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

#2. Competition in School Hinders Learning

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For those of us who weren't big into organized sports, being graded and getting scored on standardized tests were our first experiences with the stress of competition. The only students who enjoy being ranked are those at the top, and the valedictorian is the only student not imagining a swarm of flying dicks choking him to death on graduation day.

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"ValeDICKtorian, huh?"
"... I fucking hate you, Carl."

But competition clearly works in the real world, so most likely all of us non-valedictorians are just sore losers. After all, the modern world runs on competition. It's what made America great. The free market is all about pitting worker vs. worker, company vs. company, and idea vs. idea. The best comes out on top, and everyone pushes themselves harder out of fear of falling behind. Kids just need to man up and see how the grown-ups do things.

But You Were Right ...

Every three years, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development conducts a survey of the world's educational systems, called PISA. 2001 was the first year they managed to pry Finland away from playing air guitar long enough to be included in the study, and they absolutely crushed it, scoring at or near top marks in every category. No one was more surprised by this than the Finns themselves, since academic excellence isn't something they give one steaming shit about.

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"Tests? Who cares? I just taught him how to do 'Crazy Train'."

Finland has no standardized tests. They don't rank their students, select valedictorians, or even care all that much about grades. Teachers give individualized grades to each student and develop their own tests for their specific classrooms without any input from some central authority. There's no competition in Finnish education, and no private university scholarships to compete for. It sounds like the bullshitiest hippie wet dream ever conceived ... and it works better than any other educational system in the Western World.

How is that possible? Well, competition may make perfect sense when it comes to grown-ass men fighting over a leather ball, but in the classroom, it appears to just distract kids from the important business of learning. Denise Clark Pope, a lecturer at Stanford's School of Education, followed five high school students around for a year, and while a stunt like that would have landed us in a very special sort of prison, her outcome was much more productive: She found that high achievers spent more time "finangling the system" than they spent gaining knowledge. Meanwhile, students in Finland don't worry about maximizing their GPA or collecting enough extra credit hours to impress [College X], and as a result they end up actually learning stuff.

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"Learn things? Human teenagers? Bullshit."

And don't just take Finland's word for it. Professor Hall Beck of Appalachian State University found that students who focused mainly on their grades tended to have lower GPAs and shittier mental health than the kids who focused on learning. So what should replace grading? "Nonthreatening, task-related evaluation," otherwise known as correcting kids when they mess up without penalizing them for it. Again, it sounds like a load of rancid hippie crap, but it gets results.

Although to be fair, grades get results, too -- results that equate to kryptonite for our kids' brains. The mere knowledge that their work is being graded is even more effective than track day in PE at making them avoid school.

#1. Middle School Is a Horrible Idea

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There's no point in beating around the bush: middle school sucked, hard. You had to go from being the oldest kid at your elementary school to being the youngest kid at some strange new school. Adolescence is hard enough to deal with on your own -- stirring you into a hormone stew with a few hundred other kids, all taking to puberty like a duck takes to auto repair, just makes the whole situation that much worse.

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It's basically Oz for kids.

As a result, you probably spent most of middle school wishing you could go back to elementary school. Now that you're an adult, of course, you know that moving tweens on is the right thing to do because ... sorry, we drew a blank there. What were we saying again?

But You Were Right ...

Astoundingly, it turns out that locking a bunch of acne-riddled hormone junkies in a big building together is a fucking terrible idea. Middle schools have a crime rate 30 percent higher than elementary schools. Grades suffer, too -- a study of New York City schoolchildren found a sharp drop in math and English scores in students who went to separate middle schools, compared to kids in K-8 schools.

Their performance might best be described as "flaccid."

You might expect a difficult transitory period -- what with the shock of moving to a new building and all the time spent discovering Internet porn -- but the bigger problem is that kids who go to middle school don't recover. That drop in test scores follows them right on through high school and makes it much more likely that they'll drop out of school altogether. If you have aspirations of raising a crack-addled streetwalker and you missed the boat on that whole in utero drug use thing, sending them to middle school appears to be a damn good way to play catch-up.

Several cities have already started jumping off the middle school ship. Even Baltimore, which The Wire taught us is just one big, fetid pot of heroin and cops with pickled livers, has seen the light: They're in the process of shuttering their middle schools and returning to the days of keeping sixth through eighth graders in elementary school. We assume the abandoned middle schools will be left standing as memorials to the crushed dreams of the countless students who pathetically floundered their way through them. That, or they'll be fenced off as toxic sites due to hormone permeation.

Robert Evans writes about travel disasters for Vagabondish.com. He also heads up Cracked's workshop moderator team and manages the article captions. You can contact him here.

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