Today, while sitting in English class, feeling completely exhausted and worn out, I realized something terrifying. I was thinking about how I didn’t have time to read my English homework even though I really wanted to. I began to imagine what my day would be like if I was the one who filled my schedule – if I could learn anything I wanted. Whenever I think about this idea, I don’t see an image of myself sitting in classes, or going places, I just see colors, like a giant pallet full of paints that have been partially blended together. The obvious symbolism here is that I feel my life would be much more colorful if I got to design my schedule. If instead of having to learn for the 10th time how to memorize and regurgitate someone else’s thoughts about an idea or a work of literature, I had time to formulate my own ideas and learn material that I felt was interesting and pertinent. That’s when the idea struck me: I’m in school for all the worst reasons.
I am no longer a minor, which means that neither the government nor my parents can force me to go to school. If I wanted I could drop out tomorrow, get a job, and start making money full time. I could take classes I wanted to take at a community college or enroll in a program part time, and I would have more choice in my education. Why don’t I do it? I’m not learning what I want to learn, I’m not contributing to society in any way, and I’m not enjoying the experience as much as I’d like to. The answer to that question is complicated. First and foremost, everything I’ve been taught about success in life starts with me going to school, getting a degree, and getting a job. I know that’s not necessarily what I want, but I’m afraid to branch out because that path, historically, will lead to a higher chance of me being financially successful in later life (note, that’s only referring to financial success.) Second, what if it doesn’t work? What do I do then? I supposed I could go back to university and start from there, but why not get it over with now? I don’t want to have to go back to school when I’m 30 and not have at least completed my undergraduate degree. And finally, if I can’t handle school work, how do I know I’ll be able to handle a job? If I can’t prevent myself from procrastinating and wasting time now, then how will I be able to do it later?
Now before I continue, let’s make one thing very clear: the division between happiness and financial success. We all know that just because someone has money doesn’t make them happy, and just because someone doesn’t have money doesn’t mean they are necessarily unhappy. However, we tend to think of things along those lines (or at least I do,) because that’s what we’re bombarded with every day. And corporate society is very happy with that paradigm, because that means that working is a “privilege” rather than a right, and they can lower wages and mistreat their employees to a certain extent without consequence. But when you think about it, the idea that financial success leads to happiness isn’t true at all. In fact, often the cost of financial success is not being happy. If you’ve ever taken a domestic flight on a Monday morning, you’ve probably encountered the swarms of arrogant businessmen bragging about how little time they spend with their families, and how their children don’t even recognize them any more – when did that become a good thing? Since when is that even acceptable? Even if they’re happy, I’m willing to bet that their children aren’t happy. They might make more than $200000 a year, but what are they going to spend it on? And what will they do when they die? You don’t get to take your money with you when you die.
So what’s the problem with school? At most schools, we’re taught to regurgitate information, and we’re forced to do meaningless assignments that may or may not help our comprehension. We are forced to work long hours in school, and then long hours outside school, all in what can be a highly competitive atmosphere. None of these things are helpful, none of these things make us better people, and all of these things take valuable time away from our lives and learning things that are actually important. Some people say things like, “It builds character,” and “It prepares you for the real world,” but when you think about it neither of these statements are true. I’m sure you’ve met one of those people who spends all their time studying. They’re brilliant, and they get excellent grades, but when you talk to them there’s always something wrong. They’re either abnormally intelligent, their personality is significantly lacking, or they’re tremendously immature. When they get older they’ll be financially successful, and they’ll make a lot of money, but a lot of them deal with those problems of immaturity for the rest of their lives. The abnormally intelligent ones, while they don’t always have problems of immaturity, often don’t seem to fit in with other people as well. All of these attitudes are bred and encouraged by schools. So I guess technically school builds “character,” but what kind of character is it building? And as for the second comment, school has nothing to do with “the real world.” In fact, what most people call “the real world,” isn’t the real world at all. The real world doesn’t have buildings, the real world doesn’t have business, the real world has planets and stars and nebulae, and one massive emission of gamma radiation or an asteroid impacting the surface of the Earth would cause our “real world” would crumble to bits. That’s the real world. However, school doesn’t prepare us for either of those worlds, and in fact shields us from reality.
In my opinion, the system of education everywhere is broken. There are some institutions where people are given the information they want at the speed they can accept it, and those institutions generally stand out in the statistics. I know two people who went to such institutions. One took BC calculus her freshman year of highschool. The other went to a local university throughout highschool to take math classes because highschool math wasn’t enough for him, and he went on to win second place in a nation wide Intel talent search. They were two of the most intelligent people I’ve ever spoken to.
For a few minutes after this revelation I actually considered dropping out of school. I won’t do it however, because I think the information I want to learn is just around the corner, and since I’ve come this far I might as well complete this education, however ridiculous the standards are. I’m beginning to come to the conclusion that I want to become a teacher so that I can be on the other end of this system and make sure that my students have decent educations. I’ve had an excellent education – I was fortunate enough that my parents were able to send me to some of the best schools where I’ve lived, but there are problems that don’t change from one system to another. The system is broken.