Friday, June 10, 2016

The Most Schooled Generation in History Is Miserable

Millennials are stressed out because they're bored

It’s said that sadness isn’t the opposite of happiness — boredom is.

With this in mind, is it any surprise that children, adolescents, and young adults today are so unhappy? Is it any surprise that so many turn to extending their schooled lives into structured activities as long as possible? Is it any surprise that when people don’t know what to do, they simply go to graduate school?

To understand this mass unhappiness and boredom with life — and the sudden uptick in quarter-life crises — look at where these young people have spent most of their lives.

What we see today in Millennials and younger is something henceforth unseen in the United States: a fully-schooled generation. Every young person, save the occasional homeschooler, today has been through schools. This means rich & poor, established & unestablished, and developed & undeveloped young adults have all been put through roughly the same exact system with the same general experiences for the last two decades of their lives.

School teaches them that life is broken into discernible chunks and that learning and personal development are to be seen as drudgery. Rather than teaching them how to foster a love of learning, a constantly-centralizing school regime in the US today teaches them to look for standards to be measured against. Rather than helping give them the cognitive and philosophical tools necessary to lead fulfilled lives in the context of the world in which they live, schools remove them from this world and force them to develop these skills only after 18–25 years of being alive. Rather than allowing them to integrate themselves into the broader scheme of life and learn what they get fulfillment from achieving and what they don’t, school leaves fulfillment to five letter grades and a few minutes of recess.

“We destroy the love of learning in children, which is so strong when they are small, by encouraging and compelling them to work for petty and contemptible rewards, gold stars, or papers marked 100 and tacked to the wall, or A’s on report cards, or honor rolls, or dean’s lists, or Phi Beta Kappa keys, in short, for the ignoble satisfaction of feeling that they are better than someone else.” -- John Holt

In short, school teaches apathy towards education and detachment from the world. School removes people from being forced to learn how to get fulfillment from a variety of activities and subjects and instead foists a handful of clunky subjects onto them hoping they meet state standards for “reading,”“mathematics,” “writing,” and “science.”

Not only this, but they’ve had childhood extended further into adulthood than any other generation before them. A young person today is considered a “child” much longer than a young person was 20 or 40 years ago. To treat a 16 year-old as a child in the 1960s would have been insulting. Today, it is commonplace.

Adult children wander the hallways of universities and workplaces today, less-equipped to find purpose and meaning than their predecessors. They can’t be entirely blamed for their anxiety and depression — their parents, teachers, and leaders put them through an institution and created a cultural norm that created the world they live in today.

"Once you understand the logic behind modern schooling, its tricks and traps are fairly easy to avoid. School trains children to be employees and consumers; teach your own to be leaders and adventurers. School trains children to obey reflexively; teach your own to think critically and independently. Well-schooled kids have a low threshold for boredom; help your own to develop an inner life so that they’ll never be bored." -- John Taylor Gatto

This is the perfect formula for creating a group of constantly bored people. They’ve been deprived of a chance to find meaning for themselves in subjects by engaging with them on a deep level and internalizing the responsibility necessary to live in the world. They’ve been cut off from opportunities to make real connections with people based on more than a lottery of ZIP codes for a decade. They’ve been taught that achievement is getting to the next level set by people outside of themselves.

Sadness isn’t the opposite of happiness — boredom is. A fully schooled generation has created a generation of bored adult children. It’s no wonder young people today seem so unhappy.


Millions Mired in Massive Student Debt

The government program that gave Americans loans for higher education made enrollment at U.S. colleges increase 25% from 2002 to 2012. The government’s stated goal was to increase training in America’s work force. It was supposed to improve America’s economic health. That plan didn’t work.

America’s current and former students now owe $1.2 trillion in debt. Millions of Americans who took the loans are in default. “New research shows a significant chunk of that investment backfired, with millions of students worse off for having gone to school,” according to The Wall Street Journal. “Many never learned new skills because they dropped out — and now carry debt they are unwilling or unable to repay. Policy makers worry that without a bigger intervention, those borrowers will become trapped for years and will ultimately hurt, rather than help, the nation’s economy.”

In the past, the thinking among parents and students heading to university was that taking out loans was an investment that would pay off in the form of higher wages down the road. But a report by nonpartisan think tank Third Way discovered that about 40% of students who enrolled in nonprofit colleges and took on debt in 2005 only earned $25,000 six years later — no better than holding only a high school diploma.

Americans have taken on debt with little to show for it. And for what? Mike Rowe, who stared in “Dirty Jobs,” said in a Prager University video most Americans are chasing their dream jobs regardless of the skills they possess or the need for those jobs. It could be the government, in giving out these loans, enabled Americans to pursue careers that don’t actually contribute to society. Can someone say “education bubble”?


Australia: throwing cash at schools is not the answer

A question that has divided philosophers and psychologists for centuries — what makes children turn out as they do? — has finally been answered with the release of Labor’s education policy.

It seems Descartes, Locke and co were barking up the wrong tree; the answer is not nature or nurture but the government.

No longer will children have to “choose their parents wisely,” as Bertrand Russell once advised. Under the fully funded Gonski plan, we are told, every child in every school will have the same chance of succeeding.

“We want to make sure,” Bill Shorten explained, “that children, no matter what their background, no matter what their postcode, whether or not they live in the suburbs and the cities, in country towns or along our coast, whether or not they go to a government school or a Catholic school, a private school, get every chance.”

Much as alchemists once dreamed of turning base metal into gold, so today’s social policy planners are bewitched by the ­notion that, with enough government money, every child can be made to sparkle.

Never mind the trail of failed experiments, abandoned fads or prodigious amounts of public money already spent. It wasn’t the frailties of the program that let us down, apparently, but mean-spirited governments blind to the needs of the weary and dispossessed.

The government’s job used to stop with the provision of universal education; what students and parents did with it was entirely up to them. After four decades of progressive social thinking, culminating in the Gonski review, the government’s task has expanded; it must intervene to break the supposed causal link between educational accomplishment and familial, social and economic background.

The Gonski review should have challenged the assumption that schools are cost-effective instruments for fixing the complex ills of society.

Instead, it took it as granted, which seems absurd to anybody grounded in the real world. Take, for example, the plight of an infant raised in a welfare-fed cesspit by adults so drug-addled that they are incapable of telling the time themselves, let alone passing that skill on to their children. Suppose a generous Labor government doubles the budget of the local school which the little mite fitfully ­attends. How much does that change the kid’s prospects? Probably very little, if at all.

The presence of a man like ­Andrew Leigh on Labor’s frontbench makes it all the more surprising that it has fallen — hook, line and sinker — for the funding fallacy. Leigh was the lead author of a report for Treasury’s Social Policy Division called “How much of the variation in literacy and numeracy can be explained by school performance?”

The answer, Leigh concluded, was about 30 per cent. The other 70 per cent was explained by factors outside the school’s control. A comparison with other studies suggests Leigh may have been over-estimating the influence of schooling — an OECD study for example suggests 20 per cent — but even so, the implications for government are clear.

“The more that children’s academic achievement is determined in the home, the less chance that policies to improve schools’ performance will have a transformative impact on the life chances of disadvantaged students,” wrote Leigh.

“At the extreme, if socio-economic status entirely explains academic performance, it is pointless to think about reforming schools in order to raise educational outcomes.”

Absent from Leigh’s pre-Gonski analysis is any discussion about money. To the extent to which schools make a difference, Leigh suggests that the ability of the principal and the quality of the teachers are likely to make the biggest difference. Most objective studies arrive at the same conclusion; it is not the amount of money allocated to schools that matters but how it is spent.

In the middle of the election-charged debate about school funding comes a subversive intervention by the ABC that debunks Gonski’s assumption that it is just a question of funding. Last week the public broadcaster launched the first episode of Revolution School, a fly-on-the-wall documentary about a state secondary school in a low socio-economic area on the outer fringe of Melbourne that has managed to turn its lacklustre performance around.

It was apparent from the first scene that Kambyra College was well resourced; all children had access to a laptop and the classrooms were in reasonable repair. The teachers seemed motivated, dedicated and intelligent if a little battle-worn from the daily challenge of keeping order. Mr Wallis’ Year 10 English class appeared particularly brutal.

Yet in the course of the 58-minute episode, no one raised the issue of money.

As John Hattie, the expert who supervised Kambyra’s transformation, explained, when it comes to improving education, Australians are arguing about the wrong thing.

Class sizes or the difference between private and public education are largely immaterial.

“If you take students of the same kind of prior ability, the same kind of initial ability, here in Australia it virtually doesn’t matter what school you go to.

“Schools don’t make much difference — it’s the teachers.’’

Labor’s Gonski-inspired plan to pump another $37 billion into schools is looking increasingly reckless, as evidenced not just by Revolution School but the shadow assistant treasurer’s 2008 report.

It is less a rational policy response than an act of fiscal exhibition designed to show that Labor cares. As Leigh’s research demonstrates, schools cannot press the reset button for every kid that enters their gates, no matter how much money we throw at them.

With three episodes still to go, Revolution School is looking like the most uplifting thing the ABC has commissioned since Choir of Hard Knocks. Kambyra’s principal, Michael Muscat, would surely be an early favourite for Australian of the Year, had the process not been so corrupted.

While the teaching unions plaster the country with Gonski banners backing Labor, Muscat and his staff in an undistinguished outer Melbourne suburb are ­applying themselves to the harder task of changing the world one child at a time.


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