School Spiritually Cripples Both “Bad” and “Good” Students

Most people who are filtered through the school system throughout their childhood come out the other end of it psychologically hampered in one of two ways.

Some never get the hang of the unnatural demands of school. They struggle the whole time. They get bad grades. They get disapproving looks and remarks every day from adults about their performance. They are forced to keep trying at an academic/bureaucratic endeavor they keep failing at, and not allowed to pursue anything else. All they know is failure. Their self-image is that of a hopeless inferior. A dunce. They leave school with their self-respect and self-efficacy crippled. For the rest of their lives, they never let their dreams and ambitions run free as they did the day before Kindergarten. They fall into ruts of self-destructive behavior and toxic relationships.

Others fully adapt to school’s expectations and become conforming, obedient students. They become “achievers,” high-performing hoop-jumpers. They get good grades. They get hooked on praise and approval from authority figures. Yet they are constantly anxious about clearing the next hoop, and about not getting their next hit of validation. And all they know is how to dutifully follow direction given by others. They have precious little experience developing their own independent hopes and dreams, or independently and creatively formulating their own means of pursuing those self-generated ends. After school, they look for established career conveyor belts. They spend the rest of their lives doing what they’re “supposed” to do, even if it makes them dead inside. And if the career conveyor belt they choose becomes stalled because of changes in the economy, they don’t have the self-direction or creative mindset to create their own path.

I was lucky enough to slip between these two traps: between the Scylla and Charybdis of mass schooling. I was too stubborn and disinterested in schoolwork to ever adopt the self-stifling mindsets of the “good student.” Yet I was also obviously highly intelligent: enough so that, in spite of my chronic slacking, I never absorbed the self-stigma of being a dunce or a foreordained loser. School still crippled other aspects of my self-efficacy: something that would take years for me to rebuild after escaping school. But thankfully I got through it with my self-respect and my willful and ambitious spirit intact.