Our "Modern" Educational System Is Destroying Creativity: 6 Reasons why Schools are bad For Kids

Updated on November 23, 2016
The prison cell of "modern" education
The prison cell of "modern" education | Source

Disclosure: I'm a passionate informal educator and I have a few years of experience as a high school teacher for English as a second language and Physics. I don't want to say education is unneeded, I simply wish it would change for the better. So let me get on with my point.

If we make a simple survey of how many students enjoy studying at school and how many of them use the studied material later in life we would get tragic results that seem OK to us only because we are used to them. Kids hating school should not be the norm and the fact that we accept it as a normal part of life only shows how deeply our educational system's inadequacy has screwed us up. It's high time we faced the facts with open minds, spotted the problems and fixed them (which might mean throwing away the old system and starting anew). Education should be enlightening, exciting, and empowering, and not something that resembles a torture chamber in a dark dungeon. So let's try to spot what's wrong.

The Problems

  1. It's a legacy system
  2. Most of it is a waste of time
  3. The wrong public mindsets are perpetuated by this system
  4. One size never fitted all
  5. The grading system is based on the wrong values
  6. It values dry knowledge higher than applicable skills, progress, personality and creativity

Our educational system hasn't experienced fundamental change since these draper looms were on the bleeding edge of technology.
Our educational system hasn't experienced fundamental change since these draper looms were on the bleeding edge of technology. | Source

1. It's a Legacy System

So let's start by facing a truth that we are all aware of on some level, but usually try no to face - our educational system is archaic. It emerged in the time of the Industrial Revolution and it is designed to cater to that time of history and not current social reality. Education is still trying to grind children down to the size that would fit the needs of the industrial revolution. We can see this in the way we assign importance to different subjects. The most important subject in school is still Maths, followed by languages, sciences, humanities with arts and music at the very bottom. This is the value that was assigned because of the needs of the Industrial Revolution and nobody had the guts to revise the curriculum in such a way that would be more adequate to the modern society which allows creative types equally lucrative career opportunities as engineers. Designers, musicians, artists, dancers and actors can actually do pretty well in the contemporary world.

Additionally, the mode of teaching hasn't changed since the Middle Ages, but we'll go deeper into this in a few seconds.

2. Most of it is a Waste of Time

It's not a secret that we only use a minuscule part of the things that we've learned at school. I know the argument that studying all of those subjects expanded our brains and though us thinking, but I see this as a cheap cop out. Most of us spend between 11 and 13 years in education before we even start talking about a specialized degree and it's between 2 and 3 times the time people spend studying in the university. It is inexcusable that we have so little useful life knowledge and skills. We study so many details and we never get the big picture. We learn to do things that most us will never use in their jobs or personal life. No disrespect to the teachers and principals of the world, but if this is what we have to show for, we are all wasting our times.

We're wasting our time with details while failing to see the big picture.
We're wasting our time with details while failing to see the big picture. | Source

And I know there are alternatives. The students could and should spend much more of their time thinking critically, analyzing information themselves instead of just learning it, do real things, develop their talents and build quality relationships and communities. What we get instead is a river of dry facts, alienation and conformity.

Additionally, I'd like to point out that I'm not saying we should completely throughout Biology, Physics or Math, but we should try to dig ourselves out of the unnecessary details and try to see and understand the big picture. Let's put the emphasis on the really fascinating stuff like the beauty, complexity and diversity of life instead of knowing each and every chemical reaction that is part of the Krebs cycle for Biology. Let's put the emphasis of Physics on the miseries of the universe and the mindbogglingly paradoxes of the quantum world instead of solving interchangeable mathematical problems and learning formulas by heart. Let's use Math class to talk about statistics and use it to analyze our own schools, lives and communities striving to understand things that matter to us and learning to do the math that goes with the analysis along the way. When there's a will, there's a way. We just need to recognize the deficiencies and start addressing them.

3. The Wrong Public Mindsets are Perpetuated by this System

Our educational system is based on assigning ranks to everything. We are though to believe that some jobs and lines of work are better than others and that we all have to live our life as if it's a race. Our education system ranks both us and itself at every chance it gets in order to let us know that most of us are unsuccessful and not part of the the top. It seems like there are predestined paths and each path has a certain rank and we all have to struggle in order to occupy the top paths instead of our peers. We measure success only with how far along a path like that we are.

Some successful people that didn't do well in school

  • Albert Einstein (physicist)
  • Steve Jobs (entrepreneur)
  • Bill Gates (entrepreneur)
  • Thomas Edison (inventor - dropped out of high school)
  • Andrew Jackson (US president - dropped out of high school)
  • Robert De Niro (actor - dropped out of high school


The list goes on and on, but this is a pretty good sample from it.

But if we think about it we will come to the conclusion that all of this paths are imaginary and therefore they should not be part of our education. The valuable members of society that drive progress and make everyone's lives better and the ones that are not burdened by such preconceptions and the ones that are always looking for new unexplored ways to lead to new places. Our education is based on stereotyping people and so is our society.

What the current system brainwashes us to think about life is that we should conform rather than innovate and we all know that this is actually wrong. We are though obedience instead of personal development and a strive for social betterment and reform. This is an immense weight holding the progress of the whole human race down.

4. One Size Never Fits all

Unfortunately, our educational system is built on the idea that everybody's mind works in a similar way and our job is to retain information and use it. We've known for decades that there are at least 8 different types of intelligence with a whole rainbow of things in between and different mixtures. There is no doubt that each of us has been given a unique mind, but our schools fail to take that into account. Our way of thinking is chiseled down to something that would fit the square subject that somebody has chosen for us until it takes the same shape. When a student has a unique talent, they are told to suppress it in order to bombard their mind with useless piles of grey factual information.

Pink Floyd's Take on the Educational System

Each of us is different and each of us needs a different potion of skills and knowledge in order to develop to our full potential. If somebody has a particular talent, they should be allowed to develop it. While we are in school, our uniqueness is simply collapsing under the burden of an unnecessarily crammed school curriculum that wants to turn us into walking encyclopedias with little original taught. A musician should be allowed to be a musician, a mathematician should be allowed to be a mathematician and a runner should be allowed run.

We need to have a much more flexible school curriculum that is based on achieving success in practical tasks by using each student's strengths and talents and there are so many ways to make our schools a much more suitable place for human children instead of the meat-grinders that they are today.

5. The Grading System is Based on the Wrong Values

Being graded in school can actually be quite degrading. Assigning a quality value to a young human being is simply not humanistic. Being graded all the time is actually crippling the students. People learn the most from their mistakes, but mistakes are the worst thing one could do in the context of contemporary schools. We are rewarding following blindly, instead of thinking, risking, evaluating and creating. The best way to get the good grades is to do things exactly in the way you are told to.

But even if we forget the lacking morality behind the grading system, we can easily see that it's far from adequate. The world is full of people that got good grades in school and failed in life and people that got bad grades in school but succeeded in life. This means grades are simply measuring the wrong things and there is no way around it.

I often hear the people saying that grades are imperfect, but there is no better way to do it. This is exactly the type of thinking that results from being graded for the most part of your life. To them I say that there is actually no worse way than grading and we should get rid of it as soon as possible and start building a system that would foster individuals who know how to push the progress of humanity forward. Because progress and innovation starts with embracing mistakes and failure and taking a risk in order to get to a greater good.

6. It Values dry Knowledge Higher than Applicable Skills, Progress, Personality and Creativity

In a way this is my main point and it should require little more explanation by now. The sad truth about modern education is that it works to destroy creativity, personality and personal initiative in favor of standardizing people and their minds in order for them to fit better in to a the factories of 200 years ago.

The modes of teaching are even older - coming from the Middle Ages. There is a teacher that tells you what to think and all your duties are to write it down. And if you don't do what you are told, you are going to be punished. We need to read our textbooks and learn the dry facts as if we are 100% sure they are all true. Until next year somebody will disprove or expand our knowledge on the topic.

Our schools are prisons for the mind.
Our schools are prisons for the mind. | Source

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Did you enjoy going to school?

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Naturally there is an alternative. The teachers should be facilitators of discussions and counselors that help you set and reach your personal progress goals and your class's progress goals. Students should learn how to do real things, learn real thing together with their peers utilizing each other's strengths and overcoming individual weaknesses together. Students should be encouraged to create and to shape their own paths. There is an abundance of informal educational projects that have had great success and schools and teachers that have started grass-roots reforms for their small educational communities. We need to wake up to this idea and start exploring. As long as we are asking the questions, the answers will present themselves. And this is how we should educate. We need to embrace the notion that this system has to go - from bottom to top.

Being creative doesn't come from learning information and strict procedures for analysis - it comes from challenging the norms and thinking outside the box. Sadly our schools are currently the box - a prison of the mind.

I would like to see an educational system that embraces independent thought, personal talents, making mistakes along the way, humanistic values and fostering creativity and uniqueness. I'm sure that if we decide to open our eyes to the inadequate education we are paying for and throw the old system away, we will inevitably come to something infinitely better. It will not only make the younger years of our lives more enjoyable, but our society more open, tolerant and productive.

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    • profile image

      Bela 

      2 months ago

      Hi, I agree with this so much. In fact, in my situation- I am in an extension class, ( which usually does 2 years ahead of year 8 if not more), and I do okay. I dont want to drop out because the people in the others classes are really mean and bully everyone remotely different or unique. The constant pressure of having to do , with a bunch of full on geniuses for their age is so difficult. I just want to do my art, hopefully become an illustrator when I grow up and find out who I really am: instead if learning quadratic equations and the russian revolution. It sucks. :(

    • profile image

      Jack c. 

      2 months ago

      Thank you for this very needed information

    • profile image

      Alex 

      3 months ago

      nice

    • profile image

      Platygamer 

      4 months ago

      Can I use this article for a petition that I am making?

    • profile image

      Sarah 

      7 months ago

      I have just read a great book about this subject, it would take a while to implement and is a total restructuring of the education system as we know it.

      It is called In place of schools by John Adcock, also Everett Reimer wrote a book in the 1970s called School is Dead.

      The education system is failing a huge number of young people in society and even more so since the birth of the technological age. How can we maintain a system that does not change with societal norms?

      I had an awful experience in school, as I have mental health issues, but am by no means stupid.

    • profile image

      Capatan 

      8 months ago

      My mental health is shot to pieces and I blame a huge part of that on the education system. I was always a straight A student at school, but like most stereotypes, had precious little social skills. This led me to getting bullied for close to 5 years. All I did was knuckle down, told myself it would be over eventually. When I finished school, my name got put in the paper because of how good my grades were.

      I wanted to be an author at that point. All I wanted to do was work some crappy job whilst I worked on my Novels. At the very least I wanted to take just one year out to pursue my talent. Of course, I was told that was out of the question. I was going back to study and I was going back to study the ‘real’ subjects (sciences of course). I went to a college and without motivation, I rebelled. I spent my lessons writing, my stories instead of focusing. Part of me was scared to get good grades again. I thought it would get me bullied and make me a virgin for life.

      Had I stayed back at my old school, teachers would have asked me what was wrong. Here they wrote me off immediately. I got to see the power of reputation first hand, got to experience being a student at both ends of the spectrum. I also got to see the flaws of grading, where the first time I sat an exam, I borderline failed. The second time, I taught myself exam technique. I did not learn the material any better, jut how to answer it. I went from a borderline fail to 98%. It all seemed like one big fucking joke, where they did not care about what you learnt, just what those numbers said on paper. It was sick.

      It got to a point where my chemistry teacher totally wrote me off. I would place my hand up in class, asking for help and he would jut ignore me. It got to the point I would have to ask my friend next to ask questions because he straight up would not speak to me and wanted to kick me off the course, more interested in saving the college’s stats than actually helping me out. I started to feel very guilty. All this time I thought I was jut genetically smarter than others for getting better grades. I realised that was all bollocks. I was at least fortunate in that I had once gotten good grades, so knew I was capable of it. But what of those students whose entire school life was being treated like you were not good enough? Why would they try? Why would they instead not jut give up on the whole thing and try their fortunes elsewhere or (as is more commonly the case), drift through their life thinking they are too dumb to amount to anything?

      I knuckled myself down, gave up on my hobbies and lived in the library. I managed to salvage the situation pretty well, getting into one of the top 10 unis in the UK to study a STEM field subject. But I still felt like a failure, because it wasn’t ‘THE’ best. I was never good at anything in life except getting those grades. In a sense, it was like my identity was gone because in reality, I had never been taught to be good at anything else. That pressure put on me to perform meant that even with what I went through, I still felt like I was not good enough. The horrible thing is, this is a big part of what the educational system has become. It’s not about what you learn, but the prestige of it all.

      I put my writing on the back shelf again, telling myself it was ok. My writing always explored themes of science and science fiction. Ensuring that all of the science was actually real (no ‘the neutrinos are mutating’ bullshit like in 2012) seemed worth it and who knew, maybe I would find my ‘calling’. But this was around the time depression really hit me hard. I got put on meds to help me focus. It did not matter what I was doing because it was ‘not good enough’.

      I took up extra A levels because I wanted to show what I could do, teaching myself all the sciences I didn’t the first-time round (maths, physics, sociology etc.) It was hell. I would miss lectures to go to classes and vice versa, using up all of my free time to catch up on one or the other. I barely got 6 hours sleep a night yet I was strangely happy. For all the stress, it felt like I was going somewhere with my life.

      I had to stop the A levels before I could finish the course. My parents split up quite suddenly and I was thrown into pretty severe financial difficulties. I quit that, tried to focus on my degree. I had to work at the local Burger King just to pay rent. One event that always stuck with me was a mother pointing to me as I was cleaning tables, telling her child to work hard or ‘that would be them’. Any normal person would have simply said ‘I’m studying STEM in a top 10 uni, but no, it just got to me and made me feel worthless.

      In the end I graduated, but not as well as I would have liked with everything that was going on. It ended up kicking my depression into the stratosphere. I couldn’t eat for 5 days. That has been the past year. I’m currently working for a job I hate. It’s only part time and I don’t earn much money. I have breakdowns quite regularly, feeling like I have not ‘lived up to my potential’. Usually I can hide it but last weekend I had to leave early because I was just inconsolable.

      I think I know what I want to do. I want to go into research, specifically to do with stem cells and cell senescence. It’s what I wanted to do my dissertation on, but there wasn’t anyone in the faculty who could facilitate what I wanted to do(what do they do with our huge tuition fees?). My dad doesn’t want me to go back to study. He says I will ‘mess up’ again. He only wants me to go back if it is to study medicine, thinking everything else is inferior. Then on the other hand, I personally feel like I’m a failure if I don’t go to an elite uni, and have this warped perception that I’m not worth a damn if I do not.

      I can’t even keep on top of my meds very well. Every time I go to see the Doctors, I’m just reminded of my father’s words, how he wanted that to be me. Every relationship I find myself in inevitably falls because of how bad my depression has got. The education system has warped my mind and my perception of self-worth. Even if by some miracle, for instance, I wrote my novel and it was really successful, a Netflix deal to do an adaption made millions (real fairy tales stuff), I would still feel like I failure because I didn’t go to an elite university. Spending my life being graded without being taught that myself and my work are two different entities has placed me in this fucked up mindset, and desire multiple sessions with different councillors and techniques, I can’t change that which has been conditioned into me.

      In my current situation, my best career path would probably be to go into teaching. They pay well and are in high demand around my area, especially for science. But what’s the point of becoming part of a system I despise and believe to be wrong with every fibre of my being? With what I have been through, I know in order to get my student the best grades possible, it’s all about teaching them exam techniques, to think like an examiner. Not how to become a great scientist, how to think outside the box and to be a great thinker, but how to look at a question, and know the 3 exact phrases the examiner needs to see to award all 3 marks. Why would I want to become the very thing I’m so against? And yet, I think of how much debt I’m in, and the possibility of going back to something I’m good at, it’ hard not to see the appeal, even if it does feel like selling my soul to the devil.

      I do apologies for the essay long rant. The only reason I mention this rather long-winded essay is because I was researching with my friend the other day. She quoted that 1.5% of 15-35-year olds would commit suicide. I knew the number was high but not that high surely? But it was. Based on what source you quoted, approximately 1 in 66 millennials will kill themselves. 75% of all suicides occur in the first world, not, surprisingly, the third. As someone whose depression and thoughts of suicide are heavily the result of how I was educated, I'm at a loss School was meant to prepare me for the future. Instead it has reduced to me to a mentally crippled husk of a man.

    • profile image

      9 months ago

      Thank you for writing this. Most people (especially teachers) do not tend to pay attention of what the student needs, but what society thinks it needs.

    • profile image

      Anonymousperson123 

      15 months ago

      School's just turning parents into grade thirsty zombies

    • profile image

      Omoniyi Victor AJULOR 

      16 months ago

      Well said. But where are we going to start from?

    • profile image

      Jason White 

      17 months ago

      I agree with your ideas but some of these examples are terrible.

    • Distant Mind profile imageAUTHOR

      Distant Mind 

      19 months ago

      Bruce, your use of the term socialist is a clear example of lack of basic education and basic critical thinking abilities or application. It shows me that you haven't devoted even a single second to examining what you are talking about critically. If I were you, I would refrain from using terms I don't understand. Your conspiracy theory take on this is as shallow as they get.

      Just to make things clear: countries that are more social or socialist in the modern sense of the word tend to have better education, not worse. It's absolutely moronic to say socialist thinking values mediocrity. Read up on countries like Finland, their values and their educational systems before you embarrass yourself more.

    • BruceDPrice profile image

      Bruce Deitrick Price 

      2 years ago from Virginia Beach, Va.

      All good points but also part of the Education Establishment's Standard Alibi Package, which is used to keep saps in line.

      The key phrase is this book title "The deliberate dumbing down of America." Deliberate. The people in control of K-12 education tend to be socialist in their thinking. They like leveling and mediocrity. So they are happy to have all these excuses and alibis, and they can go right on dumbing down the schools and nobody will notice the real cause.

    • profile image

      Rainbowdream 

      2 years ago

      The worst problem of modern education (from primary school to university) is lack of teaching about human values (love, truth, peace, compasion, non violence, right conduct...). After finishing schools we are not a better human beings than before. Modern education need complete new curs, less theory, much more praxis, learn practical everyday skills, and it must be shortened. Not to mention that every day on this planet about 550 young people (15 - 24 years old) commits suicide, by one Research in UK from 2002. 70% becouse of "academic stress". Or simply - modern education is for life dangerous product.

    • profile image

      Doodlebird 

      3 years ago

      Good hub - I've been reading and writing about education for many years - it's a fascinating subject. Especially when you look into the history. A "system" performs like a machine - its 1st priority is to keep itself going. You can't change a single piece without a significant breakdown in the whole. People are unique individuals and will never fit neatly into a scientifically designed system, so we resort to medicating more than is necessary. I agree that drastic change is needed, but is unlikely without a major overhaul (scrap it and start over with a new perspective). I also feel that teachers are the unfortunate scapegoats in the education argument. They're on the front lines and are the public face of the predetermined curriculum that gets imposed upon them. Many have a big heart for kids and really want to make a difference.

    • Distant Mind profile imageAUTHOR

      Distant Mind 

      3 years ago

      I think a new approach could help both with the basic things that need to be learned and the advanced ones. It's just needs to be a more engaging and dynamic environment and teacher should become real educators. Of course, it's all easier said than done. The Ken Robinson Shuffle, eh, good one ;)

    • BruceDPrice profile image

      Bruce Deitrick Price 

      4 years ago from Virginia Beach, Va.

      I know you are right for the most part. But it's not the whole story. I call this the Ken Robinson Shuffle, by the way.

      We should also keep in mind that most of education's failure, day-to-day, is more a function of the breakdown in the teaching of basics. Children have to learn reading, writing, arithmetic, and then start acquiring basic knowledge, before they can go on to any of the things you mention. We have children in middle school who can barely multiply, or read. Naturally, most of their education will be wasted on them. But it's not the fault of that education. It's the fault of that school.

    • profile image

      Howard Schneider 

      4 years ago from Parsippany, New Jersey

      Great analysis, Distant Mind. Our current educational system tends toward teaching to pass standardized tests and not true learning. We must encourage our young people to analyze facts and be creative. Simple memorization will not cut it in our time nor should it.

    • profile image

      Oscar 

      4 years ago

      Well, congratulations on your article. There are some things which I desagree with, but overall, you made a point: education system is arcaic. You critizise much the gradings, but there has to be still some meritocracy in education, so it isn't fair to try to destroy something that works without even trying to give an alternative. Besides, knowing for the sake of it or knowing things that may not aply ever to your life is actually good and intrensically human. It is true, though, that the first step isnto raise interest in these topics, to make relationships between them and to make people learn to love them.

      Anyway, good article, just wanted to throw away some random thoughts after reading it.

    • Adept2012 profile image

      Adebayo Adeolu Ibrahim 

      4 years ago

      Very great hub. I really enjoyed it.

    • Distant Mind profile imageAUTHOR

      Distant Mind 

      4 years ago

      Thank you for the nice comments.

    • profile image

      shivangi maurya 

      4 years ago

      I like your thoughts as a teacher .I wish to god that all the teacher's thought changed like you that one size never fitted.

    • sharingknowledge profile image

      SHAR NOR 

      5 years ago from Miami, FL

      Thank you for the interesting Hub. To be honest, what you mentioned is true and that is why mots educated graduates even end up on the streets carrying Job search envelops each day that goes by. A follow Back for an update will work. Am following you now. Thanks.

    • Distant Mind profile imageAUTHOR

      Distant Mind 

      5 years ago

      Unfortunately, everybody knows this but the big institutions are scared from change.

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 

      5 years ago

      I hear teachers state all the time how the system doesn't work. It does need a serious restructuring inside and out. Voted up.

    • Distant Mind profile imageAUTHOR

      Distant Mind 

      5 years ago

      Thank you, Billy. We all know the system is broken, but I can do nothing but admire teachers that devoted so much time to educating.

      I really hope we live to see that day that children will go to school will pleasure and interest.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      5 years ago from Olympia, WA

      I just retired two years ago after eighteen years in the classroom, and I can say without a doubt that each one of your points is accurate. This system is broken from the top to the bottom and needs a complete overhaul. Well done!

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