"In school, they said Practice Makes Perfect, and then they said Nobody's Perfect, so I stopped practicing." - Stephen Wright

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

Written by: Shaun Kerry, M.D.
2 April 2007

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