Post Traumatic School Disorder
“Education should not only be about gaining more knowledge and information but also about understanding better the meaning of life.” - Anna Barchetti Durisch (Psychologist)
A couple days ago, some friends of mine had a conversation on Facebook about still having nightmares about college. They described dreams of missing classes, failing to study for tests, or being naked in the middle of campus. These dreams almost all eventually culminated in the person waking up with their heart pounding and a cold sweat drenching the bed.
After a bit of further research, I found that high school and college related dreams are the fourth most common dream theme in the US. In fact, my own Mom and Dad said they suffered from such nightmares for about 10 years after graduating.
There are several theories about why people get these dreams. Some doctors think it's our brains trying to process stress elsewhere in our lives. Others say the older we get, the more our dreams recall experiences from our early years.
To me, waking up because of a terrifying dream with cold sweats sounds a lot like PTSD. But this problem goes beyond simple bad dreams.
In Japan, suicide is the leading cause of death in children between the ages of 10 and 19, and 1 in 4 Japanese high school students suffers from extreme clinical depression. A study in the UK showed that nearly 70% of self-harming, suicidal teenagers admitted that the cause was their concern about school performance and exams. According to the CDC, suicide is the second leading cause of death for ages 10-24 in the US. Each year 200,000 teenagers commit suicide, with another 4,000,000 attempts, world wide.
One of the main causes of PTSD is a perceived threat to a person's life. We spend years teaching kids that the only possible way to a happy successful life is good grades, with failure to achieve those grades meaning almost certain ruin. By stressing academic achievement as the primary goal in a young person's life, we lay the perfect foundation for severe psychological distress.
Why do we do this to our kids? Why do we inflict serious long-lasting psychological harm on many of our students? Is it some kind of educational hazing ritual, because the parent suffered through a bad system (walked to school uphill both ways in the snow) by god so does their child? Or is it simply a widely believed myth that the only way to learn is to submit to years of stress, interrogation, and drudgery.
I'm not saying learning is always easy, or that it shouldn't take work and effort. But the amount of stress we place on achieving arbitrary grades is at best stupid and at worst lethal.
Whatever the final cause, I personally believe forcing our kids to stress over grades is setting them up for PTSD (Post Traumatic School Disorder). It's tantamount to child abuse.
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