Schooling in the U.S.:
Destroying adolescent well-being while forcing teens to engage in useless activities

Suppose there was a cabal of evil geniuses who decided to force teens into labor camps where 56% were disengaged, 75% had negative feelings, 17% had to be put on psychiatric medications to survive, suicides had increased 300% since the founding of the labor camp system, and there was an annual 20% increase in suicides each fall when they were forced back into the camps. If this was an Apple factory in China, there would be international protests and boycotts. When it was discovered they were actually doing this to children, the company would collapse.

But of course this is exactly what our schooling system does day in, day out, to our teens. It is unconscionable by any human standard. Except, of course, for the fact that the evil geniuses have told us that it is good for us — we must “get an education” in order to be successful. Worse yet, the evil geniuses have convinced us that they will force us to pay them to do this to our teens — and arrest us if we don’t let them take our teens and force them into these labor camps.

But of course, back in the real world, “getting an education” is important, isn’t it? Well, learning good habits and valuable skills are certainly important. But what exactly does any of that have to do with high school as it currently exists? How do four years of anxiety and depression (if not suicide) while being bored by algebra II and chemistry help you get a lucrative job as a UX/UI designer?

. . . “New collar” bootcamp enrollment is up 11x in recent years (coding, UX/UI, digital marketing, cybersecurity, etc.), college enrollment down 10%. Meanwhile, 93% of freelancers say skills are more important than degrees. Many top employers no longer require degrees (e.g. Apple, Google, IBM, Bank of America, Penguin Random House, Home Depot, Costco, Whole Foods, Starbucks, Hilton, and Tesla). Only 43% of recent high school grads regard college as “very important” as opposed to 70% just five years ago. Both the income and wealth premium of college have declined significantly in recent years. Half of all colleges report that more than 50% of their graduates earn less than a high school graduate six years after enrolling. 65% of college graduates regret their college degrees, including 75% of humanities majors. 48% of college graduates are in jobs that require less than a college degree.

So why do we force high school students to take Chemistry, foreign language, Algebra II, etc.? How is any of this optimized for the lucrative New Collar job market? How does any of this justify the misery and human destructiveness of high school?

What part of “Let’s force teens to do things they hate so they can be ‘prepared’ for a useless life path” doesn’t sound like the work of a group of evil geniuses?

Let’s create a game plan for how to develop greater awareness around this catastrophe as well as how to create a better pathway for teens.

Vulnerabilities of the Current System:

The Opportunity I: High School Misery

▪ 56% of high school students are disengaged from schooling (Gallup).

▪ 75% have negative feelings about schooling (Yale)

▪ 17% of American teens are on psychiatric medications

▪ 3x increase in teen suicides since high school became the norm in the U.S.
(300x 1950–1990, then 30% decline to 2013, now back up to more than 3x since 1950) 
 20% increase in teen suicides every school year during the academic year

The Opportunity II: Growing Mismatch Between the College Track and Professional Success

▪ Coding bootcamp enrollment up 11x in past five yearscollege enrollment down 10%

▪ Similarly rapid growth in the bootcamp model for UI/UX design, digital marketing, IT security, and other “New Collar” careers.

▪ 93% of freelancers reported that skills training was more important than a degree 

▪ Apple, Google, IBM, Bank of America, Penguin Random House, Home Depot, Costco, Whole Foods, Starbucks, Hilton, and Tesla are among the rapidly growing number of major corporations that do not require college degrees.

▪ Only 43% of 18–29 believe college is “very important” down from 70% just five years ago (Gallup).

▪ Both the income premium and wealth premium of college have declined in recent decades. The wealth premium for college is now close to zero for most demographics (St. Louis Fed).

▪ Half of all colleges had more than 50% of their students earning less than the average high school student six years after enrolling (ThirdWay.org).

▪ 67% of employees regret their college degrees, ranging from 75% of humanities majors to 35% of computer science majors (Payscale).

▪ About 48 percent of employed U.S. college graduates are in jobs that the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)suggests requires less than a four-year college education. . . . The proportion of overeducated workers in occupations appears to have grown substantially; in 1970,fewer than one percent of taxi drivers and two percent of firefighters had college degrees, while now morethan 15 percent do in both jobs; About five million college graduates are in jobs the BLS says require less than a high-school education. 

Why we need to allow teens and parents to choose educational pathways (i.e. take power away from the evil geniuses who currently control it):

A. Existing government education is not driven by the well-being or success of students. Instead it is driven by the interplay of politics at the federal, state, and local level combined with the resulting bureaucratic imperatives resulting from the legislation or directives passed at each level. (Inadvertently supported by an obsolete, blind faith in “education” which is mistakenly assumed to mean schooling-as-we-know-it).

B. While private education is more directly customer driven, some states regulate it to conform to public education norms and standards. In addition, outside of large municipalities there may not be enough diverse private options to form a functioning marketplace.

C. While opportunities for innovation exist within the standard schooling norms, there are significantly greater opportunities outside those norms.

D. The positive impact of those significantly greater innovation opportunities are more clearly evident at the secondary level for two reasons:

i. Adolescent well-being in the U.S. is a public health catastrophe.
ii. Standard high school and college academic coursework is only a path to social mobility and career success for a minority of American students. We need more effective vocational career paths, including the trades as well as “new collar” careers such as coding, UX, design, digital media, etc.
iii. Standard high school coursework is not even the most effective pathway to college success.

E. In order to accelerate the growth of a consumer-driven education market, we need to increase both the supply and the demand.

i. With respect to increasing demand, additional funding options including tuition tax credits and scholarship funds (private and public) will increase demand by means of making more options affordable for more families.

a. We need to organize parents to advocate for more choice options.
b. We need to organize alumni of choice programs to advocate for more choice options.
c. We need to organize unhappy teens (75% of high school students) to advocate for more choice options.

ii. With respect to increasing demand,

a. Increasing awareness of the public health catastrophe of adolescence will increase demand.
b. Increasing awareness of the limitations of the college track.
c. Increasing awareness of the effectiveness of alternatives (such as homeschooling and new school models) in preparing for the college track,

iii. With respect to supply, we need to work with prospective suppliers of new options, both existing and new, to prepare to meet the projected growth in demand.

5. Interventions our initiative will take to create our desired change:

A. Document the public health catastrophe of adolescence, and the role of schooling in causing or exacerbating that crisis, more completely:

i. Compile a comprehensive set of existing research documenting schooling as a potential causal factor of adolescent dysfunction.

ii. Convene evolutionary mismatch expertise (in biology, psychology, sociology, medicine, psychiatry, etc.) to focus specifically on evolutionary mismatch as a causal factor in adolescent dysfunction (including schooling as a species of such evolutionary mismatch).

iii. Develop a research agenda to identify healthier forms of adolescent education, including schools that promote better school connectedness, schools that exemplify healthier cultures, and alternative pathways that result in better physical and emotional health outcomes.

iv. Develop a research agenda to document School and Peer Adverse Experiences (SPAE) analogous to the CDC/Kaiser Permanente initiative that identified Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) as a significant causal factor in adolescent and adult morbidity and mortality.

v. Convene sympathetic psychiatric professionals to begin the process of identifying adverse schooling experiences as a causal factor for adolescent dysfunction with the ultimate goal of inclusion into a future addition of the DSM. In ten years we want to see conventional schooling as a widely recognized risk factor for mental illness.

vi. Convene a growing network of therapists and psychiatrists who recognize alternative schooling options as a recommended therapeutic intervention for adolescents either suffering from or at risk of a wide range of mental health issues. In ten years we want to see therapists and psychiatrists routinely recommending different schooling options as a leading treatment regimen.

vii. Convene groups of schools committed to develop and implement appropriate standards for the longitudinal tracking of their students well-being along with a commitment to continual improvement with respect to the factors that result in greater well-being. Expose schools that refuse to document their students’ well-being.

B. Document successful pathways to social mobility and professional success for diverse types of students.

i. College has a positive ROI for STEM, graduate programs (law, medicine, and business), and graduates of elite college. Given that it is negative for most other careers, document what successful professionals in the following domains believe would be an optimized education pathway:

a. Sales.
b. Creative professionals.
c. Entrepreneurs.
d. Skilled trades.
e. “New Collar” careers including coding, UX/UI design, digital marketing, video production.
f. Small business ownership

ii. Identify programs that most closely approximate these optimized education pathways. Create an objective third-party venue that documents their performance relative to college.

iii. Document the extent to which personal characteristics (e.g. “soft skills” or “essential skills”) are more important for success than is formal training.

iv. Support diverse alternative pathways for teens that explicitly dump the obsolete “Carnegie credits” system for high school graduation that is mandated by law for public schools in every state.

How can you help?

How can you help us overturn this horrific system created by evil geniuses (no doubt, unwittingly, as they thought they were promoting the “good” of “education”)?

This article by Michael Strong appeared in Medium, 4/12/20

1 Comment
  • Oh. My. God. This is fabulous. You put into words the outrageous frustration I feel as a coach, former educator, parent and grandparent. You may have forgotten to mention that public school has devolved into day care where you can get shot. I applaud and support your aspirations. Where do we even begin?

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