What We're Not Teaching Our Kids in School

Photo by  Changbok Ko  on  Unsplash

Photo by Changbok Ko on Unsplash

Everyone in the technology backlash movement keeps telling us that Instagram is killing us because it’s a method of impossible comparison. They’re right. We spend a lot of our days comparing ourselves to perfectly curated photos of someone’s #bestlife. But our kids are doing that too.

But what our kids are also dealing with is the constancy of forced comparison in school. Whether via school ranking or grades, traditional schooling bestows the virtue of comparison on every student at all times. They tell our kids as they told us: bad grades will lead you to be unsuccessful.

But is that even true? Where is there a complete study that links class rank to success? Are all high school valedictorians now CEOs of nondiscriminatory and philanthropic corporations? Or do we continue that measure into adulthood through the use of our bank accounts? It never stops. The need to put us on a list to see who is “better.”

Because we care more about ranking than growing. Is this really what we want for our kids?

“When students are rated with letter or number grades, research shows they’re apt to think in a shallower fashion — and to lose interest in what they’re learning — as compared with students who aren’t graded at all.” — Alfie Kohn

This is what we’re not teaching our kids in school.


Mental Health

Please don’t f*cking tell me that this is covered in Health class. Mental health and all of the stigma attached to it goes virtually unnoticed in schools. Sure, maybe an assembly on depression. Yeah, an open door policy for the one school counselor with 3,000 kids in a burgeoning state of teen anxiety.

Please don’t f*cking tell me that this is only for the parents to talk to their kids about. If you could choose right now whether or not to have your child learn a full semester of important topics surrounding mental health or to have your child take Calculus, which one would you prefer. P.S. — your kid sucks at math.

Please don’t f*cking tell me it’s not something for schools to get involved in. Why? Because it’s not on the asinine standardized tests that they are forcing their teachers to instruct for. The majority of a teenager’s social anxiety happens at or because of school. Yeah, no biggie. Must take Chemistry instead.

Please don’t tell me it’s not important. Mental health is a global epidemic growing by the day. And all the medication isn’t the solution. Especially not for our kids. So much of mental health is intertwined with our lives. So for our kids, that’s at least seven hours a day at school. Then more at sports. And school obligations. And it all stresses our kids the f*ck out.

Maybe instead of bringing in one speaker a year, we should be looking for qualified teachers in this area to take an entire semester to teach our kids about coping skills. Or about managing anxiety. Or about what depression is and what it’s not.

Nope. Must learn about The War of 1812. Totally going to need that at a dinner party in 17 years.

Ethics

No, not as part of a senior Philosophy course. Not as a sub-part of a small section of a sophomore History class. A whole class on ethics. Because if you haven’t noticed, a lack of ethical standards is running rampant right now. It’s basically all we see on the news, day after day.

And then we tell our children that telling a white lie about their homework is sacrilege when the President of the United States, as of 11/2/18, had made 6,420 false or misleading claims over 649 days. We need our children to learn about ethics.

By the way, learning about ethics is way more interesting to high school kids than memorizing the Periodic Table of the Elements. Would you rather your child learn about the ethics involved in the Trolley Dilemma or that they know that NaCl is f*cking salt?

“Without ethics, man has no future. This is to say, mankind without them cannot be itself. Ethics determine choices and actions and suggest difficult priorities.” — John Berger

Side note: I came across this while looking for quotes about ethics. Another perspective that I don’t agree with:

“You don’t teach morals and ethics and empathy and kindness in the schools. You teach that at home, and children learn by example.” — Judy Sheindlin

Dear Judge Judy. Our kids shouldn’t learn morals, ethics, empathy, and kindness in school? Really? The majority of real-life opportunities come up at school because our kids are always there! Yes, we are the guide for our children from home, but teenagers will literally listen to anyone else’s advice besides ours. When my kids get to college and their friend wants to drive drunk, I want them to have learned about this situation and how to help, rather than The Boston Tea Party. Not. Sorry.

Empathy

Maybe if we began teaching empathy at a younger age, in school, there would be less divisiveness around schools. Our kids would have a better understanding of what others are going through instead of living inside their teenage bubble where the only thing that matters is them.

Yes, we as parents perpetuate that “you are the best at everything” and “no one is smarter than you,” but that doesn’t mean the school can’t knock us off our perch by showing our children that other people and others they know have a lot more going on in their lives than they do.

I wasn’t an empathetic kid. And while I wouldn’t have been doing cartwheels knowing I would have to take a semester of Empathy, I would have been way better off after it was over. I would have been learning life skills instead of a quadratic equation. And the last time my teenager came to me with a problem, I couldn’t solve it using a quadratic equation. I had to empathize with them. Get on their level. To understand how it feels to them. And they need to learn to do the same.

We need this in schools. You only have to watch the Covington Catholic video to understand this. The parents aren’t helping these kids learn empathy, much the opposite. And getting your kid a big P.R. firm and an interview isn’t going to help that learning curve either. Schools can help.

Ranking Versus Growing

At the end of a semester would you rather your kid be ranked #1 in the junior class and have the highest GPA or would you rather know that your kid helped his friend who was depressed find help because they learned about what to do. You may say the grades and I get it. College and all. But a kid who studies all day and has the highest GPA is not going to be emotionally ready for college.

We tell our kids to stop obsessing about what their friends are doing on Facebook, but we tell them to focus on their class rank because no college will want them if they don’t have a 4.0. F*ck us for that. Maybe it’s more important to you, but I want my kids to be good people, not get an extra tassel at graduation.

It’s not that competition is bad, it’s that growth is more important. And our kids can grow from healthy competition. But what stunts their growth is our displeasure with a C. High school kids are dealing with a lot of social pressure that they don’t tell us about. And there we go grounding them for a 78 instead of finding out that they were distracted because one of their best friends was having some serious mental health issues.

Schools can rank our kids all they want. But no class rank is going to guarantee anything in life. I was ranked second to last in my law school graduating class. After 10 years as a prosecutor and criminal defense attorney, I had tried over 200 cases. The person ranked first in my class is still doing the same job. In the same office. Behind their desk.

“Judged by meaningful criteria, getting rid of class rank is an obvious first step — but only a first step — toward restoring sanity, supporting a culture of learning, and promoting intellectual excellence (as opposed to an emphasis on academic rewards).” — Alfie Kohn

Schools Aren’t Getting Our Kids Ready For Life. Why Not?

Schools like to say, like Judge Judy, that a lot of these things should be taught at home. OK, then maybe stop assigning them so much homework. And making them practice for three hours after school. When the f*ck do you think we can teach our kids about these things?

You make them get up too early and wonder why they are tired. You make them take classes they will never use in real life and wonder why they are bored. You give them extra homework to do at home, during our time, and you wonder why they are stressed. You rank them according to academic performance and never, ever wonder how that makes them feel. Because that’s how schools make more money.

And it’s always about the money in the end. Standardized testing does nothing for our kids. It doesn’t prepare them for anything. If it did, the questions wouldn’t be so stupid. I remember them telling me in SAT prep class to choose the best answer. I asked, “Why isn’t the right answer there?” They didn’t answer. They must be teaching us something about life by making us choose which is the better inaccurate answer.

Why aren’t schools getting our kids ready for life? We are doing our part. But they are taking all of our time together as a family and hoarding it. And then they don’t want to assist. Even when all of the issues come up at or from school. I know, better take five years of a language and know nothing about how to help a friend in need.