn’t supposed to be a rant page. There just isn’t anywhere else that won’t bury me alive with abuse about this because that’s all any of us were trained to think. And I know it’s not their fault. I just can’t stand it because sometimes I want to yell at them that can’t you SEE that the only reason you look at me like I should be committed to an asylum is that you’re a product of this system and even though you can’t look me in the eye and be confident about the glory that is school you take it as a given, one of those facts that have been nailed into the fabric of life, as natural as adolescence. If we hate knowledge, how is anyone going to think differently, let alone enough people to actually change things. Grrrrrrr…
    Very well. That is all.

  9. Ludivine says:

    God I so agree. After primary middle high school and university I more felt dead than alive. I felt like a caged hen. School and acedemics felt like it tortured my soul and Hurt my brains.

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