How school ruins kids

and how it has probably ruined you too

Corné van Straten
8 min readMar 17, 2018


It is commonly thought that kids need to go to school to acquire some essential skills and basic common knowledge, preparing them for life as a functioning adult in society.

The reality is, however, that you have forgotten almost all the information you were fed in school because it was irrelevant, and you picked up no marketable skills whatsoever in all the time you spent there. Really, the only thing you’re prepared for after 12 years of school, is more school (college).

“The only thing you’re prepared for after 12 years of school is more school.”

So, school doesn’t prepare you for the real world at all. And that is no surprise, because school doesn’t resemble life outside of it in the slightest.

In fact, the only other place you may ever find yourself as isolated from society with mostly people your own age is in a retirement home.

So, schools don’t perform as advertised but are actually a gigantic waste of time. And this would be bad enough in and of itself, but it’s not even the worst of it.

Because during those 15000 hours most of us are forced to spend in the school system, we also pick up a number of values and mindsets. These mindsets were useful when we picked them up, because they helped us survive in the school environment. But after we leave, they are detrimental to our success in the real world, because they’re the exact opposite of what every employer in the 21st century is looking for:

Values and mindsets taught by the school system:

  1. Conform to top-down structures and one-size-fits-all curricula
  2. Obey the authority figure
  3. Ask permission for anything you’re not explicitly told to do
  4. Truth comes from authority, defiance will be punished
  5. Success comes from pleasing authority figures
  6. A stamp of approval is the point of learning
  7. Learning is boring and laborious, to be avoided when possible

Let’s look at these in more detail by reconstructing what the typical experience of a student looks like.

One of the first things you learn almost immediately after being subjected to the school system is that your wants and desires are no longer relevant. Speaking, going to the bathroom and pretty much anything that you are not explicitly told to do requires permission.

The school system has a very rigid structure you need to conform to. There is a one-size-fits-all curriculum detailing the exact scope and sequence of what everyone needs to learn and when. State bureaucrats have selected an arbitrary subset of the world’s knowledge, and decided that you have to learn it by a particular age.

Nobody cares what you want to learn, what you don’t want to learn or whether or not you even want to be there at all. You are to sit down, shut up and do as you’re told.

It does not take a rocket scientist to realize that this focus on obedience and conformity has a detrimental effect on kids’ creativity and critical thought faculties.

But you better learn how to sit still, because if you don’t conform, and rebel too much, you run the risk of being diagnosed with a “learning disability” in which case you will soon find yourself drugged up with psychostimulantia. In many cases, these drugs are hardly distinguishable from actual meth.

This risk turns out to be particularly high if you live on the east coast, which tells you all you need to know about the validity of these diagnoses.

Looks like moving west is a great remedy for your ‘learning disability’

Students are also conditioned to believe that truth comes from authority. Because for as long as you’re in school, there is one single authority figure in front of you that will be your sole source of truth. They will ask you the questions and they will also feed you the answers.

Second guessing, contradicting or defying the authority figure is foolish and futile: you will lose every time. You’ll find your papers marked down, you’ll fail classes and depending on the severity of your defiance you’ll even be met with punishment, in the form of forced labor or temporary incarceration (detention).

Forced labor is a perfectly acceptable form of punishment in the school system

On the flip side of that, you’ll find that pleasing authority is rewarded. Do your homework, study the material they put in front of you religiously and you may soon find yourself the teacher’s favorite.

In fact, the simplest way to get ahead in the school system is to find out what your teacher wants to hear (not hard, they’ll tell you) and just repeating it back to them in your paper.

Pro tip: if you’re in college, cite your professor’s research as a source in your paper. It works every time and you’ll get great grades.

The never-ending cycle of testing and grading actually conditions students to think that the point of learning is acquiring stamps of approval, not mastering a particular skill or becoming an expert on a particular subject.

The latter would actually be valued very highly in the real world, yet there is no place for that kind of focus and specialization in school. In fact, there is no time to master anything, because the bell rings and it’s time for next subject.

And what if you can’t manage to reproduce enough trivial facts to get a passing grade on the test? Despite of the obvious fact that there are tons of successful dropouts; you will be verbally abused and told you’re destined for a life of menial jobs and poverty unless you work harder at it.

That brings us to the last lesson school teaches: learning is hard work. Studying is an utterly boring, laborious task involving textbooks, worksheets, homework and the memorization of facts and formulas surrounding topics chosen by others.

Of course, learning something new can be really fun, and it is fun all the time when kids do it of their own accord: through play. In fact, people learn best through play and self-directed activities.

But compulsory education teaches students that learning is work, not fun. And not only that, but learning and play are mutually exclusive. They’re told they need to stop playing around and focus on their work.

This is why you’ll never meet a kid that’s sad when school is cancelled.

Values and mindsets needed in the marketplace

To see just how detrimental the mindsets fostered in the school system really are, just imagine you’re an entrepreneur in a competitive industry. What kind of people are you looking to hire?

Most likely, you’re looking for people who…

  1. are creative enough to think of new, innovative ways to solve problems, instead of merely conforming to the way things have always been done
  2. are brave enough to contradict their superiors, not for obedient yes-men
  3. show initiative and have a bias for action, instead of people who just wait for you to tell them what to do
  4. think independently and defy the status quo
  5. work to solve your customers’ problems, instead of trying to please their direct superiors
  6. have valuable skills and a record of getting stuff done rather than a shiny resumé with lots of credentials but no product
  7. love learning and go the extra mile to become experts in their field

All of these attitudes and behaviors you want in an employee are the exact opposite of what is learned in school.

Every employer in the world is dying to find self-starting, creative problem-solvers with a bias for action. But these people are very hard to find, because the school system produces the exact opposite of that: docile, obedient rule-followers that wait for detailed instructions before they do anything.

Every employer in the world is looking for self-starting, creative problem-solvers with a bias for action.

So not only do schools fail to prepare students for the real world, students are actually worse off when they get out because of all the detrimental attitudes and behaviors they picked up during institutionalization. They’re actually less fit for a job than before. This is how schools ruin students and how they have probably ruined you to some degree.

How do we make it better?

None of the criticisms laid out above are particularly new. The flaws of the school system have been well-known for decades, which is why parents and teachers are always pushing for “education reform” .

Yet nothing much ever changes. Schools still look almost the exact same as they did 200 years ago.

Schools have looked basically the same for centuries

At this point, whether or not “education reform” ever comes to pass is immaterial, because reform is simply not enough.

Reform is not enough. We need to completely rethink education from the ground up.

Car-manufacturer Henry Ford famously said that if he had asked people what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse. In a similar fashion, people keep asking for better schools, while what is needed is something entirely different. We need to abandon the school system altogether and completely rethink education from the ground up.

If you’re a teacher or parent and you’re ready to stop ruining the minds and attitudes of young people, or you’re a student, looking for something better, you can learn how to vacate the school system from my previous article.