DISCLAIMER: This article was originally posted on Odyssey.
When I used to be a fan of TJ Kirk before I started profoundly disagreeing with his points, I remember he posted a video that made really good points about why high school sucks. For a lot of people, either in or graduated from high school, they look upon such depictions of high schools, such as “High School Musical,” as absolute nonsense. The ways in which it sucks affect all of the tiers in the public high school.
As for the teachers, they have to deal with 100 students a day both as classes and as individuals. Not only do they have to take into consideration their educational needs, but also their physical, emotional, and mental needs. So it is little wonder that they either become exhausted and underappreciated by the state and they become embittered cynics as they get older as they see more of their own students make wrong life decisions.
Schools were once described by the 19th-century American educational reformer John Dewey as an “embryonic society.” If that’s the case, then the public high schools in this country are more analogous to prisons than societies. They are merely there to keep kids off the streets. As such, there is no point in romanticizing the public education system, rather you only get the bare-bone reason for going to school: “Because it is the law.”
The laws OUTSIDE of the school at least. As for the laws inside the school, they are confusing, inconsistent, and even contradictory. For example, you cannot be shown a movie that has graphic imagery or uses profanity because you are considered a child; but you cannot get into any fights because you will be treated like an adult. For that reason, you cannot tell if it is the bureaucracy that is causing this contradiction or if the faculty want to get on a power-trip on any occasion. And when you do notice this blatant contradiction and complain about it to one of your teachers, you are given a very simple explanation: “I don’t make the rules.”
Really, high school is there to fill in that gap between the ages of 14-17 (or 15-18) and is merely there to build upon the curricula taught at the middle school level even though you would have little to no use of them in the career you intend to pursue. Since the education is not relevant to the students, it is therefore forgettable and only subject to scrutiny by a federally mandated standardized test, which does not take into consideration the progress the students make in their class, rather it is there to represent only their final result.
You are taught every subject, such as math, English, science, art, and physical sports. Though they are not presented in ways that would make them dynamic or thought-provoking, rather they are only taught at very basic levels, to the point they no longer become interesting if they ever had in the first place. If you want to pursue a career in math, then what relevance do the other subjects have in your field? Do you have to take into consideration the number of calories that members of the varsity team have to consume in order to function properly for the next game? Can you apply your geometry skills in recreating the interior designs of world-famous cathedrals and mosques? Schools seem less motivated about actually answering those questions and more about getting that good-enough approval rating from the state.
The only reason why the Freedom Writers project worked was because it was actually relevant to the first students who created it. What happened was there were a group of students who were labeled unteachable who took Erin Gruwell’s class. Although it was during a time when the racial divisions were extremely high, the students began to read literature written by teenagers in the same situations as them and they started writing their own experiences with crime, poverty, drug addiction, gang warfare, and abuse in their journals. It allowed all 150 students to connect their lives inside and outside of their school and it actually became meaningful to them.
In the film adaptation, there was a profound moment when Mrs. Gruwell asked the class if they knew what the Holocaust was. Only one raised his hand. When she asked if they were shot at, almost all of them raised their hands. I cannot think of a scene in any high school film I ever watched that could easily be used to bridge the connection between the students and their education.
However, brilliant mentors like Erin Gruwell are rare. Instead of being surrounded by those who can help you navigate life outside of high school and hopefully land you a job working for them (and hopefully even pay part of your tuition should you go to college), you go through the motions of the typical eight hours of mind-numbing lectures half-awake. You might take into consideration extracurricular activities such as clubs, but when you really look at it, you are merely going through 40 hours a week to look forward to those 5 hours a week that you actually have an interest in spending. This definitely makes the bureaucracy outweigh the relevance.
For a lot of us who just wanted to just go to college or work as soon as possible, this makes the high school experience feel like a hellish eternity. You just cannot wait to get out of it, but you find no other way if there is any. This is what makes college more meaningful than high school because you actually WANT to go there, to the point you are actually willing to pay for it.
And if there are moments when you do encounter programs that provide that transition from high school to college or the workforce, they are often scarce due to the constrained budgets that they are given by the state government and you have to rely on the benevolence of capitalists like Lebron James to fix up your school. If a world-renowned basketball player is able to pinpoint the flaws that people who are well-versed in pedagogy cannot see or remedy (or even the president), then there is a serious problem with American public education, especially since America ranks low in education in the industrialized world.
This comment on TJ’s video basically sums up high school:
I can remember working for a shrimp wholesaling company my parents used to own throughout my high school years, either on the weekends or in the summers. I actually felt a sense of accomplishment at earning money every time I worked, whether it would be getting up at 4 am in the morning to go with my mom to pack the shrimp to be shipped to Chinatown or having to assemble the boxes used to contain the shrimp. I felt that accomplishment because I was always paid, and I would be so exhausted I always got good sleep. In other words, it was actually relevant to me.
If people are expected to dread over high school more than work (or dread at all) than the system has done a terrible job and that gives them a big, fat “F.”
That’s just the faculty, curriculum, and overall structure.
As for your peers, there are only so little you want to be around. It is obvious that high schoolers are engaged in a social competition more so than an academic competition. Once again, the education has little to no relevance to the students. The undervalued education is what reduces the teachers into babysitters, as Mrs. Gruwell was called.
The only peers you want to be around are the ones who share the same interests as you, which is what leads to joining clubs. It would be good if it ended there, however, there is the social pressure that is involved from outside those groups, often to get you to either do drugs or lose your virginity for some popularity tokens. And the moment you show any sign of weakness or eccentricity, you are subject to bullying.
Once again the prison analogy is there. You go there to do your time and learn your lessons while being surrounded by those you do not want to be around. It does not always have to be bullies, gangs, or stoners; but the jocks who play every game (where you do not even go) to represent your school (which you do not want to attend in the first place) and all the other high school stereotypes that manifest in the most hormonally imbalanced ways. This petty competition is what reduces the boys to get into fights at every instance and the girls into becoming pregnant at every instance. And once again, there is no point in romanticizing public high school, because no amount of abstract language can gloss over the realities that everyone involved in the system has to endure on a daily basis.
And for a lot of people out there with an agenda, it is not enough that these kids are being policed everywhere they go and are always put into mental straight-jackets, rather they want to implement mandatory prayer in the school. This is one of many issues where the “small government” group will abandon that fruitless label and make public schools even more arduous and divisive than they already are. It would be incredibly arduous if you are trying to seek actual, tangible answers to the problems in your daily life that interfere with your schoolwork or if you don’t even believe in God at all. It might be relevant to some of the students, but for a lot of them, they will become even more distant from the faculty.
Maybe for some people, they enjoyed or are enjoying high school. But as for me, I can definitely see why bands like Pink Floyd and Supertramp often disparage the school experience. For the rest of us, it is just those bleak, four years that could not be finished any sooner. If I ever have children, I would want their education to actually have relevance and value to them and not leave them to sift through all of the petty drama, meaningless dogma, and overall discomfort that comes with a public education in order to find it; even if home-schooling is the only option.