Hidden Costs of Today’s Education

Education costs money. We all know that. However, are there other costs that we tend to ignore? Are there costs at individual and societal levels that we don’t want to know about? I believe that there are.

Conformity is a hallmark of education. I have a grandson who was, and still is to some extent, an exuberant bundle of excitement. He entered school about four years ago. I was horrified when I was told that at the parent-teacher review that occurred just after Christmas that year, the teacher reported that he “…was learning one of the most important and valued lessons that education can teach – how to conform.” How to conform! Why is that a vital part of learning? It is not just that conformity and creativity cannot exist in the same space, but there is something much, much worse.

Experts tell us that enforced conformity, over long periods of time, is likely to lead to an expression of mental illness in people with a predisposition to mental illnesses. Twelve to sixteen years of conformity is, in my opinion, a long period of time. There are only two places in our developed world where conformity is enforced by law – school and prison. Higher education isn’t enforced by law, but there is immense pressure to go in many parts of our society.

The evidence for the prevalence and rise in mental illnesses in teens and young adults is overwhelming. Two quotes illustrate the opinion of experts:

  • “We discovered two astonishing things about the rate of depression across the century. The first was there is now between ten and twenty times as much of it as there was fifty years ago. And the second is that it has become a young person’s problem. When I first started working in depression thirty years ago… the average age at which the first onset of depression occurred was 29.5… Now the average age is between 14 and 15. (Martin Seligman, president APA, 1998)”
  •  “The tally of those who are so disabled by mental disorders that they qualify for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) increased nearly two and a half times between 1987 and 2007—from 1 in 184 Americans to 1 in 76. For children, the rise is even more startling—a thirty-five-fold increase in the same two decades. (Marcia Angell, 2011)”

Here are some of the sobering numbers that illustrate the story of those in education:

  • mental health problems have risen 210% amongst university dropouts in the years between 2010 and 2014
  • suicide rates have tripled among young adults since 1950
  • 1 in 12 university students have actually made a plan to commit suicide at some point during their schooling
  • in a large-scale survey of university students, it was found that at some point, 51% felt “…things were hopeless” in the previous 12 months
  • 26% of students who seek help for mental illnesses have intentionally hurt themselves
  • in the six years between 2010 and 2016, the Ontario mental health line for young adults experienced a 344% increase
  • between 2013 and 2016, a major survey of North American university students found a 50% increase in mental health challenges and 47% increase in suicide attempts.
  • in Britain, five times as many students as 10 years ago have disclosed a mental health condition to their university
  • depression and anxiety have increased by 70% in teenagers over the past 25 years
  • between 2005 and 2014 the incidence of a major depressive event in teenagers rose by 37%
  • only 44% of teenage students are engaged in school (reaction against conformity?)

Something is seriously wrong!

Michael Strong provides us with a bleak picture of mental health issues:

Let’s hear from a teen who was suicidal but is no longer thanks to a change in school environment,

I walk through the hallways of the public middle school on my way to the bathroom. I stop in the center of hallway staring ahead at the overwhelming endless hallway, no one in sight. clenching my fists I look around panicky around the solid brick white wall. No sign of anyone or anything living anywhere. I scratch my fingernails hard on the plastered wall. not making a dent. I do this several times until the tips of my fingers look like the tops of roses. I then start hitting my head then slamming my body against the wall still hitting my head trying to get out . . .

A backpack of melancholy weighs down on my shoulders so I free the questions inside with my thoughts: Why did I have to be depressed?, Why couldn’t I learn like everyone else?, Why did I have to be scared? . . . I figured something was wrong with me. Just an idiot with issues, too stupid to learn and too ungrateful to be happy. All I could ever do was make my parents and the people around me worry. I was angry at myself, I was angry that I couldn’t learn or be happy. If all I could do was make my parents worried I was just a waste of time to them. I didn’t deserve to live I wanted to hurt myself. . . .

I stayed up all night in bed fearing the next day of school. I eventually did start talking to the school counselor about my problems. At first I would come in calmly and just talk to her. Then I started coming in every single day crying and more depressed than the day before. Sometimes I just came in asking to call my mom. I never told anyone that I wanted to commit suicide. Until the day I told my mom.

I fiddle with lock and push open the steel door to the inside of my small house. Immediately I drop my school bag near the front door. Mom is still at work. Slowly walking to the kitchen I stare at the sharp kitchen knife tucked into the knife block. Slowly still walking toward it I carefully take out the knife and feel the blade across my finger. I endeavor to conceive how much it would hurt if I were to stab it into my chest. I pose the knife back in its place. I’m too afraid too and cowardly of the pain. I think of less brutal ways but all thoughts fail. . . .

The price of conformity in education is too high to pay!

When my father was a high school student, he had options. If he had dropped out before graduating and secured work in the local hardware store, he could have supported a family, bought a house, driven late model used cars all his life, had 2.5 children, and lived happily ever after. In today’s world, there are no options. Education (and more of the same) is all there is.

As the pressure to get more education in order to make it in the world increases so does the rate of mental health issues. In addition, as standardized testing becomes the be all and end all of education, the drive for conformity gets more and more powerful.

An even more alarming trend that is just beginning to emerge is what is happening to university students who are nearing graduation and face the world for the first few (up to five so far) years. The high incidence of mental health disorders is getting higher. These young people have done all that our society has asked and they are ending up with nothing. Sixty-six percent under or unemployed – now that’s bleak.

I have written about this before, but this is something that we must address. The price is being lived in horror and written in blood.

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