29 Ways The Educational System Is Failing Students

Megan Holstein
Apr 4, 2018 · 22 min read

Everyone knows the American school system is broken. Or at least, everyone has a sense that it is. Americans complain about how schools don’t teach critical thinking skills and schools don’t prepare students for the real world. These complaints are often accompanied by a suggestion to add a class which covers the missing skills.

But this is not enough. It is not that American schools need their classwork updated for the twenty-first century. American schools do not achieve even their most basic goals. American schools:

  • Do not teach students what they need to know

American Education is broken beyond repair. We need to scrap the entire thing and start over.

Here are 29 pieces of evidence to convince you.


Part 1: Schools Prevent Students from Learning

  1. Schools are physically damaging environments for children. Young minds need stimulation to grow their neural networks. But the school environment is not stimulating at all. Classrooms are often tan, gray and windowless, with hard-backed chairs that students must sit in without moving or speaking. In adults, this much sitting leads to twice the rate of cardiovascular disease and a 10% increase in the risk of colon and breast cancer. Since no one has done any formal studies on these conditions effects on students, we can only guess at the damage it does (but I’ll bet it’s catastrophic).

Part 2: Schools Prevent Students From Being Prepared for the Workforce

  1. While focusing on memorization and fact regurgitation, schools fail to teach students how to have new and original ideas. (This is the source of the common saying “school teaches you what to think, not how to think”). But with the rise of the internet, modern adults do not need to store facts in their head. Computers will always do a better job of storing information than a human brain. In the modern economy, a worker’s value isn’t in what they know, it’s in what they can do that a computer can’t. Namely, their ability to solve problems and have new, original ideas. With the internet, high performers of the future won’t need to know anything off the top of their head.

    Anyone who is a teacher today knows students know this. Teachers in today’s classrooms must constantly field questions like “Why do we need to know this?” And “why do we need to be able to do this without a calculator?” Teachers are finding it increasingly difficult to answer these questions.

    I’ll grant that at first, the ability to solve problems without the internet is a necessary stage of learning. But once students understand and can effectively the theory being taught, these unnecessary constraints should be removed.

    Students taught using memorization become adults who can not compete against computers in the modern workforce. Economists today live in fear of AI putting millions of people out of work — but if schools taught critical thinking and original idea generation, these jobs would be quickly replaced.

Part 3: Schools Prevent Students from Becoming Adults

  1. Schools are not only not preparing students for the workplace — they’re not even preparing them to be adults. Schools don’t allow students to exercise their own decision making ability, an essential adult skill. Instead, schools teach students to defer to authority wherever possible.

    As children age through the school system, schools teach them to defer more and more. Schools do this by increasing the hours they require students to attend, increasing the number of classes they require students take, and increasing the number of assessments they require students to pass. Schools also fail to cover subjects which would teach students how to function as independent adults. Instead, they focus on academic skills which have no relationship to adult functioning.

    This results in graduates who have little ability to function as adults in the real world. These adults are incapable of making decisions, large and small without the approval of authority figures such as their parents.

Part 4: Schools Prevent Students from Even Being Healthy (Physically & Emotionally)

  1. Schools give elementary school students around an hour of outdoor play time a day. Middle and high school students are not given outdoor time at all. Meanwhile, American prisons guarantee inmates one hour outside a day. Students must attend school for eight of their fourteen waking hours, and complete assigned homework for the other six. It is not a stretch to imagine that some students get outside less than American prisoners. And on top of that, students spend that entire time sitting. We already know how bad sitting inside all day is for adults. Imagine how damaging it is to a growing body. And schools enforce this for students for ten years. Children who are forced to sit all day grow up into adults who do not know how to stay active or enjoy exercise. (This in particular has snowballed into one of the worst health crises America faces today).

I’d like to close up with a story. This is a story about a teenage student. She recently lost her mother and grandmother. She was placed in foster care. She was moved to a new school. This is a girl who anyone could guess was struggling, even if they never met her. Anyone who knew her story would realize that she was going through a tough time.

One day, she was in class on her phone. The teacher requested that she put her phone away. She didn’t. The teacher called in the resource officer. The resource officer told her to put her phone away or leave. She didn’t. The resource officer proceeded to slam this girl’s head down on her desk, flip her chair, and physically drag her out of the room.

This story is unfortunately true. Psychologist Dr. Kwame Brown wrote a lengthy article about it after it happened, and he said it better than I ever could:

This is… what happens when we pack kids into large groups, and pressurize teachers’ jobs. This child needed people advocating for her, helping her. But everyone is too busy ensuring “compliance” to take the time to understand and work through serious issues.

This was about compliance and ego. Imagine if they had decided to be curious instead.


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