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Children, school, and society

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I would very much like to avoid this being a random rant. I would.

It’s going to be a rant though.

School is a bad idea. Why is it a bad idea? Because children don’t like it? In short, yeah.

See, the arguments that I’m preparing to make are founded in idealism. Not rationalism. So let’s not get marred by the ideas of how this would work and how it could be implemented; lets just try to find common ground in the ways that we think children should be raised. I wanted to get that fact out of the way too before I began.

So let’s start with the early years. There are plenty of TV programs meant to stimulate children during the extremely early stages of their mental development. From those surreal feeling shows that star knockoff muppets and really soft-spoken blonde women to the poorly flash-animated cartoons that don’t even have a message–they are just softly flashing lights meant to keep children mesmerized. There are early childhood (1 to 3 years old) shows a plenty.

The effects of these are arguable. It isn’t too bad, but most will concur with the common sense that kids shouldn’t just be plopped down in front of the TV.

Same principle for later into childhood. Who remembers The Magic School Bus? Yeah, we remember that magic machine. Again, just because the entertainment is good, it doesn’t mean that it’s good for us. It isn’t bad either. I may have learned more about molecules from The Magic School Bus than from sophomore chemistry.

So what point am I getting at in referencing television? Well, it’s parental involvement. See, in the far gone olden days, it would be the family that guided the child through this bygone segment of their development. This became less and less possible as parents and families became more and more consistently busy and less and less available to their extremely young children.

This is just the times. Again, I’m not saying that every mother needs to be stay-at-home or that every sibling needs to be their brother’s keeper. I’m talking about problems that, sadly, probably won’t ever have solutions.

Now we move on to the coup de gras, school.

Education is a necessity and learning is a magical thing teachers possess a unique passion for the betterment of society blahblahblahblah. It wouldn’t be a rant if I just talked about the good stuff, so I’m just getting it out of the way. Lots of getting stuff out of the way.

Why is school bad?

Well any cursory search on the matter will reveal the deleterious effects that grades can have (or are reported to have) on the mental health of a child. It isn’t hard to see the reasoning why.

It’s human reductionism. Students aren’t people, they are a student number followed by a grade number. We are told early on in our school, careers that grades are this all important entity, that our ability to get higher grades will coincide with a higher chance of success. For the most part, that is actually true. I won’t deny that. The system is flawed, but it isn’t broken.

However, the undeniable flaw of grades is that we are made to believe that they are more important than our actual learning. This is why students cheat. This is why students have panic attacks over finals. Our lives are dependent on those little numbers on our report cards.

Grades work though, like I said. Keeping with the theme, this really is an unsolvable problem. Teachers cannot fairly be expected to evaluate each student outside of a rigid numbers system. Grades allow for increased efficacy over a much wider array of students even if they are bad for our mental health. We get trained early on to judge and evaluate our worth by our numbers.

“Sturwold’s a baby that can’t handle school!” Yeah, sure, maybe I’ve articulated these thoughts a but further than some people, but I feel like, as students, it’s hard to properly disagree with the ideas that I’m presenting.

The grades problem extends when you consider the children that just aren’t “school types.” I had trouble sitting still as a kid: all kids do. And I have trouble staying awake in the morning classes: all teenagers do.

Fun fact: we are tired all the time because our brains aren’t naturally set to fall asleep–we don’t naturally start to produce melatonin–until a whopping 1 am. This means that, factoring in the fact that teens need nine hours of sleep rather than eight, the healthy teen sleep schedule ranges from 1 am to 10 am. School messes with that, if you couldn’t do the mental math.

There is a whole range of problems with our school system that affect all different children in all different ways, and I would argue that the challenges that some children face, butting heads with the bureaucracy of the school system itself, make the value of the education arguably not worth it.

Finally, an unavoidable problem that has nothing to do with timing, rules, or anything like that, bullies. Bullying has changed. It less overtly physical and more emotional, nuanced, and damaging. Bullying today is a real threat because it is less purposeful and more impact-full. Kids don’t intend to cause others distress, they just get caught up in the ever-growing social web that they’ve all created for themselves. This brand of bullying is the kind that produces psychopaths like we’ve seen as of late. This is the kind of bullying that produces lonely and volatile outcasts, kids with very few people to turn to.

Society does nothing to help children and teens either. We’ve built a dangerous image of mental health in America today. We have a nasty habit, through the dark, moody depictions of teen-centric television, music, and literature of romanticizing habits of loneliness, self denial, micro-suicide, and depression. We have songs and characters who paint a picture of this ‘beautiful pain,’ something that seems preferable to our more impressionable minds.

See, we have a ‘John Green mindset’ today when it comes to mental health. Especially with the media that is marketed towards the younger generation. A ‘John Green mindset’ is the idea that loneliness, depression, and other forms of mental damage are something to bear and to be proud of, like our own cross to bear, and that we need to simply wait for someone or something, some epic and providential moment, so ‘cure’ any problems that we have. We have a society that glorifies and normalizes waiting in some ‘romantic misery,’ even pushing the idea that it is smart to be sad, until something drastic comes along, love or a true life calling, that ‘completes’ all the missing parts of a healthy psyche that we have.

When Twenty One Pilots sing about being sad or John Green writes a lonely wallflower protagonist, that isn’t bad. By themselves, these things help rationalize sadness which, in many cases, can seem unreasonable and chaotic. This is good. But when people absorb themselves into this blue world they build up the idea that being sad is normal, that guilt is unavoidable, that people who are happy are ‘fake’ or ignorant, this is the danger.

We don’t treat mental health as a sickness in America today. We treat it like a hidden issue, like condemnation, like a marketing point. This is an issue.  When children and teens are trained to feel like only some radical force can help them, and that force never comes, they may feel the need to take radical matters into their own hands.

There are so many acute problems that are natural to and faced only by young people. Probably just as many as those faced by adults. The world is full of problems and finding solutions for each other is hard. There may not ever be any, and that’s why it was impossible to keep this from being a rant. If I could tell you what to do, then this would be an essay.

But be aware of these problems and those surrounding us. The more aware we are of these realities, the more likely we are to prevent them as they form.

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Children, school, and society