Is secondary school a waste of time?

A home educating parent once mentioned that primary school level maths and English is 90% of what you need to know for everyday life as an adult an in most of employment. The remaining 10% can be learned as and when it is required. Most of what is taught in secondary school is not required for everyday life or most of employment.

Therefore is secondary school a waste of time from the perspective of education and knowledge?

  • Agreed that a lot of the curriculum content is out of step with the skills maybe considered useful for application in the real world.  However, it might foster an interest in further subject exploration, however it helps if the teacher is able to have the timetabled hours and the ability to bring those subjects to life and be able to contextualise them in order for them to appear relevant.

     A lot of learning at a school setting can be considered a passive act, you sit in a classroom and receive knowledge....sometimes there is limited scope to be able to allow students to explore, go off tangent, challenge thoughts, ideas and theories.  It depends if you want a society of questioning minds.... also people are individuals and learn in different ways - practical, academic etc...so it is a challenge to find a framework that suits all.

    I used to write degree programmes which needed to be endorsed by industry....some vocational qualifications follow the same remit... the secondary school curriculum seems to be lead centrally by macro government ideals.  Take the GCSE history curriculum...still tutors, stewarts, industrial revolution...britain as monarchy and empire...would it be more useful to understand more recent historical events and contextualise those? who knows?

  • It was certainly a waste of time for me.  I learned pretty much nothing (except, in biology, that the male penis is inserted into the female vagina - and even then, I left school believing that this was done as part of a medical procedure, in hospital).  Much of secondary school, anyway, was spent hiding from bullies - or simply not going in.  Consequently, I left with no qualifications, thinking that I clearly knew everything that I needed to know.  It was only when I became friendly, in my second job, with someone who'd been to a public school that I realised just what a chasm of nothingness there was in my head.

  • I learned pretty much nothing (except, in biology, that the male penis is inserted into the female vagina - and even then, I left school believing that this was done as part of a medical procedure, in hospital). 

    isn't it then???...does that mean I don't have to experience the procedure under general anaesthetic? lol

  • I don't agree. I think that secondary school is important for a lot of reasons. Is it perfect? Not at all. There are some issues with what's being taught and how it's taught, but the skillset you build at secondary school is really helpful for later life, whether that is academic knowledge, mental resilience or behavioural moderation. Remember, not everything you learn at school is learned within the classroom!x

  • No.

    For me secondary school was often a living nightmare, but not a waste of time.

    At school as I got older I, and I suspect most children pick up knowledge and behaviour that is not taught in the classroom.  It's the experience that matters!

    It may have been bad in general, but staying at home would have been even worse.

    And being taught in a classroom with others is an experience worth having.  There's nothing stopping one from educating themselves at home in their own time.

    And for me personally, primary school was even worse.   There I learnt almost nothing, in secondary school I was actually trying to catch up with what others learnt in primary school.

    As for  school being preparation for employment ???????

    I keep thinking back to the contentious issue of school uniforms and how strictly some schools enforce the rules. Excluding pupils for minor infringements.  The schools argument is that this prepares students for the workplace.

    An episode of the 1980s comedy 'Are you being served?'. Involved work uniform policy being enforced.  And the staff complaining that this nonsense belongs in schools and NOT in the workplace.

  • I guess it all shows that everyone's experience is different.  My niece's 14-year-old lad, for instance, is having a whale of a time at school.  He's academically bright, he's good at games, he's popular with his peers and his teachers.  He's already being seen as university material, if he so chooses that route. He's even good musically, and is hoping to start a band with school mates.  He'll only ever consider his school days to have been great, worthwhile, positive, and an excellent foundation for his future life.

    Personally, I envy anyone who can say that their schooldays were the best days of their life.  Or even that they found school to be a worthwhile experience.  I cannot emphasise enough, though, how much that was the opposite for me.  It started not in secondary school, but in primary school.  I was bright as a kid.  I could read by the time I started primary, and was way ahead of the others in my first year.  It was after that that it started to go wrong.  At secondary, it got much worse.  Bullying, exclusion, a sense of absolute detachment and alienation from everything around me.  It was the roots of a dysphoria that has haunted me ever since.  There was absolutely nothing good, positive or worthwhile about it.  Being taught with others merely highlighted my inadequacy, and sense of being a freak and a failure.  I used to live in fear of the place, cry myself to sleep at night, develop all sorts of strategies (phantom illnesses, etc) to avoid going in - or to avoid others if I had no choice but to go in, which was generally the case. I couldn't concentrate on lessons because I was full of fear and anxiety.  My very final day came just as the exams were starting, somewhere near my 16th birthday.  I was punched in the face in the playground - a punch that shattered my right cheekbone, sending a jagged edge of bone into my right eye socket and almost rupturing my eye.  Until I could have the corrective operation, my eye was permanently displaced at an upwards angle, so that I couldn't see straight.  My parents were adamant from that day forwards: I wasn't going back.  The sense of relief was overwhelming.  I came out of hospital at 16, without any qualifications at all, and before I started my first job I had three months of total and absolute freedom.  I spent my days wandering over the fields near our home, reveling in my safety and 'aloneness' at last.

    If I had the power, I'd excise that entire ten-year school period from my life forever.  If I was offered a drug that would enable me to forget everything about school, I'd take it without a second thought.  Sure, I've encountered other difficulties in my life - including workplace bullying, which left me wrecked emotionally and psychologically.  This was quite likely because of my earlier experiences.  Any 'good' that might have accrued from being at school was massively counterbalanced with the lifelong trauma it left me with.  Therapy has improved it, but not eradicated it.  One of the reasons that I haven't had children is that I wouldn't want them to go through what I went through - even though their experiences might be completely different.  Yes, I was clearly resilient enough to get through it.  But I don't really call it resilience, given the legacy of it I still suffer.  And is it really a good way to make someone resilient, anyway?  If so, why don't we treat everyone and everything with cruelty and callousness?  With disdain?  With a punch in the face now and then, to toughen them up?

    We fall over ourselves for our children in society.  We protect them, spoil them, give them the world, idolise them.  Naturally, of course.  They're vulnerable members of society, and they're our loved-ones and our future.  But my experience of them, when I was one myself, is that they can be especially cruel, uncaring and sadistic creatures: human nature at its rawest and most venal.  That won't be a popular view, but there it is.  I don't say I don't like children, because I do.  Especially the ones who, like me, don't find childhood - specifically school days - very much fun at all.

    I'm pretty much still a child myself, at heart.  I have a great sense of fun and mischief.  But school?  Forget it.  I'm so glad I never have to go near one of the places ever again.

  • Hi Arran,

    Really interesting post. 

    School definitely teaches us things. I am in no doubt about that. However, is what we learn in school of value to us as individuals and to our society as a whole?

     I think that John Taylor Gatto says it best:

    The following are excerpts from his book ‘Dumbing Us Down, The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling…

    The 7 lessons of compulsory schooling…

    1. Confusion. Everything is taught out of context.
    2. Class Position. Students are taught that they are measurable, comparable, and must stay (in which group) they are put.
    3. Indifference. Children are taught not to care too much about anything even though they must appear as if they do. (Any subject, project etc. which ignites an individual’s passion is cut down to size to suit the curriculum.)
    4. Emotional Dependency (or as I would offer; an external locus of evaluation) through rewarding ‘good behaviour’ i.e. school rule followers; and punishing bad behaviour i.e. anything the school does not personally condone, such as free thinkers.
    5. Intellectual Dependency. ‘Good’ students are taught to wait until they are told what they should be learning/doing/interested in by an authority figure.
    6. Provisional Self-Esteem. Kids are taught that their self-esteem relies on being told, by an authority figure, whether they are of any worth.
    7. One can’t hide. We teach students that they are constantly watched, monitored, evaluated- Surveillance which extends into the home and private time too via homework.

    Yes, there are definitely lessons to be learnt at school. But I don’t think those lessons have as much to do with maths, history or science as people may wish them to. I think those lessons are mainly to do with training kids to become dependent, controllable adults.