Why kids hate school

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If we do not know why kids hate school, we can not take steps to fix it

It's back to school time, and that means lots of shopping, lots of getting back to waking up with an alarm clock, and lots of complaints about heading back to school. But have you ever really asked why kids hate school? And have you considered that they might be on to something?

I did some informal interviews with kids heading back to school, and some digging around in the literature on education and discovered that the kids might just be on the something.


This is the number one reason kids gave for hating school. Why? After hours at school being in the classroom and doing school work, the last thing they want to do is come home and do more of it every night and every weekend.

And the kids are onto something. Recent years have seen huge jumps in the amount of homework, especially in early elementary grades where parents often report two or more hours of work per night for second and third graders. The popular wisdom is that all this work reinforces learning, but studies fail to provide any support.  

In fact, most studies show that human beings have a daily "learning limit" of about five hours.  anything beyond that not only fails to increase mastery, but actually reduces net learning for the day. 

In a national battling ever-growing rates of childhood obesity, turning a 7 hour school day into a 10 hour or more school day with the hours of homework means exercise and after school sports teams are not an option for those try to maintain good grades, compounding the health crisis. 

Participation in the arts, family interactions, and critical "down time" are all also sacrificed when homework takes up evenings and weekends. Even religious observance is often sacrificed to meet homework obligations.


Although there are many wonderful teachers in our school systems, kids I talked to cited "bad teachers" as their second reason for hating school.  Interestingly, it wasn't hard or demanding teachers who got the negative marks from kids, but rather lazy or uninspiring teachers. 

Whether it's the fault of our teacher education programs, school administrators, standardized testing pressures or the teachers themselves, kids complained about endless busy-work, mind-numbing lectures and meaningless projects.

Teachers who played favorites, or who changed the rules for some were also mentioned by the kids as reasons to dread going to school.


For many kids, school is one long string of embarrassment. 

From mocking by classmates for clothing, speech, grades, athletic ability or appearance, to being repeatedly called on by teachers when the student doesn't know the answer (and has indicated this by NOT raising their hand!), just getting through a day of school was seen as a minefield of humiliation and stress.

The one-size-fits-all structure was another source of humiliation.

Kids whose talents and skills are in music, art, dance, mechanics, electronics, or other "non-standard" subjects were often embarrassed by their failure in classes where others breezed through the material. And yet schools increasingly provide no opportunities for these students to shine, leaving them to spend each and every day just trying to complete or survive in what is clearly their weaker areas.

No heart

In the rush to provide across-the-board rules and zero tolerance policies, schools have lost their ability to respond to unique student situations. 

Thus the child who is missing homework assignments because they have a dying parent is punished by being kept from the class field trip. The student taking medication for a psychological disorder is treated as a potential drug policy violation, and the kid with a chronic illness is forced to justify each and every exception to "standard school policy."

So what do we do?

The reasons kids gave for hating school are all reasonable. So do we just throw our collective hands up and say "Oh, well. Do your homework." Or do we listen and act to change unfair standard policies and rewrite handbooks to allow for humanity and the real world things students are facing in and outside of the classroom? 

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