How the Public School System Crushes Souls

“It has been said that whoever asks about our childhood wants to know something about our soul. Society must take time to inquire.” – Isa Helfield 2001

Let me bare my soul for you.

When you read about the problems with American education, you usually read statistics about literacy and dropout rates. But those statistics don’t do the subject justice because the problem with American education is a human story. Every dropout is a human being, every illiterate teenager is an individual, every teen that commits suicide was somebody’s baby, and every kid that’s doing 20 to life is a real breathing person – full of potential.

People are too quick to criticize parents, teachers, administrators, and students. The failure of government education isn’t theirs alone. It’s every American’s fault because we continue to allow the unrestrained growth of government schooling. Haven’t we learned anything from our own experiences in government schools?

At the end of this post, I will list some books on this subject, followed by a list of links about this subject. But before that, I will share some thoughts and stories that expose the American K-12 meat grinder.

The Girl Who Sat in a Bathroom Stall for a Year

My wife is a beautiful, capable, intelligent, self-confident, ambitious, entrepreneurial woman. She had all these qualities as a child as well. During her senior year of high school, she spent her lunch hour hiding in a bathroom stall. She didn’t eat lunch for a year. Why? Because no one sat with her in the lunchroom and sitting alone in a bathroom stall ashamed and frightened was better than public humiliation. Don’t think that she is an isolated case, she isn’t. I just stumbled across this last week.

For a significant percentage of kids in our government school system, survival is the only goal. Based on my experience, I’d guess 10 to 20% of government school students suffer from severe psychological and emotional abuse. Smaller percentages suffer physical and sexual abuse.

My wife and I both describe our years in the government school system as a prison sentence. My wife kept a running countdown of days left in government school, like chicken scratches in a prison cell.

I asked her to write a blog post about her experiences with government education, but she won’t do it because thinking about it is too painful and depressing. She describes it with one simple word – horrible.

My wife and I were in the same grade and attended the same Jr. and Sr. High in Bloomington Minnesota from 1981 – 1987. We didn’t know each other when we were students. During our school years I had no idea she existed. She was ‘a nobody’.

I would have been ‘a nobody’ too, but I decided after 18 months inside that I wasn’t going to allow the public education caste system to brand me ‘a nobody’ and I became a highly visible renegade burnout. She knew about me. In her yearbook she wrote “biggest dirtball druggie in the whole school” next to my picture. She said the only time I communicated with her during those six years was when I bumped into her in the hall and growled at her like an animal.

Now before you jump to the conclusion that we were in a rotten school in a poor school district and had screwed up parents, let me set the record straight. During the 1980s, Minnesota had the #1 or #2 educational system in the US (they still do). Within Minnesota, Bloomington was one of the top two school districts in the state. The schools we attended (Olson Jr. High and Jefferson Sr. High) were the best schools in the district. So our example comes from the best of the best of the best government schools in the United States. We both came from Beaver Cleaver families, with adequate income, no divorce, abuse, or family violence.

My wife and I have talked about our negative experiences for eighteen years and neither of us believes we learned anything of value within the system. Everything worth knowing we learned outside of school.

I used to skip school and sit in the public library and read all day. I have an insatiable desire to learn but I couldn’t learn in school. The political, social, and sexual tension in school was too distracting.

I was born with this intense desire to learn and grow, but sometime in the second grade, school became an obstacle to learning. I felt thwarted at every turn by fellow students, teachers, and meaningless assignments. It’s hard to learn when you are constantly afraid of having your head flushed in the toilet.

The 10-Year Old College Prodigy

My father is an autodidact engineer. We had computers (TRS-80) and teletypes in our home since 1977. I taught myself to program Level II Basic at eight years old. By 10, I was hacking into commercial programs to improve them. By 11, I was enrolled and succeeding in college level programming classes at North Dakota State University.

Junior High Computer Class Failure

Two years later in Jr. High, I took an Apple II computer class. On the first day of class, I looked through the syllabus, found the last lesson, loaded the 5 1/4 inch floppy, and completed it. I beamed with pride and arrogance. The teacher looked at my program, turned bright red, yanked me out of my seat by my ear, and I fell to the floor humiliated. He pointed to the door and said, “get out of my classroom.” He forced me to sit in the hall the rest of the semester and failed me.

I didn’t complain to my parents or the administration, because they never listened before, so I had no reason to believe they would listen this time. That day ended my stint in education – I showed up – sometimes – but I never returned mentally. So even though I have a diploma, it’s fair to say my formal education ended in the 8th grade. I never bothered trying to please the system again and I checked out of programming and computers for 15 years. I contracted a 15 year case of the F*ck Its (A term my brother learned in AA for an attitude that leads people to fall off the wagon).

This single event didn’t push me over the edge. It was years of institutionalization and constant emotional, psychological, and physical harassment. From 2nd to 8th grade, I was harassed for having the wrong haircut, the wrong jeans, the wrong belt, the wrong look on my face, the wrong brothers, the wrong parents, and the wrong attitude. The harassment ended in 8th grade when I fought back violently. It worked, earning me a lasting respect. At the time, I believed it was my only viable option.

I spent most of my life believing I was defective

I believed I was defective until recently. I thought the reason I couldn’t function in school was due to some inherent incurable defect. But in my thirties, I discovered that I wasn’t defective, I was just different. Three years ago I read this article from Josh Shaine at MIT and it changed my life. His story was just like mine (except the expensive prep school part).

Government school doesn’t work well for kids that are different

I know there are oodles of success stories from government schools. I understand the system works great for some people. But what if you aren’t one of those people? What if your spirit won’t allow you to follow directions? What if your heart forces you to be different? Then what?

Why are you throwing your life away?

If you conform, the system rewards you. If you rebel, it destroys you and someone in authority will inevitably ask you this question…

Why are you throwing your life away?

Think about the implication of that question. Your body and soul in the back of a garbage truck on the way to the dump.

I’m not angry or bitter

You may think I sound bitter about all this. I’m not. I am grateful for my experience because I believe it’s my purpose in life to tell these stories. I am never going to stop talking about it. The emotional abuse of children in our government schools is shameful and the story must be told.

The Intergenerational Code of Silence

Few kids tell adults what really goes on within the school building. Did you? When you finally got out of school and went to college or work, most of you wanted to forget about the place.

A famous comedian said “you know who scares the sh!t outta’ me? Those f..king people that liked high school. What are they sadists – masochists – what the f… Did they go to the same freaking place I did?”

When we have children, we don’t want to tell them about our experiences, because if we told them the truth – the horror stories and the wasted time – we’re afraid they’ll use it as an excuse to fail. Besides, if you admitted the truth about your experiences, how could you justify putting them on the yellow bus every morning.

Is it just part of growing up?

When I talk to people about this, most don’t want to hear it. And the most frequent response is, “Everything you’re talking about is just a normal part of growing up.”

Emotional abuse and self-denial is not normal childhood development.

There is nothing normal about enduring years of emotional, psychological, and physical abuse in a government institution. I have met dozens of home-schooled kids and they don’t suffer from these problems. When I talk to them, they stand upright, look me in the eye, and speak confidently. Many of the government-schooled kids I meet won’t look me in the eye. They hang their heads and speak in muffled tones I can’t understand. Many of them act like abused puppies. The contrast is astonishing.

What’s normal about a homely awkward girl walking into the lunchroom and hearing three hundred kids chant her name, “Trina, Trina, Trina, Trina, Trina, Trina, Trina,” until she breaks down sobbing and runs from the lunchroom? I saw it and I am sad to say I participated in it.

Things are Different Today – Yep – It’s Worse

When my sons were born, I wanted to believe that things were different today, and I discovered that they’re worse. I met a local mother with teenagers several months ago while I was anguishing over what to do with my son’s education. I asked if her kids were in the local public school district (which has an outstanding reputation). She said, “We pulled ‘em out. It was horrible.” I prodded her for more information. She spent most of her nights with her kids trying to correct the damage done at school earlier in the day. She said there was a lack of basic decency and respect throughout the institution.

She said the students intentionally elected an obese, awkward girl as homecoming queen as a joke. Funny huh?

Her kids said that racism was so rampant that life was intolerable. Racism is something I didn’t have to deal with. Sure racism was there, but there wasn’t any racial conflict. I’ve read racial conflict is a constant problem in many of today’s government schools.

About a year ago, while I was planning my writing projects, I contacted my 12th Grade English teacher. He was one of the few teachers that treated me like a free spirit instead of a caged animal. He was one of those teachers that fought the status-quo, and I respect him for it. I asked him what had changed about his students over the past 25 years. This is a paraphrased summary of what he said:

Critical thinking skills have been absent from my classes for years. Kids used to read the book “Catcher in the Rye” and then describe what Holden Caulfield meant to them. Today, they read it and expect me to teach them what it means. Not just most kids, all kids. I haven’t seen a critical thinker in my classroom in five years.

The top students learn the system. If they are free thinkers, they hide it, because they’re after top grades and independent thinking is too risky and unpredictable.

What’s different today is the nature of the mediocre and poor students. They don’t confront and challenge us like they used to. They seem brain dead and indifferent.

Our zero tolerance policies have created a larger gulf between the students and us. From the late sixties until the mid-nineties, the students and their culture were somewhat accessible. Today they completely shut us out.

The Poisonous Pedagogy

Yesterday my 4 year old son asked, “You never say no to a teacher, right dad?” I asked where he heard that. His Montessori pre-school teacher said it. This is an example of what Alice Miller calls the Poisonous Pedagogy. I didn’t answer my son’s question directly. But I believe we should teach our children to question authority and refuse to follow blindly. I plan to talk to the teacher and the administrator of the school. I realize the need for an orderly classroom, but she can maintain control without demanding blind obedience.

The Gifted and Talented

We have a new label in our schools called – Gifted and Talented. I believe everyone is gifted and talented, so I don’t care for the label, but… The gifted child learns advanced material earlier than the mean. And they have strengths and weaknesses like everyone else. They tend to be highly emotional and in some ways, it is a social and learning disability. Patricia A. Schuler writes about the high risk facing this group of kids. She quotes the triggers as “lack of intimacy and rejection.” So these kids need intimacy and acceptance? Does anyone believe they’ll find these qualities in our government schools? I don’t.

What is the solution?

So let’s say you agree that government school may be the worst possible place for kids to learn. Then what is the solution?

Is it private religious schools?
No. Most of the above problems are present in the parochial schools – especially large ones. The biggest benefit the parochial school offers is the ability to easily remove abusive kids and teachers. But the smart covert tormenters will survive. The larger the institution, the harder it is to expose them.

Can we reform the existing system, minimizing these problems?
No. As long as you put hundreds or thousands of kids in a large government institution, the Lord of the Flies scenario is inevitable. Institutionalizing large numbers of children before they form a moral foundation will always lead to abuse.

Possible solutions:

  1. Home-schooling – Millions of people are home-schooling in the US and it grows every year. It isn’t just for religious fundamentalists anymore. 25% of home-schoolers are non-religious. This is the best solution if you can do it.
  2. Small neighborhood based co-ops – Small cooperatives of parents and professionals creating home based neighborhood-learning centers.
  3. Small entrepreneurial schools – This is what I have opted for with my 4-year-old. He will be attending a small private Montessori school, with three teachers serving 20 students in a single room.

How is the Post Related to Personal Freedom?

My personal development program directly attacks the fears I learned during my stint in government school.

  • Fear of criticism
  • Fear of failure
  • Fear of success or fear of responsibility
  • Fear of rejection

My personal development program also attacks this belief which is clearly taught within our government schools.

  • My happiness and success are dependent on another person’s evaluation of me and my performance

This is an extremely damaging belief that I work hard to eradicate. As long as I continue to look outside myself for validation, I will be dependent and addicted.

A little controversy

A post over at ww-success.com (link no longer valid) cites the statistic that only 18 out of 100 American high school freshmen will earn a college degree within six years of graduating from high school. He goes on to cite statistics that show the relationship between education and income. I don’t dispute either of these statistics. He then makes the argument that the economic future of our nation depends on increasing the percentage of students that graduate from college. Based on our current system, he’s right.

But why do we need to keep this system? Our current government schooling system causes this problem. It’s designed so 20% rise to the top and the rest fall out to the factory floor. We have an antiquated system designed to supply labor to an industrial economy that doesn’t exist anymore.

As a society, shouldn’t we question how we discriminate between job applicants?

  • Are high school and college graduates more productive or is that assumption prejudicial?
  • Couldn’t prejudice be the root cause of the average income disparity between various educational levels? Similar to disparities between sexes and races?
  • If 82% of children will never graduate from college, why don’t we open more doors to them and see if they can make it? Wouldn’t that be in everyone’s best interest?
  • What could it hurt?
  • What are we afraid of?
  • Why punish and discriminate against people that don’t make it in formal schools?
  • What purpose does it serve?

“one of the best programmers I ever hired had only a High School degree; he’s produced a lot of great software, has his own news group, and through stock options is no doubt much richer than I’ll ever be.” – Peter Norvig in Teach Yourself Programming in Ten Years

Test taking is the most valuable skill you can posses in school
My brother-in-law is a doctor and a successful student. He says that test taking is the most important skill necessary to succeed in college. I know he’s right. But what does that say about college? Who’s going to pay anyone to take a test? What does a test measure? It measures your ability to memorize stuff. Who is paid to memorize stuff? Actors? Pilots? I don’t know. I’ve never been paid to memorize stuff.

The most valuable skill you can possess in life

The most valuable skill you can possess is the ability to acquire useful knowledge and apply it to solve real problems. Once you own this skill, you have all the education you’ll ever need.

More History and Background

An Irish commenter on Reddit asked if American government schools are as insane as they are portrayed in movies and TV.

No, the stuff you see on TV and most movies is mild. The only two movies I’ve seen that come close to modern American youth culture are Kids (Warning – This Movie is Extremely Disturbing) and Over the Edge. But the last twenty minutes of Over the Edge isn’t accurate – but everything before they burn down the school is an exact time capsule of American youth culture in the late seventies and early eighties.

How I became so passionate about this subject

Since my first son was born in 2002, I’ve gone through a 4-year period of growth, healing, and introspection. His birth changed me forever. His birth got me asking questions about how my life became what it became. One of the things I needed to know was where all these crazy insecurities and fears came from. I looked to my parents and I think some of it came from them, but not most of it. I wasn’t born with these crazy fears. I joined 12 step programs. I dug into self-help books. I immersed myself in the work of Jung. But I never found the root cause of the baggage until I found this book – The Underground History of American Education. After reading the book, I saw reality through a new lens. My life made sense again. I don’t agree with everything in the book, but about 70% of it directly applied to my educational experience.

I was also terrified after reading this book. People are going to think I’m nuts if I talk about it. What am I going to do about my kid’s education? Am I going to home school them? What am I going to do? I was flummoxed.

My wife and I had discussions over several nights and we decided that we would do anything legal to keep them out of government school.

But I still question the decision because I want my sons to be ‘normal.’ If I send them to some alternative school, will they hate me? If I homeschool them, how will they learn to pick up girls? Will my neighbors think I’m a freak? Constant questions enter my mind.

Recommended Reading…

Book List:

Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling

A Different Kind of Teacher: Solving the Crisis of American Schooling

Beyond the Classroom

Guerrilla Learning: How to Give Your Kids a Real Education With or Without School

The Teenage Liberation Handbook: How to Quit School and Get a Real Life and Education

Homeschooling Our Children Unschooling Ourselves

The Unschooling Handbook : How to Use the Whole World As Your Child’s Classroom

The Unprocessed Child: Living Without School

Not Much Just Chillin': The Hidden Lives of Middle Schoolers

Odd Girl Out: The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls

Links:

Students Dropping Out of High School Reaches Epidemic Levels

1.1 Million Homeschooled Students in the United States in 2003

The Public School Nightmare

Underreporting Crime In Public Schools: A Shell Game?

I’ll share the results of our journey on this blog as it progresses. So subscribe to my RSS feed for easy updates. If you don’t have RSS, get my feed via email.

Trust the people, give them choices, and the school nightmare will vanish in a generation. – John Taylor Gatto

Read the 10 part series on the 10 things I wish I had never believed:

#1 Why People Believe Money is the Root of All Evil
#2 Why Getting a Good Job isn’t the Best Way to Earn Money
#3 The Secret Great Leaders Know About Emotions
#4 Success is 99% Failure
#5 10 Tips to Secure a Management Position without a College Degree
#6 Always Question Your Doctor – Three Stories Why
#7 How the Public School System Crushes Souls
#9 Give Me 3 Minutes and I’ll Make you a Better Decision Maker

 

287 thoughts on “How the Public School System Crushes Souls”

  1. Excellent read! I have 2 girls (kindergarden and first grade) and my husband and I considered home schooling.
    After what I personally went through from 5th grade until I dropped out in 11th, I felt that we should have more control.
    We started them at the Montessori and are trying out a Science, math, engineering and technology magnet. I believe magnet schools provide some of the answers you are looking for.
    I also feel that diversity in a school helps with some of the social issues…having many different cultures and colors makes it pretty hard for kids to single others out.
    Kids are mean (I like your Lord of the flies analogy) but as parents we need to teach our kids compassion and basic “niceness”.
    Also, parents need to be more involved. I work part time so I can volunteer at their schools, hopfully I will be well received when they are in junior high.
    Anyway, we have not ruled out home schooling but for now things are going very well. But as I stated, I am at the school weekly and I see the dynamic with my own eyes…I won’t be afraid to step up if I see anything going on that I dont like.
    You can not blame the institution alone. Many parents just trust other people 100% with the must precious things in their lives and that is where the downward spiral starts.
    Could you imagine what schools could accomplish if we had parent volunteers helping enough to allow teachers to work with all types of learners (great test takers and free thinkers alike!)

  2. Hey i stumbled onto this post while looking for information on the NCLB act, and such things about requirements for states and things. i mean i love your post its great and i feel like one of those kids, i’m 17 and a JR in high school, my passion is Japanese i can’t get enough of it, if i could i would ditch high school, move to japan and study up on Japanese and get any job i could get there. its my passion. I want out of this school system. feel free to Email me.

  3. also…in addition to my two previous posts, i just wanted to comment on the system. i feel like the schools are trying to teach the kids to be “this” kind of citizen. while this is ok since “this” sort of citizen is a hardworking, educated one, i feel like other kinds of “this” won’t emerge. also they are kind of put down….and maybe even shut away because if your not “this” kind of person, then you won’t succeed in life.

    all i’m saying is if there isn’t any diversity, then socially you can’t interact because you aren’t open to different kinds of people, and also you are also closed off from learning about others. now i’m the kind of person who loves traveling and seeing different cultures, and from my point where i was the only filipino out of 34 black people in my elementary graduating class, i felt very isolated. i didn’t see my first vietnamese, hispanic, middle eastern person, etc. since middle school.

  4. Hello,
    Your discussion on high school educational institutions and fear of criticism, fear of failure, fear of success or fear of responsibility and fear of rejection should include colleges and universities in my opinion.
    Many institutions other than grade schools and high schools manipulate and intimidate students today just as they did years ago. Although physical abuse is now restricted, psychological manoevres are increasing leaving students of any age scarred and feeling helpless.
    Many teachers work out their own abusive experiences in the class room, maiming countless souls, as they are so intent on their own personal victories.

  5. Curt wote:

    “…it seems that you have more of an ax to grind than a point to make.”

    I can’t stand these kinds of people. I suppose if a concentration camp survivor wrote about his experiances, you would say “oh, you’re just grinding your ax?” Call this the curt algorithm: If someone says something you disagree with, then say: “they just have an ax to grind.”

    And also, it’s “cite” not “site.”

  6. This is bullshit. I went through the public school system and I was bullied, but it’s all part of growing up. Sorry your wife was a loser who couldn’t handle sitting by herself at the lunch table. God forbid, I sat alone pretty often and read my book, not sitting in a dirty bathroom stall because I wasn’t “popular”.

    School teaches survival skills. Coddling children so they’re never hurt, never scared, never have to be subjected to criticism and always told they’re good is only going to hurt them when they grow up and realize that the world is a vicious, vicious place.

  7. @Psudeoknot,

    That’s intelligent. The world is a vicious place, so let’s replicate it in a government institution, send our children there so they learn to be vicious too, and then blame the victims and call them losers and wimps. Then let’s say it’s all about academics. That’ll make the world a better place.

  8. Okay, I understand some people have trouble in Public schools, but private schools can be jsut as bad, cost a shit load of money and get more days off than a regular public school just “because they can.” Personally i LOVED public school, if you actually pay attention and get involved in the school it’s a lot of fun. And I learned a ton while in school, education wise AND socially. And I too went to one of the top 20 high schools of the nations.
    Personally when I read what happened to you in Jr. High in your Apple II class, that teacher was ridiculous. What was more ridiculous though was the fact that you accepted it and sat there and didnt fight for your right to learn. Kids these days are being taught to say something when they ahve a problem. Maybe in the 80s you didnt have that kind of mentality. We 90s kids, atleast in New England, were always taught that you should fight for what you believe in. If authority says you cant do something, find a way around it, or share your feelings about what they’re doing. There is no way anything will ever get resolved if you just accept what has happened to you. To me it sounds like you were just lazy and upset that people didnt listen to you, but why do they have to listen to you, you make your own future. I have always been a different kid, and you say that the system doesn’t work for kids who are different. I found public school to be very accepting and helpful. If I wanted to learn, someone at the school wanted to teach me. I had the teachers at school trying their best to help me get into art school. I suggest before you go into fighting a system you grew up in, figure out how it has changed first. Yes, there are some problems (personally, I find the fact that art classes are being cut due to lack of funding to be ludicrous) but that doesnt mean the system doesnt work. You will find just as many problems in Private schools and home schooling as you will in public school, if not more.

  9. Oh, and have any of you who agree with him considered the effort you actually put into having a good time in school?
    So many people are put through school with this exact mentality forced on them. People are always telling them it’s awful and the system sucks and all this shit, but honestly step back and take a look at your life there. Look at how many bad things that you experienced are your own fault… If you make the decision to go sit in a bathroom during lunch every day for a year, that’s your own fault. Public school teaches you how to deal with these situations if you let it. Public schools are as much for teaching academics as social skills. Some kids dont take well to that, but guess what, it’s their own fault. There’s no school for life. Get over it, get out, and live.

  10. Steve, I dont know how in the devil I linked with your blog, but found your article on schools very interesting .. giggle ….do to the fact you said you had a 4 yr old.
    Which in my minds eye throws you into catagory of whipper snapper……..giggle again……was so refreshing to read from a young-ones perception…..the pros-cons of schooling.
    BRAVO!……Folks need to read the truths on the *importance of being themselves* rather than critiqued by others standards.
    School to me i have learned over my span of life is the threshold of social interteventions.
    As for parochial schools, they like all have the good/bad/ugly, but then what school does not? They taught me commitment to working,waiting,saving, for my desires, as well as moral structure which has guided me through a lifetime of honesty.
    The missing element to todays days turmoil madness.

  11. I spent ten years of my life in public schools. The beginning was really swell. i guess i went to a smaller school in a poor district. had lots of friend did well. but in second grade i moved to a really rich distract and the kids at the school never let me live it down that i was “poor” just cause i didn’t live in a big mansion like they did or have all the toys i wanted. the truth is, as kids, we never really…escape. elementary years are suppose to be our foundation years and those five years themselves are hard enough with out worry about girl/guys. how can one be expected to survive high school when we’re emotionally damaged in elementary school?

    Last year i got a letter from the distract alternative school and it is my saving grace. there is never more than 90 kids there and we have 18 staff members. our classes never have more than 20 people in them and we are encouraged to be different and quirky. some times I get the “isn’t that the druggie school” comments but alternative schools aren’t just for that. I don’t think your son would hate you if you put them in one.

    I wish my parents had found the alternitive school my freshman year. maybe i could have avoided some of the trouble. i’ve had 5 years of what you call the fuck it’s. had i been in this school to begin with, maybe it would have only been three…

  12. While I agree with a lot of your points, and while much of this describes my life entirely, small schools can be just as bad with bullying as larger ones. Only difference is, with a smaller school, it is harder to escape the bullies. Personally, I had a harder time at the smaller schools than at the larger schools which I’ve been to. When I went to a small school, I was always the main target of bullying and humiliation. I never had a single friend to turn to. It wasn’t until I started middle school at a public school that I found the friends who have now become as close to me as family. I still have to deal with the same constant ridicule and harassment, but it is much easier to handle, both emotionally and physically, when I have friends to turn to. And public school gave me those people.
    We found eachother because, like you mentioned with your wife, we were the ones sitting in bathroom stalls or sitting outside of our next class during lunch. The first real friend I ever made even stuck up for me at a time which was one of the worst in my life. And, seven years later, she is still my closest friend. What I’ve noticed about large schools is, it is much easier to blend in and not be pointed out as the outcast.

    Not that I am in any way saying that bullying and humiliation is a good thing, but I don’t know that I would be the same person I am today without having to emotionally depend on my friends. They changed me for the better, something which would never have happened without having been placed in those situations.

  13. Solving education is simple but difficult:
    1. Get rid of the government cartel. It is impossible to reform a government bureaucracy. No innovation (i.e., evolution) of anything comes from a monopoly. It’s like expecting evolution but using the same parents every time.
    2. There is no statistical relation between money spent, class size, and education. That is common sense. It is HOW and WHAT you teach. At least in private schools teachers are not bound by regulation so much. If they are driven by a good mission statement of affirmation, manners, individuality, etc., they can succeed. The ineffective schools will fall away; evolution=innovation.
    3. The misconception of equality in the law is killing us. Equality means we are equal, not that we are the same. BTW, this is the precept of the Constitution. Our founding fathers would be appalled that government took over education.

  14. You know what? I agree with most everything you’ve said, but being a few years older than you, I know something you haven’t thought of. After everything you do for your kids to give them the best possible, most secure start in life, they will think you screwed them up by doing whatever you do.

    Nobody in this world escapes learning hard, painful lessons. The more steps you take to avoid hardship for your kids, the harder your kids will work to screw up something in their lives to force themselves to go through some hard knocks.

    I’m just saying it’s another factor to consider and another thing to prepare for. Do what’s right for your kids, and expect them to resent you for it.

  15. I’m 14, and I agree with Grace, except in the “because I am older” and “expect them to resent you” part… Adults make things too easy for us, which means less experience. I’ve always wanted to be considered an adult, to be able to do things by myself, since I was much younger.

    I have only read a part of your post, since it’s late at night, but I can say that this is one of the best things I’ve read in a long time.

  16. I’d recommend you, Mr. Olson, spend some time in public schools. It sounds as though you have been away from them for quite some time. Things have changed in this setting; maybe we all want to consider why they have changed and what can we do to help. Public schools are, after all, the foundation of American society.

    While you may feel that your soul has been crushed, it appears that your “government school” has done its job in terms of preparing you for your adult life. Although jaded, you are obviously able to think critically, analyze, and communicate via the written word. It appears you also hold a job. I’d thank public education for that!

    Public education is crumbling as parents are making the choice to have their kids educated elsewhere. Schools are facing declining enrollment, particularly in Minneapolis, St. Paul, and their suburbs. Declining enrollment equals less funding per school. In Minnesota, most districts lose about $8,000 per kid. Parents need to think long and hard before making the decision to send their kid to another school. What impact will it have on the school and what impact will that have on society? The world is, in fact, larger than your family.

    I’ve spend numerous years in public schools and commend educators for the job they do. I have yet to step into a classroom that has a “one size fits all” approach. I see tasks differentiated as teachers spend countless hours in and out of school preparing several lessons for their students who have diverse needs. I see teachers allowing students to move or have accomodations in the classroom that will allow them to be more successful. I see kids learning how to interact as well as learning appropriate social skills and how to read social cues. Teachers have found the need to teach many skills that used to be taught by parents.

    What will the world look like with a failing public school system? I sure don’t want to find out. It’s time we look at how we can help to rebuild it.

    I appreciate your honestly and thoughts regarding this topic. However, writing complaints is the easy part especially when you sit outside of the world of public education. Have you considered speaking with legislatures or obtaining a teaching degree? Then you could truly do your part.

  17. i couldnt agree with you more!!! i hated school – i learned everything worhtwhile when my mother taught me to read and my grandmother taught me math. i was younger than the other kids, and therefore a picked on person, in retaliation, i learned to bite. when you have kids holding your hands behind your back and the others punching you in the stomach – in 2nd grade i may add – you learn to do something to defend yourself. i was belittled and verbally abused in school and i learned great hiding places. if you didnt cause trouble, you were passed along with the others. cause trouble and you were flunked. i passed. i actually became a teacher and taught out of my old girl scout handbook as there were no science books – sure had the money for sports equipment though. i also learned that our reading level in schools is now between Togo and the Falkland Islands! there’s about 1200 people on the falklands :P shows how great we are as a country! i homeschooled my daughter and she graduated at 14 1/2 yars and started college. she is now a QA engineer and had a ton of friends due to the freedom she had in homeschooling. this type of teaching is rather easy – the kid does most of the work and you can double dip – have them take a college course in english for highschool work for instance! i am so sorry that i wasnt able to have this for myself – i might be a somebody today! oh well, there’s a poem tht starts off – i’m nobody, who are you? i hope that you are nobody too! how horrid to be somebody…it goes on and i just remember this when i get a little down on myself!

    thanks for a great website!

    Robyn

  18. I’ve been subbing for years. I’ve been offered my own clssroom. I don’t want it. I won’t take it. Everyday I see what teachers down the hall go through. Most of the time they’re probably not physically threatened. But emotionally, they’re humiliated by kids half their size who verbally abuse them and do whatever they want. Then the parents come up to school and want to know why the kids are acting up or not learning. When the teacher tries to deal with the the problems, the parents come up and want to know why their kids are being picked on by the teacher. It’s a catch 22 and a living hell. It’s easier to just bang your head against the wall.

    Deans either can’t or won’t deal with the stuff either. The solution? Private schools can suffer from SOME of this too. Homeschooling is not always practical for everyone. So I just don’t know.

    Society right now is at the bottom of it, and that is why government, laws, policy, etc. is what it is.

    The kids usually know what they should do though. The problem is that no one “holds a hammer over their heads.” The laws won’t permit it. I’ve seen kids suddenly act extremely well though, when you’d have thought they were completely dysfunctional basketcases. The reason is that you expended an inordinate amount of energy to set them straight–but that’s very difficult given the laws these days (it requires a certain amount of bluffing).

    I won’t take on a classroom, be held responsible for its safety and order, and not be permitted to discipline the children.

  19. I graduated last year (2010) from a Eastview High school in apple valley and god i hated that school, i really want to go on a huge rant, but i will save that for some place else.

    I would enjoy exchanging Emails with the writer of this post if you are interested please respond to this.

  20. Wow, I am so glad to see that other people feel the same way I do about public school. I am a certified teacher who decided to never teach. I thought I could make a difference, even if it was just in one classroom in one school, but hell, the kids didn’t care that I was teaching them to be independent learners and critical thinkers — and the staff and administration didn’t care either. Nobody did.

    I now work in a completely different field. But my personal experience in the public school system still haunts me. I literally still — at 31 years old — have nightmares about exams and teachers trying to “trick you” in quizzess and tests. Every September I cringe for students going back to school. I feel for them. It sucks. So much unnecessary stress, frustration, hurt, rejection, not to mention exposure to garbage that many innocent minds are not ready for.

    I wish I knew how to make a difference!

  21. This isnt what school is like at all, its great. I cant see how your life could be this bad. It seems like you went out of your way to be odd and left out, who wants to hang out with a guy that growls at people? You ruined it for yourself.

  22. So many people commenting here have missed some very key points in this post. I’ll admit, the writer is obviously still very angry and perhaps using this post as a way to work through his anger. However, one line has always stuck with me from this post: “Institutionalizing large numbers of children before they form a moral foundation will always lead to abuse”. For those who say “lets rebuild the system”, there is no way in a million years you would ever get the already countless millions of financially pressed school systems to create smaller schools and class rooms, nor would the average American family be willing or able to afford the taxes required to make smaller schools and class rooms. And most of his point was, yes, he was a mean teenager, but only because the system drove him to it with incompetent teaching and mismanagment of the youth culture. So yeah, public schools should be there because we can’t leave the poorest in the dust, but very very small private schools or homeschooling is best given the state of the American public school system. Here is another online post that has influenced my decision to homeschool: http://www.homeschoolnewslink.com/blog/?p=629. Putting kids into large groups leads to group mentality and a demand for conformity instead of letting our children naturally blossom into their unique selves that could so enrich this world. This country and world is missing out on a lot of uniqueness and gifted individuals because our people were thrown into the lions den where the best way to survive is to act and think like the other lions.

  23. It’s amazing to me how many people from all walks of life, intellectual and academic levels, have hated high school. Coupled with the crappy suburban community I lived in, I hated high school so much it made me dislike most American social institutions and for a very long time America itself. It wasn’t until I moved away that I realized you could be a part of a nice society and be social. However today I remain distant from Americana.

    Another interesting point is how long this has affected us. Today if something pisses me off I get over it rather quickly. But I suppose the time when our brains are developing to be put through such hell leaves scars.

    What gets me most is how incredibly unimportant high school is. That piece of paper means nothing. I could have dropped out and gotten my GED, gone to junior college, off to regular college and then to grad school and be where I am today. I went this route anyway minus the GED. The mundane, banal, stupidity I could have saved myself. And for nothing. That diploma can’t even get you a job at a convenience store.

  24. Brad (#272) you are most correct! I have been a teacher in a public school in MA for 5 years and drift between depression and appalled at what I have seen, especially at the lower learning levels. Ineffectual parenting, chronic absenteeism – and I mean CHRONIC; students missing 70, 80, even 100 days a year – disrespect to teachers and administrators (with little in the way of real consequences), students failing 5/6 or even 6/6 classes and still getting promoted to the next grade. This public education experiment is rapidly becoming an abject failure. The predominating theme is “everyone has a RIGHT to a public education”. Really? A ‘RIGHT’? Funny, I see nothing about it in the Constitution. No, a public education should be a PRIVILEGE – one that can be taken away under certain circumstances. Too many young students come in every morning completely unmotivated and only wish to amuse themselves by being disruptive (if they come to school at all). This now functions to deny said ‘right’ of education to all other students while we take time to at least attempt to modify their behavior – and this is largely unsuccessful. To make matters worse, we as educators have our hands tied in what actions we can take, again, we don’t want to deny their precious ‘right’ to an education, now do we? Phone calls home are for all intents and purposes useless; the behavior rarely if ever changes. It becomes a vicious little cycle with the public education system essentially siding with the students – no matter how miscreant their actions.

    Now I will add another layer of futility to the mix: special education or “SPED” as we call it. It is my position that far too many students are placed on SPED plans (so-called “IEP” for “individualized education plan” or something less penetrating referred to as a “504 plan”). Some (very few) are understandable as the students really do have some dysfunctions – but those are VERY few. The rest are just lazy – have the education system do the work for them while the district spends buku bucks tracking these students and pampering them with all kinds of special (and expensive) attention. One important point became lost here: THERE ARE NO IEPs IN REAL LIFE!!! Once you walk out that door after graduation and get a job of some kind, the expectation is that you will learn how to do your assigned activity on your own and do it correctly. If you can’t? We’ll get someone who can. Employers – particularly in this economy – do not want to babysit or coddle. They need the jobs done. I fear with our SPED programs we are instilling a false sense of security predicated on the notion that there will ALWAYS be a safety net no matter how poor your level of motivation. By the by, about 75% of these students are diagnosed with ADHD and are on some kind of medication. Fourteen and 15-year-olds pumped full of chemicals. “Let the chemistry do it, because I can’t be bothered to take an interest in my son/daughter’s progress”. This is the prevailing attitude for too many parents – not all, but far more than should be.

    Evidently, this vast juggernaut, monolithic education system ($71 billion and counting) can solve every problem. But what I see is far too much permissiveness in the name of liberalism which has the opposite effect – loss of self-determination and an increasing reliance on the “big brother”. Too much “hands-off” parenting, allowing there to be excessive freedom with a shortage of discipline. Abundance of expensive, clumsy programs steeped in red tape and bureaucracy for students who don’t (for the majority) need it and a paucity of consequences for poor performance, attendance, and/or behavior. Our educational system is really doing the OPPOSITE of its intent: it’s producing students who are unprepared for the rigors of adult life by refusing to demand progress and self-reliance in them, then placing the blame on those who are vainly attempting to do just that: the educators. Somewhere in all this, the parents, administrations, and school committees got a “get out of jail free” card and bear no responsibility. We as educators must participate in sometimes rigorous and demanding “professional development” in order for us to maintain our certification or we can lose our jobs. Why don’t parents have the same requirement?

    We need a leaner, meaner, more streamlined and focused education system. We need to eliminate SPED past the elementary level (or at least drastically reduce it), and hold STUDENTS accountable – they should be the ones to prove they are worthy of a diploma with real and inflexible standards for performance and behavior. If we don’t, I fear the United States will fall even further into the chasm of mediocrity in which it finds itself now in such a free fall.

  25. My husband and I both did well academically in public schools. But we both had private lives we kept hidden from other students. After having one of his “friends” make fun of his home, none of my husband’s “friends” ever saw his childhood home, except for one or two that he truly considered friends. None of my friends knew the reason I never hung out with anyone after school is because I wasn’t allowed to go out with friends except on Saturdays, which I rarely did. I was the “nobody” in school, usually spending my lunch period in the library. Our son is weird. And super smart and imaginative and fun and playful. But we are very worried that, when he starts school this fall, he will be squished into a mold and forced into conformity. Neither of us is comfortable homeschooling (we love the idea, but are concerned that he is too stubborn to learn from us), but we are not taking the idea off the table completely if we are not happy with the results or changes we see once our son begins his “formal” education. We both like the idea of Montessori, unfortunately there is not an affordable school anywhere near our community.

  26. Interesting pov. I can relate to it as I was in school in MN during the same years as you and your wife. I went to Hill Murray and I remember hockey against Bloomington Jefferson. That part was fun, but it was just another private school, private hell. Unbelievably I was contacted last year for our 25th reunion by the same old crowd. They can’t seem to leave that dump. Who, in their sane mind, wants to walk down memory lane and relive that crap? Anyway, we are currently homeschooling our children. There is a better alternative, and thankfully it is still legal.

  27. Thank you for this beautiful post. Thank you for pointing out that every person in jail is a human being full of potential (since there is a law against everything, it isn’t hard to end up in jail). I have heard too many teachers say “I’m just babysitting these kids until they go to prison.” What a nice thing to hear from people that are spending the majority of every day with America’s youth and future.

    For those that love public schools and social stratification, let them continue living how they see fit. For the rest of us that want choices, please stop standing in the way of our living our lives as we see f by regulating us into your systemsit.

    Thank you John Taylor Gatto for taking the time to speak up for many of us. Thank you Mr. Gatto for educating us through your books.

    Here is another good read: http://www.uncletomsclassroom.com/

  28. I have met such brilliant high school and college drop outs in my lifetime. I always wondered if maybe these people that dropped out had more independent spirits than those that could suffer through endless hours and years of people talking at them.

    I am guessing that what you have written and described above explains how many of us that were forced into government run schools felt and experienced.

    The human spirit wants to learn. However, when someone is forcing you to read this or that on a topic the student has zero interest in, how well will someone learn? Forget working class people being able to afford college.

    I am tired of hearing employers cry about not being able to find the right people for the job. Meanwhile, the employer can’t see past the degree and hires whomever has the most expensive one.

    Australia only requires a Math major in college to take Math classes to earn a Math degree. Meanwhile, in the United States, a Math major would be required to take English classes, art classes, etc. to earn a Math degree. Some math minded people skip earning a degree because they don’t want to be forced to take classes they have no interest in, and classes that have nothing to do with Math, the topic they want to study. Why not allow students to choose what they want to study?

    People are feeling, thinking flesh and blood. Perhaps we should stop viewing them as statistics. Let people live as they see fit for themselves.

    “The secret to education lies in respecting the student.” -Ralph Waldo Emerson

    “We are shut up in schools and college recitation rooms for ten or fifteen years, and come out at last with a belly-full of words and do not know a thing……” -Ralph Waldo Emerson

  29. For me, the public school system served a purpose. My K through 5 education was mixed. First grade was horrible for the same reasons in which you have described. Second grade was a bright shining light in comparison do impart to leaving first-grade and my second grade teacher’s ability to make learning fun.

    I had a lot of friends in school from third to fifth grade. I don’t remember much about school, but I remember my friends. I remember how we would take every moment possible to have fun in school. That made it tolerable.

    AThe summer of my fifth grade year I made new friends all over the neighborhood with a new adventure every day and excitement always to be found. Tom Sawyer, eat your heart out.

    Unfortunately, it all came to an end when six grade began.

    Due to location, I was placed in a different junior high than most of my 5th grade class from elementary school. Junior high was a house of horrors and the worst experience in my life.

    The teachers were cold and impartial. They often made mistakes as you described when you were pulled away from the computer and throw you out of the class for being smart. That teacher obviously thought you were being a smart ass and because you don’ t have any rights to explain yourself you are forced to take what they give you.

    Junior high was as you described it, a prison. Without any friends or a support system whatsoever, I began to be bullied. It was the worse in six grade because of eighth-grade students who for whatever reason enjoyed beating the crap out of defenseless sixth-graders.

    My self-esteem was in the toilet, my grades are plummeting and I was being destroyed emotionally. There were teachers that saw this but not one offered any assistance to me. Like you, I became rebellious. That just made things worse. The teachers ( or prison guards as we called them) went from ignoring me to hating me.

    Seventh grade was even worse. Now that I was able a pussy and a coward I was a target for anyone and everyone, bullies or not. I was obsessed with popularity. I noticed the popular kids were treated differently by students and especially the teachers. You didn’ t have to be smart or rich or special to be popular.

    The beatings and harassment continued to get worse but my desire to be popular and live on the other side of the prison was my goal. When I was see these kids, these popular kids after school in the neighborhood I noticed that the playing field became even. I was talking and playing with kids out of school who totally ignored me and wouldn’t extended a hand of friendship during school.

    Todd was one of the popular kids I knew from the neighborhood was a football player who was no good at basketball. So, because of scheduling conflicts he ended up in PE class. He was a very popular, tough and extremely confident kid. It wasn’t long before he had the entire PE class against me. Going to that class had become absolute hell because of that kid. He was a popular kid and I was a nobody. That’ s why everyone was on his side. Todd was a hero on the football field during the fall semester and he was a tougher kid, or at least everyone in PE thought he was. He’s aggressive attitude toward the other kids in PE made him the pack leader. Todd would quickly have a grudge against anybody who was rebellious against him. He constantly showed his prowess as an athlete and as a show off especially toward me.

    Boxing Day. The entire PE class sat in a big circle around some padded mats. I had been here several times before, scared to death of getting hurt and especially of hitting someone. Suffice to say, I got my ass kicked and was humiliated every time we had boxing day.

    Because Todd was popular and a football player, the coach asked him to get things going and to pick someone to fight. He picked me saying, ” I want that kid!” All the other kids sitting around the mats were cheering him and booing me. I’ m up against a tough kid who has confidence, proven athleticism on the football field and an ego that wouldn’t quit. All I had was being beaten up every day. But that day I had a secret weapon. It’s the most dangerous thing in the world to possess… Rage. I was filled with rage. This is the same kind of rage that has caused so many school shootings and massacres in recent times. It’s also one of the main reasons why kids drop out of school, because rage unreleased, turns into depression. Depression his rage turn inward. And is the cause for many teen suicides.

    What that kid didn’t know was, I had the perfect environment in which to unleash my rage. So when the whistle blew I proceeded to beat the living shit out of the popular, tough, athletic football player. He fought back with some pretty good blows of his own but I had him. He wasn’t prepared. He wasn’t expecting this from me. Before the fight, his ego was in the way. He thought it was going to be a massacre, and it was just not the way he expected. Todd had no idea I was capable of such violence because I acted like such a wimp in class. He had no idea how much rage had built up in me.

    After the fifth time he got up I saw something I didn’t think possible, the defeated look on his face. He was scared. The room was silent all eyes were on him and there was nothing that he could do to change anything. He learned a lesson about bullying that day and it caused him to do an amazing thing. He stopped throwing punches. He held his gloves close to his face in fear of being hit and knocked to the ground again.

    Suddenly, I just couldn’t hit him anymore. The coach recognize this and blew the whistle. He looked around at all the students who were stunned into silence. And he said to Todd and I, “Good job boys, you’re done for the day. Go get some water.”

    The popular kid put his arm around me and I put my arm around him and we helped each other out of the boxing ring into the dressing area where we got some water and became best friends.

    That little incident changed my entire perspective a public school. It was still a Nazi prison camp to most But I gained a new perspective.

    Public school was just like prison, just like you described it. But you left out an important part, some prisoners have special privileges. They get the special privileges with good behavior but if they’re pushed to the wall are also known as a bad ass. They treat the correct guards with respect and they played it smart.

    My life from eighth grade until I graduated were some of the best years of my life. I’m not talking about school, school sucks. I’m talking about living in the prison. It became… Tolerable. I had and incredible support system that paid off in spades every day. If I met a new girl and she turned me down because she didn’t know me, the next day she would ask me out because of my support system. Even my parents were impressed and keep up with the Joneses, they let me get my hardship drivers license and they bought me a really, really fast car.

    So that’s my life-lesson. You absolutely have to have in your life an incredible support system. If you’re all alone out there, is just like being a wounded animal around a bunch of hungry lions. If you show weakness in front of the hyenas, they’re going to come for you. And that’s how it works in the world. This is America, kicking people when they’re down is what we do. But if you have the right friends surrounding you, they’ll help you out. Just take it from the Beach boys, “Let Be Friends.”

  30. Oh and, I am a public school teacher going on twenty years now. I don’t recommend public schools if you can avoid them. As in my prior post, I got lucky and fell in with the popular crowd. I admit it was a bubble but it was a good bubble and I wouldn’t want to have been a “nobody.” I know I would have dropped out.

    When I have kids I would very much like to see them educated in the European circuit. Ideally I would like to see them educated in multiple countries like Germany, France and England.

    After that I would like to bring them back to America to attend college.

  31. A huge problem with public education is the perverted, politically correct, brainwashing through fear, environment of oppression that the teachers and students live under. It is a cancer of cronyism that has permeated our society and includes such bizarre things as gender confusion and gay propaganda. Kids can’t even eat a pop tart. If it starts looking like a gun, they get suspended. I’m not making this up. Kids are punished for mentioning Jesus at Christmastime. What year is it, something AD? The brave, honest teachers of good conscience have been ostracized from the public school system. All that remain to rise in the ranks are the politically correct perverts, their cronies, stooges, cowards, and the brainwashed zombies. It used to be called selling one’s soul. For this reason, I would like to see the public school system eradicated.

  32. Thank you. I have been teaching 23 years. The unfortunate thing about education today, is that the people who really know what goes on cannot say anything publicly for risk of losing their paychecks.

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