Lies that Confuse and Frustrate Kids

The Truth about Education

From the time children start elementary school, many of them grow up admiring their teachers. They often want to please these educators and live up to their expectations. However, when kids realize that teachers sometimes lie to them, they can feel let down and disappointed. It can cause them to feel insecure and unsure of themselves. In later years, they may also look back on some of their high school teachers with disdain, especially if they feel that the teachers were lying in order to manipulate them. What are some common lies that children hear in school?


Cafeteria at a High SchoolCredit:

School is a Safe Place

This lie often confuses children, because school does not always feel safe to them. When they are in school, they may get scolded by the teacher; they may be bullied by their peers; they may be in a classroom during natural disasters and other emergencies. Children are going to be afraid sometimes while they are at school. When teachers dismiss these feelings of insecurity and fear by telling their students that school is a safe place, it does not reassure them. Instead, it only confuses children and causes them to doubt their own feelings.

School is a reflection of the real world. Bad things can happen at school, just like they can happen in the world at large. At a nearby high school in our community, a teacher died of a sudden heart attack while alone in his classroom during lunch. He was discovered by his students, who were understandably shocked by the unexpected death. In other schools, children have been shot; tornadoes have hit schools; earthquakes have shaken the buildings in a frightening way.

We cannot guarantee that school will always be a safe place. It is far better to let children know that scary things may happen sometimes in life, no matter where they are, but there are people at school they can talk to whenever they feel afraid. This is much more honest and reassuring than trying to convince children that they are always safe at school.

My Politics are Right; Everyone Else is Wrong

To be fair, not all teachers express their personal opinions to their students. However, some teachers use their classrooms to convince students of their political beliefs. Sometimes they will use sarcasm or humor to discredit the political beliefs of those who hold opposing views. The best teachers are the ones who try to carefully maintain political neutrality, and help their students explore all sides of an issue. Unfortunately, some teachers are simply not able to pull this off successfully. Many teachers, especially those who teach subjects like social studies and economics, will try to indoctrinate students in their political beliefs.

Because students also admire their teachers, these instructors can have a great deal of influence over these young minds. Rather than trying to help students learn how to think through an issue for themselves, some teachers will use their classrooms as an opportunity to give examples of political beliefs that they are convinced are “right” and “wrong.”

When students get older, they may begin to feel that their teachers were manipulating them. This teaching approach can also cause parents to fight back by criticizing a teacher who has different political beliefs. This can cause a student to feel stress and have divided loyalties. In extreme cases, these kinds of statements can be one reason why some parents choose to home school their children.

It is far better to give students the opportunity to study issues from all sides, and for the teacher to show their students that they respect a student’s ability to research these issues.

Traditional High Schools are the Only Way to Prepare for the Future

This belief, often expressed by teachers and administrators, is frustrating to young people, especially those who are eager to start working. It also puzzles many students, because every day they see their friends graduate from traditional high schools and have trouble finding work. According to an article entitled “The Jobless Generation” by Michael Schuman in the April 16, 2012 issue of Time Magazine, only 54% of 18 to 24 year old Americans are employed. This is the lowest employment level for this age group on record.

The author of the Time Magazine article speculates that the problem lies in the skills gap between what students are learning and what companies need. He points out that in Germany the unemployment rate for young adults is much lower. Their high schools have incorporated an apprenticeship program in which students spend part of their school day in class and part of the day at a job, learning the skills that companies require.

When You Go to College, Things Will Be Much Tougher than High School

It is true that most students find that college work is somewhat more difficult than high school work. However, a student who has done well academically in high school should be able to handle their college workload with little difficulty. After all, millions of other students have managed to make the transition. High school teachers often try to frighten their students into working harder in high school by exaggerating how difficult college will be. They say things like, “you will get a zero on late work”, “the professors won’t cut you any slack,” “you are just a number to them,” “colleges will not baby you like we high school teachers do” or “you will never be allowed to go into a class late.” The truth is that these are often simply scare tactics, and many high school students instinctively know it.

Other high school students who know they are not good students may simply give up. They may decide that, since they can’t do well in high school, there is no way they can succeed in the future. Their teachers have repeatedly told them that college will be too hard for them. They are only 17 or 18 years old, and they have already given up on life. Many are never told that there are many educational opportunities after high school that will not require them to know Shakespeare, Geometry, or a foreign language.

High school and middle school teachers often exaggerate how difficult college in a misguided attempt to motivate their students to work harder and be more compliant. Although their motivation is understandable, these lies can backfire. Students who actually could succeed at a university may end up fearing college because they have been told so many stories about how mean and unforgiving their college professors will be. While it is true that some college professors are difficult to deal with, so are some high school teachers. Using fear to motivate teenagers is an approach that can cause successful college kids to look back at their high school teachers with disdain. These fear tactics can also cause some students to not be willing to even try to sign up for classes after high school, even vocational classes. This brings us to an even more serious lie that students often hear.

You Will ONLY Succeed With a Four Year College Degree

Students listen to their teachers more carefully than many instructors realize. Although students may not always do their homework, and have difficulty remembering the names of the conspirators who killed Julius Caesar, they do hear the life messages that their teachers have been repeating year after year. One of those messages is often that the only way children can ever succeed in life is with a four year college degree. This message is frightening for students who struggle with their school work, especially after they have listened to their teachers warn them about how difficult it is going to be for them to get through college. It is also disturbing for young people who know their parents will never be able to pay for a college education.

According to an article in “The Wall Street Journal” dated February 2, 2010, entitled “What’s a Degree Really Worth,” the lifetime earnings advantage for a college graduate is $279,893, not the $450,000 to $800,000 often sited. Since a four year college education can easily cost $120,000 or more, this earnings advantage may not be worth it for students who would be happier to spend fewer years and less money on their education.

As a result of this message, millions of students have finished college in recent years owing an average of $27,000 to $34,000 or more in college debt, and they are unable to find the great paying jobs they expected. In fact, in 2010 the graduating class faced an unemployment rate of 9.1%. Many students react by deferring their college debt as long as they can, which only increases the size of the principle. It is not unusual for many young college graduates to struggle for years with low-paying commission jobs, while they search for a better job that will pay their bills and leave them with a sense of satisfaction. Some teenagers and their parents are beginning to wonder if four years of college are really worth it.

What high school students are rarely told is that people can be happy and lead successful lives with very little post secondary education. They may become artists, musicians, or athletes. They may complete a year or two of vocational training and learn to become a masseuse, auto technician, hair stylist, x-ray technician, medical assistant, secretary, Realtor, car salesman, carpenter, plumber, electrician, exterminator, painter, home healthcare aide, clothing salesperson, teacher’s aide, or a government clerk. They could choose to go into the military, and receive college credit as well as practical training in a variety of careers. There are many career opportunities that do not require a four year college degree, and adults do students a disservice by not encouraging them to pursue some of these other career paths.

Education is meant to teach a child how to read, write, learn history, do math and, most important of all, open their minds to all the possibilities in life. When educators fail to have an open, honest mind themselves, kids end up feeling frustrated, discouraged, and stressed. The truth is not always easy. We don’t always want to tell a child that his academic strengths do not lie in pursuing accounting, a medical degree or law school. However, isn’t it kinder to help our students explore realistic career opportunities, and help them select a course of study that will make them feel competent and capable? Rather than trying to force every student to study AP English literature, geometry and chemistry, whether they can pass the classes or not, it might be preferable to help them find vocational training that will set them on a career path where they can feel happy and successful. This is the kind of truth we all need to share with young people.


"The Jobless Generation" by Michael Schuman.  Time Magazine, April 16, 2012.

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