5 Things It Turns Out You Were Right to Hate About School

For many of you, school was 12 or more years of teachers and administrators deciding what was best for you, dictating exactly how you spent every minute of every day -- the result being that you absolutely hated each and every one of those minutes. But as you reached adulthood, you probably came to the realization that it was all for the best. You were just a stupid kid, after all, and your elders did things a certain way for a reason.

That reason being that they were full of shit. Science is just now taking a closer look at these centuries-old school practices, and they're finding out that ...

#5. Huge Final Exams Are Bad for Learning

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Assuming you weren't some kind of freak prodigy, you probably looked to final exam season with a deep sense of dread. Once a semester, each teacher threw enough study guides, handouts, and notes at your class to provoke a scoliosis epidemic from the backpack weight alone. Then, after a week (or one God-awful night) of late-night cramming and stress seizures, you proceeded to brain-puke everything you'd learned that year onto one last son-of-a-bitch of a test that was worth 20 percent of your grade.

It sucked for the students, but your teachers had a valid justification for kick-starting the premature graying of your hair: Without giving you a huge cumulative test, there'd be no way to make sure any useful knowledge made it into your head alongside all those Pokemon stats and Power Rangers sexual fantasies. You only hated it because it was hard, you lazy, spoiled little bastard!

Saban Entertainment
"And then the Pink Ranger's all like, 'Hey, Green Ranger, I can play the flute a different way ...' And then-"

But You Were Right ...

Hey, you know who has done away with final exams as a concept? A little school called fucking Harvard University. They no longer require professors to issue giant year-end tests, and in fact, if a professor wants to give a final exam, he or she has to file a specific request to do so. In 2010, only 259 of the university's 1,137 undergraduate courses still issued exams, which puts Harvard students' time-honored tradition of cheating on them in dire jeopardy.

Some critics say that's just Harvard professors being lazy and/or letting their students off easy. But before you crotchety 25-year-olds start grumbling about how much wussier today's schools have gotten since your time, let's take a look at what exactly the critics are saying. The idea isn't to get rid of exams because they're too hard on our precious children's fragile widdle brains; it's that waiting until the end to assess what the students learned is a terrible way to get kids to actually retain the information. A week of "cramming" is good for passing a test and absolutely nothing else.

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"Thanks for the A ... what's your name again?"

So the suggested solution isn't killing off big cumulative exams in favor of video games and ice cream, but giving a bunch of little cumulative exams throughout the year. You know, to actually make sure everyone is keeping up with the subject as a whole, rather than using the current method of giving a bunch of quizzes intended only to make sure the students read the last chapter. They tested this method a few years ago, and the kids given regular cumulative tests scored 16 percent better than their peers. Giving them a bunch of little tests, each covering everything they had learned to that point, simply worked better than building toward one do-or-die apocalypse-test at the end.

Jupiterimages, Creatas Images/Creatas/Getty Images
"All it'd take is a little more wor-"
"No thanks, I'm tenured."

But then how will our children learn the most important lesson in life, which is that projects can only be accomplished by coasting for several months and then frantically scrambling to throw it all together at the end between gulps of Red Bull?

#4. Kids Don't Get Enough Recess

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Ahh, recess. The one part of the day where you got to leave all that learning bullshit behind and pretend to murder Space Nazis with stick guns. The only sucky thing about recess was that we didn't get enough of it. Schools have been cutting back on playtime for years, and it's not hard to understand why: Imaginary Star Wars/Transformers crossovers might be a pantsload of fun, but they don't teach you how to spell "Mississippi" or where the red fern grows. The 2001 No Child Left Behind Act even urged preschools -- preschools -- to cut out some of the shenanigans in favor of more direct instruction.

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"This is how your childhood ends. Not with a bang, but with mathematics."

And how can you argue against it? It's time to put that playtime bullshit behind you and get down to work, kids. There'll be plenty of time for "recess" later, during your years-long stretches of unemployment.

But You Were Right ...

First off, recess exists for a reason: It makes kids behave. Students who get just 15 minutes of playtime are rated by their teachers as being better behaved and more focused than their peers. Sixty percent of principals say that their students function better after a half-hour of recess, and 80 percent believe that playtime actually helps children learn. The old carrot of withholding recess time to coax good behavior actually makes kids more likely to misbehave.

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"And me more likely to drink."

Recess even helps to curb the effects of ADHD. Walks outdoors, particularly in natural settings, improve attention and concentration, no amphetamines required. In fact, one study found that one solid dose of the outdoors per day can be enough to cut out one dose of medication per day. Maybe prior generations were onto something when "Go play your ass outside for a while, goddammit!" was the most-prescribed cure for a hyper kid.

The whole misconception about recess seems to come from adults who equate "playing" with "wasting time." It's not -- playing is how kids learn. It's probably the same reason animals do it: all of the running and screaming and fighting and giggling is how they learn social cues and how to interact in groups. So, yeah, it's not only OK to let them get dirty, it's kind of necessary.

#3. Algebra Before High School Is a Recipe for Disaster

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We're betting that some of you still get cold sweats at the mention of the word "algebra." Here you survived the first six or seven years of school knocking out basic math and remembering the names of presidents, and then suddenly around age 12 or 13 they unleash this arcane, abstract bullshit that seems to have no application in the real world whatsoever. You're still a kid, but suddenly you're spending your evenings solving for X instead of watching He-Man reruns.

Case in point: At that age you were still stupid enough to find this a believable secret identity.

It wasn't much fun at the time (in fact you probably hated it), but that head start must have paid off once you got to high school. Why else would 38 percent of eighth graders nationwide be taking algebra?

Creatas/Creatas/Getty Images
"Because 100 percent of adults are assholes?"

But You Were Right ...

When California made eighth-grade algebra mandatory in 2008, they noticed something strange: Many students started to do worse in high school mathematics. The kids who'd been struggling with math before saw their GPAs plummet and their scores in later courses drop correspondingly. Pushing advanced math early seems like a great idea, but it actually ignores everything we know about the way young brains develop.

Kid brains go through rapid periods of growth, interspersed with long plateaus where everything sort of settles in. It just so happens that eighth grade is one of these plateau periods, which makes it a particularly shitty time to teach abstract concepts like algebra. No wonder eighth graders fail algebra more often than they fail any other subject.

Digital Vision./Digital Vision/Getty Images
"You might not be able to get X, but you've definitely got F taken care of."

And the smart kids suffer, too -- a Duke University study found that test scores also declined for "high skill" students in the wake of early-onset algebra. It turns out that kids do best when you introduce them to math the same way the French introduce their children to wine: a little glass here and there at the dinner table teaches moderation; tossing them the bottle and chanting "Chug! Chug! Chug!" teaches brain damage.

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