3 Destructive Things You Learned in School Without Realizing It
3 Destructive Things You Learned in School Without Realizing It
By Mark Manson / vox.com

It was high school. I was 16, and I was pissed off. My English teacher gave us a creative writing assignment: write anything about being in high school. Anything.

So I wrote a story about a school shooting.

And not just that — in my story, once police cornered the shooter, instead of blowing his own brains out he began teaching the children himself, executing the ones who misbehaved or didn't follow directions. At first his executions seemed irrational and cruel. But as the kids got older, the executions became more pragmatic and designed to prepare the survivors for the "real world." The story ended at the graduation ceremony. The shooter cried as he hugged all of his students. He congratulated them and told them how proud he was of their accomplishments.

Needless to say, I got an F.

School convinced me I was a lousy writer. Which is weird, because now I'm a professional writer.  Eat that, Mr. Jacobs.

So in the spirit of graduation season, I figured it'd be nice to talk about what school does and does not teach you. Because if I've learned one thing, it's that who you were in school is not necessarily who you are destined to be in life. In fact, often it's quite the opposite.

1) You learned that success comes from the approval of others

We seem to live in a culture today where people are more concerned with appearing to be something important rather than actually being something important. See: the Kardashian sisters, Donald Trump, 63 percent of all Instagram users, athletes who make rap albums, the entire US Congress, etc.

There are a number of reasons for this, but a large part of it is that as we grow up, we are rewarded and punished based on meeting the approval of other people's standards, not our own. Make good grades. Take advanced courses. Play on sports teams. Score highly on standardized tests. These metrics make for a productive workforce but not a happy workforce.

Our education system is performance-based and not purpose-based. It teaches mimicry and not passion.

The whys of life are far more important than the whats of life, and that's a message that is rarely communicated growing up.

You can be the best advertiser in the world, but if you're advertising fake penis pills, then your talent is not an asset to society but a liability. You can be the best investor in the world, but if you're investing in foreign companies and countries that make their profits through corruption and human trafficking, then your talent is not an asset to society but rather a liability. You can be the best communicator in the world, but if you're teaching religious fanaticism and racism, then your talent is not an asset but rather a liability.

Like this video? Subscribe to Vox on YouTube.


 

Growing up, everything you're told to do is for no other purpose than to earn the approval of others around you. It's to satisfy somebody else's standard. How many times growing up did you ever hear the complaint, "This is pointless. Why do I have to learn this?" How many times do I hear adults saying, "I don't even know what I like to do; all I know is I'm not happy"?

Our education system is performance-based and not purpose-based. It teaches mimicry and not passion.

Performance-based learning isn't even efficient. A kid who is excited about cars is going to have a hell of a better time learning about math and physics if math and physics can be put in the context of what he cares about. He's going to retain more of it and become curious to discover more on his own.

But if he isn't responsible for the why of what he is learning, then what he's learning isn't physics and math, it's how to fake it to make someone else happy. And that's an ugly habit to ingrain into a culture. It churns out a mass of highly efficient people with low self-esteem.

In the past few decades, concerned parents and teachers have tried to remedy this self-esteem issue by making it easier for kids to feel successful. But this just makes the problem worse. Not only are you training kids to base their self-worth on the approval of others, but now you're giving them that approval without them having to actually do anything to earn it!

Or as Branford Marsalis, one of the greatest saxophone players of all time, so eloquently put it:

 

 

External performance markers are fine, and likely even necessary, but they're not sufficient. There has to be a new starting point. There has to be personal purpose introduced into education at some point. There needs to be a why to learning to go with the what. The problem is that everybody's why is personal, and it's impossible to scale. Especially when teachers are so overworked and underpaid.

2) You learned that failure is a source of shame

Earlier this year I had lunch with one of those people who you just can't believe exists. He had four degrees, including a master's from MIT and a PhD from Harvard (or was it a master's from Harvard and a PhD from MIT? I can't even remember). He was at the top of his field, worked for one of the most prestigious consulting firms, and had traveled all over the world working with top CEOs and managers.

And he told me he felt stuck. He wanted to start a business, but he didn't know how.

And he wasn't stuck because he didn't know what to do. He knew exactly what he wanted to do. He was stuck because he didn't know if it was the right thing to do.

He told me that throughout his entire life he had mastered the art of getting it right on the first try. That's how schools reward you. That's how companies reward you. They tell you what to do, and then you nail it. And he could always nail it.

But when it came to creating something new, doing something innovative, stepping out into the unknown, he didn't know how to do it. He was afraid. Innovation requires failure, and he didn't know how to fail. He had never failed before!

There has to be personal purpose introduced into education at some point

In his book David and Goliath, Malcolm Gladwell wrote a chapter about how a disproportionate number of insanely successful people are dyslexic and/or high school dropouts. Gladwell suggested a simple explanation: these were talented people who, for whatever reason, were forced to become accustomed to failure early on in their lives. This comfort with failure allowed them to take more calculated risks and see opportunities where others weren't looking later on.

Failure helps us. It's how we learn. Failed job applications teach us how to be better applicants. Failed relationships teach us how to be better partners. Launching products or services that bomb teaches us how to make better products and services. Failure is the path to growth. Yet we get it hammered into our brains over and over that failure is always unacceptable. That being wrong is shameful. That you get one shot and if you screw it up, it's over; you get a bad grade, and that's it.

But that's not how life works at all.

3) You learned to depend on authority

Sometimes I get emails from readers who send me their life stories and then ask me to tell them what to do. Their situations are usually impossibly personal and complex. And so my answer is usually, "I have no clue." I don't know these people. I don't know what they're like. I don't know what their values are or how they feel or where they come from. How would I know?

I think there's a tendency for most of us to be scared of not having someone tell us what to do. Being told what to do can be comfortable. It can feel safe, because ultimately you never feel entirely responsible for your fate. You're just following the game plan.

Blind obedience causes more problems than it solves. It kills creative thinking. It promotes mindless parroting and inane certainty. It keeps crap TV on the air.

That doesn't mean authority is always harmful. It doesn't mean authority serves no purpose. Authority will always exist and will always be necessary for a well-functioning society.

But we should all be capable of choosing the authority in our lives. Adherence to authority should never be compulsory, and it should never go unquestioned — whether it's your preacher, your boss, your teacher, or your best friend. No one knows what's right for you as well as you do. And not letting kids discover that fact for themselves may be the biggest failure of all.

Mark Manson is an author, blogger, and entrepreneur. He writes about psychology and culture at MarkManson.net. You can also follow his ramblings on Twitter or Facebook.

4.0 ·
2
What's Next
Trending Today
Ten Ways We Misunderstand Children
Jan Hunt · 16,220 views today · 1. We expect children to be able to do things before they are ready. We ask an infant to keep quiet. We ask a 2-year-old to sit still. We ask a 3-year-old to clean his room...
The Little Engine That Couldn't: How We're Preparing Ourselves and Our Children for Extinction
Daniel Quinn · 8,249 views today · In a recent semi-documentary film called Garbage, a toxic waste disposal engineer was asked how we can stop engulfing the world in our poisons. His answer was, "We'd have to...
18 Empowering Illustrations to Remind Everyone Who's Really in Charge of Women's Bodies
Julianne Ross · 3,300 views today · When Brazilian graphic designer Carol Rossetti began posting colorful illustrations of women and their stories to Facebook, she had no idea how popular they would...
When You Kill Ten Million Africans You Aren't Called 'Hitler'
Liam O'Ceallaigh · 1,218 views today · Take a look at this picture. Do you know who it is? Most people haven’t heard of him. But you should have. When you see his face or hear his name you should get as sick in...
Gabor Maté: Why Our Culture Makes So Many Of Us Unhappy
3 min · 979 views today · Dr. Gabor Maté explains why it is that our culture makes so many of us unhappy, unkind to one another, miserable, alienated from ourselves, etc. Watch the full interview in Part 2.
John Lennon's "Imagine," Made Into a Comic Strip
John Lennon. Art by Pablo Stanley · 942 views today · This is easily the best comic strip ever made.  Pabl
Your Lifestyle Has Already Been Designed (The Real Reason For The Forty-Hour Workweek)
David Cain · 922 views today · Well I’m in the working world again. I’ve found myself a well-paying gig in the engineering industry, and life finally feels like it’s returning to normal after my nine months...
The White Man in That Photo
Riccardo Gazzaniga · 897 views today · Sometimes photographs deceive. Take this one, for example. It represents John Carlos and Tommie Smith’s rebellious gesture the day they won medals for the 200 meters at the...
Beyond Civilization: Humanity's Next Great Adventure
Daniel Quinn · 889 views today · PART ONE A fable to start with Once upon a time life evolved on a certain planet, bringing forth many different social organizations—packs, pods, flocks, troops, herds, and...
Bitter Lake (2015)
136 min · 689 views today · Adam Curtis: Politicians used to have the confidence to tell us stories that made sense of the chaos of world events. But now there are no big stories and politicians react...
It Didn't Start With You: How Inherited Family Trauma Shapes Who We Are
Mark Wolynn · 652 views today · The past is never dead. It’s not even past. — William Faulkner, Requiem for a Nun
Schooling the World (2010)
66 min · 605 views today · If you wanted to change an ancient culture in a generation, how would you do it? You would change the way it educates its children. The U.S. Government knew this in the 19th...
You Should Get Naked More Often. It's Good for You.
Joni Sweet · 583 views today · When Nelly encouraged overheated people worldwide to get naked in 2002, he was unknowingly advocating much more than just a sexy, sweaty dance party. Sunbathing, sleeping...
Today I Rise: This Beautiful Short Film Is Like a Love Poem For Your Heart and Soul
4 min · 446 views today · "The world is missing what I am ready to give: My Wisdom, My Sweetness, My Love and My hunger for Peace." "Where are you? Where are you, little girl with broken wings but full...
90 Inspiring and Visionary Films That Will Change How You See the World in Profound Ways
Tim Hjersted · 445 views today · The world today is in crisis. Everybody knows that. But what is driving this crisis? It's a story, a story that is destroying the world. It's a story about our relationship to...
Lawns Are for Suckers. Plant a Garden - for the Climate!
Nathanael Johnson · 413 views today · Ripping out your lawn and planting kale and peppers won’t just lead to great stir-fry — a new study finds it could make major contributions to fighting climate change...
A New Story for Humanity (2016)
102 min · 404 views today · Inspired by the New Story Summit at the Findhorn Foundation: a sold-out multicultural, multigenerational inquiry into a new story for humanity, attended by change makers and...
Masculinity Is Killing Men: The Roots of Men and Trauma
Kali Holloway · 357 views today · We begin the damaging process of turning boys into men long before boyhood ends.
Why You Should Take Your Kids Out of School
Ben Hewitt · 312 views today · We don't need no education. At least not of the traditional, compulsory, watch-the-clock-until-the-bell-rings kind. As a growing movement of unschoolers believe, a steady diet...
Why People's Opinions of You Aren't Real
4 min · 291 views today · "You are what you love and not what loves you." - From Charlie Kaufman's film "Adaptation"
Load More
Like us on Facebook?
3 Destructive Things You Learned in School Without Realizing It