Is School Driving Kids Crazy?

The available evidence suggests quite strongly that school is bad for children's mental health. Of course, it's bad for their physical health, too; nature did not design children to be cooped up all day at a micromanaged, sedentary job.

-Dr. Peter Gray, Boston College

Girl with teacher at science fair

It's time for a bold rethinking of what school should look like. The world has changed while schools have remained frozen in time. The impact if we continue down the same path is heartbreaking and terrifying. Education commentator Kerry McDonald reports:

  • "A 2013 study by the American Psychological Association found that school is the main driver of teenage stress, and that teenagers are more stressed-out than adults."

  • "The suicide rate among 10 to 14 year olds has doubled since 2007."

  • For girls age 10-14, the suicide rate has tripled over the past 15 years.

  • "A national study of trends in adolescent depression rates found that teens reporting a major depressive episode (MDE) within the previous year skyrocketed" by 32% from 2005 to 2014, to 11.5% of all teens. 

What's driving this? One reason is that we have taken all control away from kids and left no room for them to develop on their own, or have much of any input in their learning or environment. Peter Gray from Boston College adds:

Children today spend more hours per day, days per year, and years of their life in school than ever before. More weight is given to tests and grades than ever. Outside of school, children spend more time than ever in settings in which they are directed, protected, catered to, ranked, judged, and rewarded by adults.

These hours have come at the expense of free play, which is critical for self-development. This has another dangerous effect: "In free play, children who feel harassed or bullied can leave the situation and find another group that is more compatible; in school they cannot."

In the workforce of the 21st century, people need to be creative, independent, and self-motivated. But schools teach the opposite:

In school, children learn quickly that their own choices of activities and their own judgments of competence don't count; what matters are the teachers' choices and judgments. Teachers are not entirely predictable: You may study hard and still get a poor grade because you didn't figure out exactly what the teacher wanted you to study or guess correctly what questions he or she would ask...Given a choice between really learning a subject and getting an A, the great majority of students would, without hesitation, pick the latter. That is true at every stage in the educational process, at least up to the level of graduate school.

For the sake of the future of our kids, we need to start thinking bigger and bringing schools together to reimagine what public education can look like. Arizona is in a perfect position to be a cutting-edge innovator in this field. And Jonathan Gelbart is the only candidate for Superintendent even talking about this critical need. Join, sign the petition, and donate today!

Photo by Phil Roeder, Flickr.