6 Reasons Kids Hate School and Why They Aren't Wrong
It's easy to bulldoze through life and forget what it's like to be a kid. They must deal with growing pains, figuring out who they are and what they want, staying active, and being gorged with information in short chunks of time. Even if you did not, we all know someone who struggled with the latter, and came to be frustrated with or even express hatred for school. I was reminded of this when I overheard a conversation between a mom and her 4th grader.
At the bustling LAX airport, the adults were seated strategically so they can simultaneously guard their charging devices, hurriedly wolf down large bites of food, and keep children mildly entertained (or at least compliant) while waiting to board their flights. I observed a little girl who was working on a math worksheet next to me, her mother eagerly eating a burger now that her infant was asleep. The girl, visibly frustrated with her assignment and clearly tired of erasing, asks her mom for help. She was subtracting 3-digit numbers, and was not coming close to the answers in the example (upon glancing, I realized immediately she was actually just adding the numbers instead of subtracting). The mom told her to keep trying and to use the example, trying herself to cherish this meal for as long as she could. Suddenly, the girl crumpled the worksheet, threw it on the floor, and began to cry. Mom sighs, rewraps her burger, picks up the paper, and calmly asks the crying girl what the problem was. The girl goes OFF, angrily (and clearly) articulating how much she HATES school, how BORING and stupid it is, how her butt ALWAYS hurts at the end of the day from sitting too long, how she gets in trouble if she gets up or stretches because her butt hurts and isn't sitting in STAR, how tired she is of STUPID tests and STUPID homework, and how she doesn't get how learning about stupid RAINFORESTS will help her do hair when she grows up. SHE. WENT. OFF!
The girl, seeming to notice the people chuckling in passing as she goes IN on school, begins to cry harder, clearly frustrated that she isn't being taken seriously and that no one appears to care. As the mom tries to calm her down, I quietly take note of her grievances on my phone. The teacher in me feels bad that this little girl is so angry with math and with school so early in her educational career. Also, if I may, I believe to an extent that she's absolutely right. Let's break down the six legitimate gripes kids have against school, and why they aren't wrong.
1. It's generational. Kids hate school because their parents hated school. Parents often project their disdain for school when they were growing up into how they interact with, become involved with, and show interest in their child's education. From my experience, children have shown an interest in what their parents show an interest in, or are at least influenced by it, which can work for or against them if proper precautions aren't considered. I'm not at all saying that uneducated parents cannot produce educated children; neither my nor my wife's parents have college degrees and we have 4 degrees (and working on the 5th) between the two of us. I do believe, though, that parents' attitudes towards school, how seriously they take it and invest in it, how they hold their kids accountable for it, and how involved they are (or try to be) with communicating with teachers and administration all have an impact on their child's mindset with school.
It has to start early as well. Read to and with your kids as early as possible! Get them invested and excited about learning from an early age, especially in the things they take interest in. I have had students with disabilities and ESL students that are SERIOUS and do not play games when it comes to their grades, so there's no real excuse there either. You as the parent may not be able to help your child or may not be well versed in how things are done today, but keeping the lines of communication open between parent/teacher/student will certainly alleviate stress, anxiety, doubt, or exacerbation on the child's behalf and they can freely have mistakes corrected as needed. And for the record, there's a difference between high expectations and pressuring children towards success. In 9th grade, I was grounded for a month once because I brought home a 2.8 GPA on my report card. It wasn't that my mom beat me across the head if I didn't have a 4.0, but she held me to a higher standard because she knew what I was capable of. I was pissed then, but I'm going to be a doctor in May, so yeah.
2. School is boring, and monotonous. Adults hate sitting for too long. Whether it's college courses, meetings, conferences, professional development, or even Bible Study, sitting for too long makes people antsy. They want a break every hour. They frequently excuse themselves to the restroom, regardless of who is speaking. Snacks are a requirement. Games and activities are a plus, but leaving early is even better. Considering all these things, why would anyone in their right minds think a child should maturely do all these things and comply with an adult that isn't concerned with them as much as they are with their own jobs?
I understand that kids are in school to learn and that play is not always an option. There are time constraints, objectives and standards, administration breathing down teacher's necks, and classroom management/disciplinary concerns that arise daily. All I'm saying is you'd be surprised what 5 minute brain break with funny "Would You Rather?" questions and a pack of fruit snacks can do for a kid's brain and their ability to trust and respect you as an educator. Adults DEMAND respect from kids and that they "treat others how they want to be treated." Relationships reciprocate, so let's treat kids how we want to be treated.
3. Structure and rules. Excessive structure feels restrictive and inflexible. Rigid and staunch rules will always be challenged by kids. Always. Always. ALWAYS. Tell the wrong kid they can't use the restroom until a structured time, but you ask someone to cover your class so you can go. Yell at the kid with ADHD and no recess because he can't physically sit still in his seat. Discipline that little girl for talking while the teacher is talking, but you as the teacher have been talking nonstop for an hour straight. I dare you. I triple dog dare you. Or, just loosen up a bit....because this is not the military or prison, contrary to popular belief.
Conversely, minimal structure feels chaotic and cumbersome. Rules and expectations should be cornerstones in the classroom, not pillars, and certainly not like pillows. Consider children's safety and interests when planning that makes sense for teachers to work with and for parents and administrators to easily identify if they pay a visit. Be the adult in the room and build relationships with your kids. You'll be surprised what they'll do for you.
4. Cultural relevance. This is an even more prevalent issue today than it was even 10-15 years ago, but make no mistake, the struggle for black and brown kids to see themselves in the success that is preached to them daily continues. Without the ability to relate or give some cultural relevance to education, kids will continue to downplay it and not see the benefit of it, and lack of trust will certainly cause problems with culture and relationship building. Content should, at least in some ways, reflect the demographic of the community being served. The old saying says, "People need to know who they are before they know where they are going." Black kids need African American history beyond MLK and Harriet Tubman! They need to see themselves in the books they read and in the science they study. If you're covering plants, talk about George Washington Carver. If you're covering space, discuss Mae Jemison. If they're bored and uninvested, give them an article on Lonnie Johnson, the man who invented the Super Soaker! Ignite pride in kids as they continue to grow up, so they too can aspire to be great.
5. Standardized testing. I don't really have to break this one down, do I?
6. Homework. The trickiest of them all. It's no secret that kids hate doing homework. But has anyone ever thought to ask a kid why they hate homework? Did you ever think about why you hated homework when you were a kid? Was it because it was so much and so long that you had no time to do anything else related to being a kid, especially if school was already a challenge for you? Was it because your teacher didn't spend a lot of time on the subject in class, leaving you unclear of what to do (especially if there's a specific method or example you can't necessarily Google)? Could it have anything to do with students being tired from 12 hour school days (2 hours to and from on the bus, and 8 hours in school with little to no recess and like 20 minutes to eat), especially if they have extracurricular activities right after school? I'm just saying consider it. I think there is a place for homework, just as I think there is a place for testing. But I also think both are abused, overly focused on, and create too much stress and anxiety for children. Consider them before you staple that packet of worksheets together that adds up to an hour per subject per night. And I haven't even mentioned those with rough home lives.
My plane was called to board over the loud speaker, which woke the woman's baby, taking her attention from the angry, ranting little girl. As I grabbed my bags, I made eye contact and smiled at the little girl, pointed out that she needed to take away the numbers, not add them, and that those signs can be tricky sometimes. She said, "Ohhh! Man, my teacher says I do that all the time!" She let out an dramatic sigh of frustrated relief, which I took as her being thankful this simple mistake could be corrected, so I gave her a wink and a smile and proceeded to the line to board my plane. As I walked away, I heard her ask her mom, "Is he a teacher?"