By Jonathan 27 Comments

The Public School System Is Doing Serious Damage to Our Children and Our Society

It’s no secret that I am not a fan of the public school system. It is a system that rewards mediocrity and, ignores excellence and often discourages it. It is a system designed to cater to the lowest common denominator and to stifle those that would rise above it. In short, the public school system is about control.

It is not about making people smart. It is not about teaching them life skills. It is not about creating successful, happy people. It is about control.

“It is a rare child indeed who can come through his schooling with much left of his curiosity, his independence, or his sense of his own dignity, competence, and worth.”
John Holt, The Underachieving School

For many people it’s hard to believe that there is anything sinister about the school system. It’s difficult to view that nice lady that teaches your kid math and English as being involved is something ugly. But the truth is that she is, though her participation is almost certainly born out of the same well-intentioned yet ignorant beliefs about school that you and most of the population have.

To understand why public schools are so bad, we have to look at why, and by who, they were created in the first place. This article will focus on the American school system, but make no mistake, this all applies equally to Canadian schools, and the public school system of most other western countries. If it looks like a fish, smells like a fish, then it is a fish.

Prior the creation of the public school system, the education of children was designed to make good citizens, and to ensure each student found some particular talents to fully develop.

That purpose lives on today in our colleges and universities, where students self-direct their education, choosing their own course of study based on their own personal talents and interests. Sadly that is not the case in the primary education system in which every imaginable subject is forced down the throats of every child, whether that child has an interest in it or not. Few ever question the rationale behind this policy, it is blindly accepted that every child’s future depends on them learning algebra at the age of twelve, and God forbid they should find it boring because they’ll be put on Ritalin and drugged into submission.

The very idea of forced education being necessary is false. As human beings we are naturally curious and excited to learn, and at no time in our lives is that desire stronger than in childhood. Before a child has ever set foot in a school he was already done immense amounts of learning. He has learned to eat, to talk, to walk, and often to read, or ride a bike, or swim without ever having to be forced. A young child never complains about having to learn, because everything he learns fulfills his or her natural curiosity about the world.

And yet our public schools are filled with miserable, bored students for whom learning has become a punishment and not a pleasure, and school feels like a prison. Schools are filled with angry children, bullying is rampant. Strict adherence to the curriculum is enforced. Students who read ahead in class or otherwise go beyond mediocrity are not encouraged, they are scolded. Students who dislike math are labelled with various “learning disabilities”. Misguided “gifted” programs spring up that do little except to cause further social dysfunction in the classroom. Kids are given pointless tests that are in no way a measure of intelligence or aptitude, but rather a test of short-term memory.

So what happened to create the public school system as it is today, and why? Corporate American happened. The leaders of the industrial revolution realized that their success depended on not only having an easy to control workforce, but and easy to control, predictable customer as well. The public school system was designed to create both. It is no accident that public schools do nothing to teach kids how to manage finances, how to create wealth, entrepreneurship, personal responsibility, and self-reliance. People with such knowledge are exactly the opposite of what corporations need for success. They are also exactly the opposite of what politician and governments need to retain power.

The utter irrelevancy of the public school system can be seen easily if one looks at how many brilliant or successful people were either terrible students (according to test scores) or dropped out entirely:

  • Albert Einstein
  • Richard Branson (Billionaire, founder of Virgin Records)
  • Peter Jennings
  • The Wright Brothers (invented a little thing called the airplane)
  • Quentin Tarantino
  • George Eastman (founder of Kodak)

Some may argue that school serves another purpose, that of teaching kids social skills and how to function in a society. Frankly, that’s bullshit. The society present in the unnatural environment of public school can hardly be considered a desirable one. Those who function at the top of the food chain the public school society would be considered some of the most despicable citizens in the world if their behaviour were continued beyond high school (and it often is). The rest of the school population survives as social outcasts for the most part.

Public Schools exist to create mindless consumers and easily manipulated workers, nothing more. Let’s be real here, that works for most people. But if didn’t work for you you’re not crazy, you’re just smart.

There is a book called The Teenage Liberation Handbook by Grace Llewellyn that I strongly suggest you read (even if you’re a grown up).


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  • Jonathan says:

    Wow Cody.

    Thank you for your comment. I am afraid I feel greatly under-qualified to help you.

    All I can say is make sure you maintain faith in yourself. As you have experienced, the public school system doesn’t take kindly to kids that are “different” and don’t fit the mould. I personally believe it is designed this way.

    The good news is that you are a senior. Soon you will be free of the system and able to make your own choices. Then you can start exploring.



  • Cody Simmons says:

    Hi I’m a senior in highschool and have always felt a sense of brainwashing in the public school system I go to…I consider myself to be smart and I’m really into philosophy…the problem is just because I’ve never exeled at math or English I’m labeled as educationally disfunctional and have to go to “special classes” I miss out on alot of work and forced down middle school grade work…not to mention the stigma of being a “special” kid. I’ve been given labels such as add adhd and bipolar to name the least and given a number of pills that make me stupid. I’ve learned that I’m a type of child known as the indigo child (research them please) please help its as if I’m not meant for this world.

  • Rimma says:

    I love your article. After reading the works of Gotto and Holt I became completely sold on the unschooling method. As a former public school teacher I experienced some of the feelings Gotto described in his work. I felt that I wasn’t helping children but participating in a system that hurts them and making money doing so. It was impossible to remain in this system. I also couldn’t stand being with other kids while my son was missing his mom. It mad eno sense. Why should I soend time with ohter people’s kids whne I have my own. The answer was to quit my job and live on less but be happy together. Schools and the work world have a way of separating families. It was a very cruel existance for us . I an so glad I quit and never looked back.

    • Jonathan says:

      I think the public school system is just one of many institutions in our society that no longer serve the greater good, but to which there is little practical alternative for most of us, sadly.

  • Simone says:

    Great article. We send our kids to school with the mindset that it’s free childcare while we work. And hope that we educate them sufficiently at home so that the brainwashing at school does not affect them too much.

    • Aukia says:

      I recommend another author on this subject, John Taylor Gatto, I am reading his book ‘Weapons of mass instruction’ a schoolteachers dark journey throught the dark world of compulsary schooling’. It is absolutely brilliant. I discovered all of this about 6 months ago when my very bright 6 year old told us how much she hated school how bored she was and why- and thankfully I listened. It opened my eyes and we took her out of the prison/huge factory school she was at and she now goes to a small village school- still school but neccesary free childcare while we work, and we listen to her.

  • Philani says:

    I am a teacher at a primary school in Soweto( South Africa). As a teacher I am really sadenned by our current Education system in South Africa. Everything that is said I seem to agree with, especially on the side of those who feel that most education system detroy creativity in our children.

    With my friends across the color line, we have decided to try and change things in the primary school I am working in. You can expect some difficulties because it is a public school because of the policies that are put in place to stifle creativity and innovativeness not only in children, but also teachers and all those who are willing to make a difference.

    We are currently doing research on community involvement in schools. We are working with Khulisa Social Solutions which is an NGO that believes that solutions to community’s problems come from the communities themselves. We are creating a common vision between the school and the community. This has given all stakeholders involved in the school to come up with solutions to problems we are facing currently as a school. The main aim is to create a school that gives children an opportunity to follow their hearts in terms of academics, sport and business. Although this can be narrow on its own, it is far better than what is currently happening. We are trying to create a model that make a schools the centre of community development. This will bring in more community members with skills and knowledge in different fields to interact with our young children further giving them opportunities develop interests in apsects of life.

    We are inviting anybody with interest to contribute in what we are trying to do. We want to change the perceptions most people have about public schools and education offered there. Contribution in this case refers to ideas, questiions, referrals to people who can help us etc. We are open to ideas also we are happy if people want to come and see what we try to achieve.

    The name of the school is J S Mpanza Primary. It is under the Gauteng Education Department. It is 10 minutes from Johannesburg.

    Thanks Jonathan

  • Michael says:

    Until last year I was a high school language (Mandarin) teacher. For what it is worth, I believe that most responsible parents, even “uneducated” responsible parents, would be far more effective than my school system is at developing our students.
    I feel like I did a good job, I truly cared about my students. I think most teachers did (and do). But we are working against a system that seems too big to work with.
    Humans, especially children, ARE naturally curios. They will learn so much faster when they are studying what they enjoy.
    Having said all of that, homeschool is not always easy. I don’t know what the best solution is, but it is clear that improvement is necessary, and if nothing else we can all start with our own children.
    I was just introduced to your blog last night, Jonathan, I’ve spent several hours reading your different posts (unusual for me), and I think you have a lot of good things to say. Keep up the good work!

  • Perfect Dad says:

    Hmm. My wife is a high school math-science teacher, and she does homeschooling tutorials. My question is this: Who would teach the kids?

    Yes, the well-educated readers of this blog might do a good job, but they are probably high earners who have a few brain cells in their heads and enrich their kids so the kids are better than average. What about the other 50% of kids who are average or below? Some huge percentage of parents are not be capable of teaching kids. Search youtube for “Who Wants to be a Millionnaire” or “Smarter than a 5th grader” to see a few examples.

    Yes, public school is like every public institution and not made for the top tier. But it’s needed, and it’s better in some places than others, and the teachers are different. I live in Quebec now, but lived in 4 provinces. Quebec has a bad public education system but places like Alberta have it a lot better from my experience.

    I found a good angry poet advocating for teachers, posted on my blog. You probably won’t like it, but maybe :).

    • Jonathan says:

      Hello again, Perfect Dad.

      This article is not a slam against teachers, but rather the foundations of the system in which they teach.

      I am certain there are many, many teachers who would understand all too well what I speak about.

  • Chris Scott K. says:

    Also Thomas Edison and Henry Ford are among a couple without formal ‘education’ I have been saying these things for the longest time. I feel that the public school system is ushering this generation into what many call the ‘rat race’ of working for wages while the people who really make the money really do nothing.

    School system is just a way to create labor, and wages are just a way to lead people along and allow them to believe that they are actually earning something.

    Combine that with how financial institutions operate and profit and you have basically enslaved the public.

    • Jonathan says:

      Well enslavement of the public is the goal of capitalism.

      Not to say that capitalism isn’t the best choice we have, but it is not without its dark side.

  • Michael Pedzotti says:

    An interesting post indeed. I have worked in public education and a lot of what you say resembles reality. Considering the size of the population however, there is no viable alternative available to compete with the monopoly system in place.

    Sure, homeschool is an option, private-tuition schools are available, but for the masses, mass-produced is about the only option.

    It sure raises a point about the critical need for parents to be very involved in all that their children are doing at school. Not only to be sure their children keep a reasonably balance view of life, but that they are also encouraged to go beyond what is required of them in the classroom.

    My children may have learned fractions, etc at school but they learned a whole lot more about life from time spent with my me and my wife.

    The system cannot easily be avoided so offset it with time for quality child-parent interaction.

  • Tatiana says:

    You are quite right about schools. The best part of your post is your explanation of the influence of Industrialization or “Corporate America” as you called it. Bravo for saying so! I wish more people could recognize that!

  • Jamie F. says:

    This is sad but true. The public school system is crap. It is one big babysitting agency,if you will… Homeschooling is the way to go.

  • Jonathan says:

    Hi Lea,

    Your story is sadly very typical. Keep a close eye on your daughter, she sounds like a very bright child, and public school will crush her if it is given the chance or if you don’t help her to build up her defences to it.

    Thanks for stopping by.

  • Lea says:

    I too have had my concerns with the educational and social aspects of schools as a whole. My daughter is able to learn quickly and has a great memory of what she learns, plus she’s an advanced reader. She was able to read and understand what she read out of college textbooks at age 6. Yet her teacher wanted to label her a ADD because she got bored in class. Your explanation as to why schools are structured the way they are was enlightening. I say, keep up the good work.

  • Heather J. says:

    This was a fascinating post, thanks. I have mixed feelings about public school myself. My husband hated it and did very poorly, whereas I was a bright student and – in high school – did very well. I enjoyed it in part because I was able to choose many of my classes and therefore learn things I was interested in.

    Now we’re in the next generation – my 6 yr old son. He IS in public school right now and so far, so good. I wanted to homeschool but with 2 parents working, that just isn’t a possibility. So, like the first commentor, I hope that the education and love of learning I instill in him at home will be helpful in counterbalancing any negativity he experiences in school.

    • Jonathan says:

      I think the main thing is to be aware of the potential problems, and be prepared to address them as they come up.

      As bad as it can be, it is the only viable option most of us have.

      Also, many private schools that follow the public school style of one size fits all teaching, are just as bad.

  • Jessica says:

    Hear! Hear!

    People think I’m crazy when I tell them how damaging public school is and all the reasons why I plan on homeschooling my kids. As the other commentors have said, it is the place of the parents to teach their children and raise them, not the schools.

    Here via NCLM

  • Kim says:

    I agree! Too many parents think that they can sit back and do nothing and that the schools should raise and educate their children! Drives me crazy! NCLM

  • Valerie says:

    why is anyone relying on the public school system to teach their children anything. learning first begins at home, the rest is supplemental. .02

    • Jonathan says:

      I agree that learning begins at home, but to say the rest is supplemental is not quite right IMO.

      Real learning begins when you begin to experience the world around you.