The Horror of School

Abstract: Stress and illness can be symptoms of the dictatorial nature of school, as has been described in earlier articles. This article argues that school uses stress and illness as instruments of control and concludes that this horror of school will not survive the future.

A. Stress - good or bad?

Stress is often called a life-style problem; stress is often present in the lives of busy managers and executives, who work under time pressure and who have a lot of responsibility and accountability. Symptoms of stress are a nervous and hectic nature, an inability to slow down, to relax and to take time to listen; in bad cases, such people continually check their watches, have sleepless nights with nightmares, have all kinds of illnesses and sudden outbursts of violence.

Stress is not always regarded as negative; stress can stimulate people to outperform themselves, e.g. when they face an emergency situation; but stress, especially when continued for some time, takes its toll and should be compensated, preferably over-compensated by even longer periods of relaxation.

Some organisations seek to energize employees by supplying free coffee, by continually checking performance standards, productivity levels and the hours that employees are working, and, worst of all, by threatening staff with job termination and bad references. This may work for a while, but in the long run employees learn to cope with such measures in all kinds of ways that minirnise productivity. Alternatively, staff wear out and become unable to perform well at all. Stress can easily backfire and cause lower productivity and quality levels.

The problems with stress in work situations have often been analyzed and many organizations now recognize that stress has more pitfalls than benefits. Inexperienced managers may still confuse stress with adrenaline, diligence and productivity, but it is generally accepted that stress on employees should be avoided. Organizations that deliberately increase stress levels cannot expect to keep their staff very long, especially not the more competent ones among their staff members.

Today, many organizations are spending a lot of efforts to lower stress levels in all kinds of ways. Staff outings are encouraged and often undertaken during working hours. Many organizations have recognized that incentives and improved working conditions promise more long term productivity gains than threats, bullying and overzealous scrutiny. Increasingly, organizations are looking for individuals who can think for themselves, are self-motivated, who are self starters, rather than for people who have to be told what to do, who have to be closely supervized and inspired before they come into action. Generally, organizations are seeking to lower, rather than to increase stress levels among their staff.

B. The Stress of School

The Education System is one of the exceptions in this regard. Schools, colleges, universities and other educational institutions deliberately put students under stress. One of the obvious forms of stress comes with the many tests the students have to make. The background of this is that educational institutions are more into selecting students who are deemed 'fit' to enter certain occupations, than that they are concerned about whether students actually learn something.

According to a report in the Times last month (July 1995), a schoolboy recently hanged himself because he dreaded failing a maths test. Shaun Begley, 16, a pupil of the Redbridge Community School in Southampton, England, took extra maths lessons to pass an examination to enter college. Perhaps this is an extreme example, but it shows what examination stress can do.

In many ways school puts stress on the entire family. Dress codes, fixed times at which students are to attend school, traffic peaks due to the joint rush to school and back home again, homework, having to perform certain tasks and projects within a fixed time-span, it all increases the stress for everyone in the family. Above all, the fact that one is being judged all the time constitutes a continuous form of stress. A lot of stress can also be added by teachers' dictatorial behaviour, demanding silence, obedience, etc. Ways pupils treat each other at and outside schooI, e.g, bullying, gang behaviour and peer pressure, also add a lot to such stress.

C. Stress-related Illness

Stress can result in medical problems such as as asthma, hyperventilation, etc. Doctors usually prescribe medicines such as tranquillizers, and a period of rest, which may address the symptoms, but not the source of stress. School deliberately puts students are under stress, e.g. to perform at sport events. Few doctors raise questions about this practice. Other symptoms of stress are the many accidents occurring in and around schools. Over one in 20 Queensland students are injured each year at school, according to recent research by Jenny Weier. Ambulance services in the area serviced by Brisbane South hospital were called to schools an average of twice a day in 1993-94 and school accidents represented about 7 percent of all call-outs. School accidents were discussed in Killed by School, in the March 1994 issue of Optionality (see Appendix B).

The bullying and discipline common at school constitute a more insidious form of stress. A health adviser, who wants to remain anonymous, says: "The threat of bullying and discipline can be polarized into two typical responses: rebellion or submission. In the 'submission' response one holds one's breath and the skin and stomach contract, as if the body prepares to cope with a physical beating. This behaviour normally lasts for a short period as in emergency situations. If continued for a longer period, it can cause respiratory problems, stomach-aches, headaches and migraine, due to strain on the neck-muscles and as contraction by blood vessels result in insufficient oxygen being carried to the brain. Obviously, all this does not benefit concentration. In this way, discipline achieves the opposite of what it pretends."

"The other typical response to bullying and discipline is rebellion. The initial reaction of the body in such a situation is to produce high levels of adrenaline, in preparation of a 'fight or flight' situation: Of course, school does not tolerate rebellion, so this response is suppressed. A visible symptom of this is blushing, as the blood goes rapidly through the veins. Adrenaline is a useful substance, it enables faster transport of oxygen to muscles; it also causes coagulation of the blood, which is useful in case one gets wounded. In nature, 'muscle action' normally follows such a 'fight or flight' situation. But school tolerates no movement in such a situation, as part of the disciplinary process. This can have a dramatic biological effect on the body, ranging from the formation of blood clots to all kinds of heart and coronary problems."

For more reading on this topic, one could look at the article School makes Children sick, printed one year ago in Optionality, and describing how school deliberately makes children suffer from the common cold, as part of the overall scheme to keep children in a permanent state of illness, as that makes it more easy to keep them under control (see Appendix A).

D. Is all this Exaggerated?

Most people refuse to believe that school is bad. They have been at school themselves for so many years; if they were to admit that school is bad, they would admit that they have wasted a good part of their lives. Most people rather believe that completing school is an achievement. School years often extend a few years beyond compulsory school age. This makes that children who leave school as soon as they are legally allowed to, have not completed school. They are regarded as drop-outs, as if they were too stupid to complete school.

People with professional qualifications are often privileged by law. They do not want people without their educational background to be allowed to do the same work. In the belief that they can protect their status and salaries in this way, they speak out in favour of the education system.

Some people may believe that all the negative sides mentioned in this aracle are exaggerated. They may believe that most children can cope with school, learn something in the process and thus will be successful in their later careers. For them, the last two paragraphs of the article Killed by School are repeated. School does not create winners, but only sets up one child against the other. There are no winners; they are all losers. The kids who fool themselves into thinking that they are special, are manipulated by a system meant to crush every individual ego.

The fools who think they are doing well within the educational system, continue to be mesmerised by this system. In fact, they are the most stupid ones, the ones most easily manipulated, the most gullible ones. They are the ones prepared to create dangerous substances, biological weapons, torture chambers, etc, without questioning their use. They are the ones still "studying" beyond the age of thirty. They are the ones who believe in privilege, regarding themselves as an elite.

The system has no trouble mincing their minds. When they try to leave their Universities, they find that there is no job waiting for them, that they possess no useful skills and that the plumber next door drives a bigger car than they do. Then, their spirit dies too.

E. The Knowledge Myth

This magazine has, over the years, managed to demolish the myth that school is a healthy environment for children in a physical and social sense. Many articles have pointed out the dangers of school; many articles have also pointed out how school destroys creative talents, independent thinking, etc.

Over the past year, articles have appeared in Optionality, each discussing a specific subject: history, maths, music, geography, science, reading and writing. In this way, the myth of school has been demolished 'brick by brick', each time pointing out that what is taught at school does not make sense. In the article Teachings behind School (in the June 1995 issue of Optionality) Don Paragon arguments also demolish what Don refers to as the "Knowledge Myth". Don argues that all this 'knowledge' that school claims to teach, is part of an era that to a large extent is already history. School claims to prepare children for the world as it will look like decades from now. But few people bother to visualise the future, Don Paragon's vision is further described in the article A Change in Culture, also included in the August 1995 issue of Optionality, and in the article Don Paragon's Vision of the Future.

As Don argues, school does not prepare children for the future. The horror is that school prevents children to develop the very talents and qualities that they need in order to succeed in the world of tomorrow. Such qualities are an open mind, curiosity, flexibility, the ability to visualise and imagine things, to look at problems and to listen to people, to express oneself spontaneously, etc, etc. In tomorrow's world, there will be demand for original ideas, for people who are creative, who are independent thinkers and who can improvise. School deliberately indoctrinates children with values of the past, as it prefers the past to the future. School silenses criticism, fearing that there will be no place for school as an institution in a future that is aware of all these horrors.

F. Instead, Self-Learning?

Don Paragon argues that self learning and improvisation should not be regarded as a second choice, as a default for 'normal' behaviour, i.e. receiving lessons from a teacher. Spending time and energy on trying to figure things out first-hand is not wasted time and energy, as school makes one believe. Self learning and improvisation are the keys to personal development. What is understood through experience makes a lasting impression and makes one thoroughly familiar with any matter dealt with.

However, Don warns that the word 'learning' has too many associations with the traditional school system that teaches old-fashioned skills and knowledge: "Why should children learn all the time? Learning implies being imperfect, re-inforcing cliches that children need to be isolated, instructed and corrected to become 'model citizens'. One can develop one's talents better by familiarisation and improvisation than by learning in the traditional sense. Explore your own world, don't let anyone else tell you what you can so easily figure out for yourself! If you work things out to your own satisfaction, you are likely to understand things better in the first place".

"But don't aim to outperform others all the time! The question is if you are happy with what you are doing, not if you are doing something better than someone else"; says Don. "In my case, what inspires me and what I like to express in my music can be said in one word: Optionality!"

Appendix A. Killed by School

Australia has the highest teenage suicide rate in the industrialised world and playground deaths in Australia are more common than in other Western countries. The Australian rate for playground deaths is 0.23 per 100,000 children, compared with 0.03 in Britain and 0.01 in the U.S. Playground injuries are far more common than road accidents involving children. Most road accidents involving children are school-related. Fixed school times cause traffic peaks both on schooldays and in holidays.

But the worst statistics for Australia probably come from the sportfields. The annual cost of sport injuries is estimated at $2 billion. In team-sports such as football, rugby and soccer, one in two players is likely to be mjured during the season.

Team-sports are popular with school as they take away the individuality from children. One of the worst aspects of sport is the way it forces children to submit to a set of arbitrary rules. Sport prepares children to accept the straitjacket of the law, the authority of a judge who knows all the rules and the concept of penalties. The rules of sport are structured to twist the concept of competition into beating a competitor in a race with only one winner. Sport matches typically present teams that are formed on a regional basis and give the team territorial identity. Sport at school is an instrument of propaganda, indoctrinating children with the evil of nationalism. If anything, it teaches chitdren submission to national rules, adoration of the flag, the national hymn, monarchy and similar representations of dictatorship. It prepares children to fight and die for whatever the Government decides is worth more than their lives.

School tries to beat any creativity and independent thought out of children; it bores them to death; it is full of humiliation to make children into robots, into cannon fodder waiting for orders, into wax in the hands of hierarchical systems, into faceless bureaucrats who follow the rules, rather than their hearts.

(extracted from the article Killed by School, first published in THEN, February 1994; this article also lists numerous other acts of violence taking place at school)

Appendix B. School makes Children sick

School exposes children to both heat and cold in a way that endangers children's health. Much has been written about the way children are often forced onto school-grounds when the sun is at its highest point and without protective clothing, shade from trees, sunscreen or sunglasses.

What is rarely reported is that children, with their relatively low body-content / body-surface ratio, are often excessively exposed to the cold. Making children sit still in class is regarded as part of discipline. But it makes children Iess able to concentrate; they are slowly getting ill; restricted intake of food is part of this unhealthy scheme to enforce control.

What occurs when children are cold, is that they deliberately lower their immunity, to allow viruses to multiply, which creates heat in the bloodstream; this takes a lot of energy, also, it takes a lot of energy to get rid of the surplus viruses, once heat can again be created by muscle contraction. The mechanism of lowering immunity is one of last resort, in cases of emergency and for short periods.

In class, the kids are not allowed to move or to put on their coats or hafs; also, there usually is a nasty draught present in classrooms, "to get rid of body odours". School puts many children together in one classroom, who all simultaneously drop their immunity level. This causes a lotof coughing and the viruses literally float in the air. Normally, one copes with a new virus by making anti-bodies. But when immunity is low, the virus can be out of control for days and a fever develops, causing lack of concentration; the blood is more busy with viruses than carrying oxygen.

Fatigue often follows when the blood runs out of energy or iron. In class, children are not allowed to eat. After an exhausting day at school, children come home sick and hungry, but they have to wait until 6.00 or 7.00 pm before they can get their main meal; this leaves them without proper nutrition during the day when they need it, while they are fed fatty stuff when they don't, without time to properly digest the food before they fall asleep.

(extracted from the article School makes Children sick, that first appeared in the THEN newsletter, July 1994).

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