Harm in the School System

A social psychiatrist says school is the root of most mental problems in the world.
by Shaun Kerry, M.D.


As a social psychiatrist, I examine society much like a doctor examines a patient. One of the most troubling ailments that I encounter is our school system, which – without ever realizing it – harms the majority of our students.

It is my belief that our school system is the most fundamental cause of the social problems that our society faces today. Far from being expensive, the solution to this problem would cost no money.

Speaking from a psychiatric perspective, our most critical mental attributes involve emotions, judgment, a sense of priority, empathy, conscience, interpersonal relations, self-esteem, identity, independence, the ability to concentrate, and a number of other whole-brain functions that defy description. I will lump all of these attributes under the term ‘mindfulness’. Reading comprehension level, mathematical ability, and standardized test scores are much further down the priority list.

There is a sharp jump in the incidence of mental illness immediately after children begin school. This would suggest that something about our school system is in direct conflict with the human psyche. The academy-award-winning film American Beauty captures the essence of social dysfunction in today’s world, and has the power to portray many things that cannot equally be expressed through the written word. I would urge you to see this film. Note how most of the characters in this film suffer from a major personality disorder. By restructuring our schools, many such disorders could be prevented. I will show you how.

First, we must conquer our obsession with attempting to align academic achievement with a time-table. Everyone has a very unique personality, and therefore, learns at a different pace. Some people are ready to learn how to read at age 3, while others may be better to suited to learning how at age 10. In schools, we force subject matter down the throats of the students. We neglect to realize, however, that children learn much more quickly and effectively if they are receptive and eager to learn the subject matter. Children could master the basics of reading, writing, and arithmetic far more quickly, if they were allowed to learn what they wanted to learn when they wanted to learn it.

Prior to about 1850, schooling as we presently understand the term – wasn’t considered critical to the development of young minds. Granted, some children did attend schools, but only as often as they wanted to.

Classroom education was far from mandatory, yet children still learned to read, write, and perform arithmetic. In fact, Senator Kennedy’s office once released a paper stating that prior to the implementation of compulsory education, the literacy rate was 98%. Afterwards, the figure never exceeded 91%.

Forcing people to learn has no value, and is extremely harmful. Tests, grades, busywork, and competition are at the core of the problems that plague our schools. The motivation to learn must come from within the student. Often, we become so concerned with fulfilling the demands of other people, that we lose track of what we feel and who we are. I have met or worked with countless individuals who are intellectually well developed, but who have lost touch with their inner-self.

As a child, everyone is curious and eager to learn. Before attending school and being subjected to this process of coercion, children manage to learn a complex language (in bilingual families, two languages) and a copious amount of things about their environment. There is no reason why such learning could not continue without the negative effects of rigid institutionalization and standardized test scores, which seem to form the basis of modern-day education. Rather than hindering the growth of our children, we must provide an environment that will nourish them, and facilitate continuous learning.

—-

Shaun Kerry, M.D.
Diplomate, American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology
School Reform – A Mindful Approach

4 thoughts on “Harm in the School System

  1. While I agree with a lot of what Kerry says, a lot of things bothered me. So here are some quotes and my notes.

    As a social psychiatrist, I examine society much like a doctor examines a patient. One of the most troubling ailments that I encounter is our
    school system, which – without ever realizing it – harms the majority of our students.

    >I agreem but how exactly?

    It is my belief that our school system is the most fundamental cause of the social problems that our society faces today.

    >Again I agree, but why do you say this?

    Far from being expensive, the solution to this problem would cost no money.

    >Sounds simplistic, wishful thinking

    Speaking from a psychiatric perspective, our most critical mental attributes involve emotions, judgment, a sense of priority, empathy, conscience, interpersonal relations, self-esteem, identity, independence, the ability to concentrate, and a number of other whole-brain functions that defy description. I will lump all of these attributes under the term ‘mindfulness’.

    >Mindfulness? I still have almost no idea what people mean by this term. I definitely have never see anyone “lump” all of that into the word!

    There is a sharp jump in the incidence of mental illness immediately after children begin school.

    >I believe this but I’d like to see the research.

    This would suggest that something about our school system is in direct conflict with the human psyche.

    >”The human psyche” – that is pretty vague to me.

    >I’d say the system doesn’t meet the natural needs of childen and teens. For example, I believe it doesn’t meet most of their emotional needs. Probably it meets none of them, in fact.

    http://eqi.org/needs.htm — my list of emotional needs.

    The academy-award-winning film American Beauty captures the essence of social dysfunction in today’s world, and has the power to portray many things that cannot equally be expressed through the written word. I would urge you to see this film. Note how most of the characters in this film suffer from a major personality disorder. By restructuring our schools, many such disorders could be prevented.

    >First, I haven’t seen it. 2nd I don’t have a way to see it. I guess he thinks everyone ha Netflix. 3rd I am not sure I would spend that much time watching an entire movie just based on his recommendation, although I am curious now. I don’t like fictional movies or books in general, btw.

    I will show you how.

    >I doubt it will be that simple, but let’s see what he says.

    In schools, we force subject matter down the throats of the students.

    >Totally agree.

    …children learn much more quickly and effectively if they are receptive and eager to learn the subject matter.

    >Agree

    Children could master the basics of reading, writing, and arithmetic far more quickly, if they were allowed to learn what they wanted to learn when they wanted to learn it.

    >Agree.

    >He seems to still assume learning the things they impose in schools are worth teaching/learning. Seems he just wants to let young people decided when they will learn something like “arithmetic”. Does he believe all yp need to learn algebra? It isn’t clear to me.
    He says “if they were allowed to learn what they wanted to learn..” so I am not sure what he really believes.

    >He also does not come right out and say “End compulsory schooling.”

    Classroom education was far from mandatory, yet children still learned to read, write, and perform arithmetic.

    >He mentions arithmetic again.

    Forcing people to learn has no value, and is extremely harmful.

    >I mostly agree, but is that his belief or does he have scientific evidence?

    Tests, grades, busywork, and competition are at the core of the problems that plague our schools.

    >Again he just declares something as true without clearly showing why or providing support. Also, in using a word like “plague” he seems to be trying to appeal to our emotions more than to our reason. Basically, this is what he does too muchwith the entire article, IMO.

    I am also not sure that what he mentions are “at the core of the problems”. I’d say more central is the fact that school is compulsory and that there is a huge imbalance of power between student and teachers/school administrators & authorities. For example, students have no legal power to punish the adults, but the opposite is true. So this is a huge imbalance of power. One group can legally hurt and deny the needs of another group in other words.

    The motivation to learn must come from within the student.

    > “Must”?- this reminds me of a guy I criticized once on my site. Maurie Elias I think. Elias kept using that word.

    Often, we become so concerned with fulfilling the demands of other people, that we lose track of what we feel and who we are.

    >This is close to saying what I believe: that we are trained to serve the needs of others. And we are not asked how we feel or what we need.

    >But he doesn’t use the words “need” or “needs” in this article at all.

    >One psychologist, M. Rosenberg, said he went to school for 23 years and no one asked how he felt or what he needed. In my own informal research I have asked a lot of people from various countries these questions:

    – Did any teacher ask you if you want to learn what they taught?

    – Did anyone teachers ever ask you how you elt or what you needed?

    >So far almost everyone has said no to both questions.

    I have met or worked with countless individuals who are intellectually well developed, but who have lost touch with their inner-self.

    >I will interpret “lost touch with their inner-self” as not knowing how they feel or what they need.

    As a child, everyone is curious and eager to learn.

    >I agree, but also I believe some children are much more curious and eager than others.
    Also, school is more painful for some than others.

    Before attending school and being subjected to this process of coercion, children manage to learn a complex language (in bilingual families, two languages) and a copious amount of things about their environment. There is no reason why such learning could not continue without the negative effects of rigid institutionalization and standardized test scores, which seem to form the basis of modern-day education.

    >I agree but he isn’t clear on what the “negative effects” are.

    >I believe one is to make us lose much of our natural empathy, for example. Another is the killing of our creativity. Another is making us obedient and authority.

    Rather than hindering the growth of our children, we must provide an environment that will nourish them, and facilitate continuous learning.

    >I agree but I still don’t know exactly how, according to him, school “hinders the growth of our children.”

    >I feel a little sad he didn’t present a better argument for his case that school is the primary social problem. And he didn’t “show me how,” as he promised.

    At the end of the article he has this: School Reform – A Mindful Approach

    “Mindful” is really a fashionable term these days. I never have found an occastion to use it when I talk to people, except to criticize it. To me it is too “American.” By that I mean, for example, too mainstream and too often repeated without even understanding it or being able to explain it. I would call it a “new age” term. Like “presence”, “be present”, and the “s” word. lol I won’t say it cuz I don’t want to offend SR.

    I am interested to know how people feel when they read my notes/critique, and what they think.

    1. I think mindfulness and ‘being present’ are the same thing, and they basically mean to pay attention to how you feel in the present moment, and what’s going on around you, etc. As opposed to spacing out and thinking about something else you’re supposed to be doing, or daydreaming, etc. I think it’s a good thing to pay attention to.

      Though I’m not sure how ‘mindful’ works in the context of his other article title thing though.

      Generally I agree that this article isn’t perfect, and leaves out a lot of stuff, but I wanted to include other “slightly more mainstream-ish” perspectives as well, for those people who like reading things written by people with degrees. Just to prove that even people with degrees can be on the right track. 😛

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