Education costs money. We all know that. However, are there other costs that we tend to ignore? Are there costs at individual and societal levels that we don’t want to know about? I believe that there are.
Conformity is a hallmark of education. I have a grandson who was, and still is to some extent, an exuberant bundle of excitement. He entered school about four years ago. I was horrified when I was told that at the parent-teacher review that occurred just after Christmas that year, the teacher reported that he “…was learning one of the most important and valued lessons that education can teach – how to conform.” How to conform! Why is that a vital part of learning? It is not just that conformity and creativity cannot exist in the same space, but there is something much, much worse.
Experts tell us that enforced conformity, over long periods of time, is likely to lead to an expression of mental illness in people with a predisposition to mental illnesses. Twelve to sixteen years of conformity is, in my opinion, a long period of time. There are only two places in our developed world where conformity is enforced by law – school and prison. Higher education isn’t enforced by law, but there is immense pressure to go in many parts of our society.
The evidence for the prevalence and rise in mental illnesses in teens and young adults is overwhelming. Two quotes illustrate the opinion of experts:
Here are some of the sobering numbers that illustrate the story of those in education:
Something is seriously wrong!
Michael Strong provides us with a bleak picture of mental health issues:
Let’s hear from a teen who was suicidal but is no longer thanks to a change in school environment,
I walk through the hallways of the public middle school on my way to the bathroom. I stop in the center of hallway staring ahead at the overwhelming endless hallway, no one in sight. clenching my fists I look around panicky around the solid brick white wall. No sign of anyone or anything living anywhere. I scratch my fingernails hard on the plastered wall. not making a dent. I do this several times until the tips of my fingers look like the tops of roses. I then start hitting my head then slamming my body against the wall still hitting my head trying to get out . . .
A backpack of melancholy weighs down on my shoulders so I free the questions inside with my thoughts: Why did I have to be depressed?, Why couldn’t I learn like everyone else?, Why did I have to be scared? . . . I figured something was wrong with me. Just an idiot with issues, too stupid to learn and too ungrateful to be happy. All I could ever do was make my parents and the people around me worry. I was angry at myself, I was angry that I couldn’t learn or be happy. If all I could do was make my parents worried I was just a waste of time to them. I didn’t deserve to live I wanted to hurt myself. . . .
I stayed up all night in bed fearing the next day of school. I eventually did start talking to the school counselor about my problems. At first I would come in calmly and just talk to her. Then I started coming in every single day crying and more depressed than the day before. Sometimes I just came in asking to call my mom. I never told anyone that I wanted to commit suicide. Until the day I told my mom.
I fiddle with lock and push open the steel door to the inside of my small house. Immediately I drop my school bag near the front door. Mom is still at work. Slowly walking to the kitchen I stare at the sharp kitchen knife tucked into the knife block. Slowly still walking toward it I carefully take out the knife and feel the blade across my finger. I endeavor to conceive how much it would hurt if I were to stab it into my chest. I pose the knife back in its place. I’m too afraid too and cowardly of the pain. I think of less brutal ways but all thoughts fail. . . .
The price of conformity in education is too high to pay!
When my father was a high school student, he had options. If he had dropped out before graduating and secured work in the local hardware store, he could have supported a family, bought a house, driven late model used cars all his life, had 2.5 children, and lived happily ever after. In today’s world, there are no options. Education (and more of the same) is all there is.
As the pressure to get more education in order to make it in the world increases so does the rate of mental health issues. In addition, as standardized testing becomes the be all and end all of education, the drive for conformity gets more and more powerful.
An even more alarming trend that is just beginning to emerge is what is happening to university students who are nearing graduation and face the world for the first few (up to five so far) years. The high incidence of mental health disorders is getting higher. These young people have done all that our society has asked and they are ending up with nothing. Sixty-six percent under or unemployed – now that’s bleak.
I have written about this before, but this is something that we must address. The price is being lived in horror and written in blood.
Jesse is a world leader in the integration of the science of learning into formal teaching settings. He is an Adjunct Associate Professor at the University of Lethbridge and Director at The Academy for the Scholarship of Learning. Huge advocate of the science of learning, he provides people with ideas about how they can use it in their classrooms. Jesse holds a PhD in Psychology from the University of Wales, Bangor.