Does the school system suppress individuality?
BY MEENA ADUSUMILLI '27
Some have heard the long-standing story that school was originally structured to produce factory workers, pumping out obedient, hardworking employees. Although this purpose might not be apparent in the school system today, the same concept of producing monotonous students remains. But is this still beneficial to millions of Americans in school? School is meant to help students by preparing them for the working life ahead of them. It forgets the variation of options in the real world and threatens to suppress students’ individuality by forcing them into a box of how they “should” be. While some progressive countries give their students freedom and see better grades as a result, the U.S. watches its creativity plummet.
When the topic of the broken school system comes up, many jump to the conclusion that school is not meant to be fun, solely ensuring students can join the future workforce. Of course students should be set up for a bright future and good career; but, at the same time, BBC reports there are 9.55 million job openings right now in the U.S. Nevertheless, schools typically only offer five core subjects, cramming different units and fields of study into just a few years, and usually only offering a standardized test when assessing students on what they “learned,” which relies heavily on memorization rather than allowing students to showcase their skills. Every student has a different learning style, and not understanding this can lead to students feeling discouraged, even stupid. The variation of real life compared to school’s narrow range of subjects and assessment options exemplifies how the current school system is outdated; it has not kept up with the current times, where a hippotherapist, dog food taster, and snake milker are all real careers. When schools only give students a preview of more traditional careers, they overlook hundreds more, essentially ignoring any unique interests students may have. Although schools may not be able to offer opportunities to get a glimpse at every career imaginable, they can still hold a variety of career speaker days or clubs to allow students a more well-rounded view on potential jobs.
However, the problem with the modern-day school system extends further than a lack of career opportunities. Forbes details that there are 3.3 million American children with diagnosed ADHD, not to mention all the cases that have gone under the radar. To those with ADHD, standardized testing can prove to be a challenge, as long testing sessions make focusing difficult when overcome with anxiety. The lack of flexibility given to neurodivergent students forces them to adhere to the standard route of testing, which illustrates the ignorance schools have regarding the uniqueness of each student. The hard truth is that, without more accommodations, the individuality of many students is lost.
The structure of a school system itself proves the substantial effects of school on the creativity and individuality of students. Kyung-Hee Kim is a researcher who focuses on the Torrance Test of Creative Thinking, a game where players have to create and name a picture when given only an arbitrary shape. The test is graded with reference to an originality list, a compilation of the most common responses for each section of the game. If a participant’s response is not on the list, then they get more points, and vice versa. For 40 years, Kim has conducted this test, but the scores have steadily moved down since 1990. While our school system gets tougher, our creativity drops, showing how school values students’ ability to memorize information over their individual perspectives and ideas. School doesn’t prepare students for life ahead; it just teaches students how to blend in. But not every country has a school system like the United States. In Finland, students are encouraged to draw and play, and they’re given several breaks throughout the day in which they can exercise and relax. Students there are typically given minimal homework, and they tend to wake up later in the day, around 9 or 10 A.M. As a result of these changes, Finnish students have more time for activities that truly spark their individual interest, regardless of whether or not those activities would typically fit into a traditional school curriculum. While the U.S. might frown upon this and call the Finnish system lazy, it seems to be working. Finland’s test scores, specifically reading ones, have been higher than ever, topping every other country, showing the benefits of giving students freedom to express their individuality.
Overall, school today is disconnected from the outside world, and students across the nation are paying for this. From not acknowledging the variety of careers and test taking ways that exist, to suppressing students’ creativity for the past four decades, the school system has effectively tried to compress students into generations upon generations of gray, carbon copies of each other, ultimately erasing us of our uniqueness. The first step to fixing these flaws is making education less about turning students into like-minded workers, and more about preparing students for the real world with all its diversity and options to explore. This could mean holding fruitful career fairs, offering increased accommodations during standardized testing, or simply giving students more time outside of school to pursue their interests, but, at the end of the day, what’s important is that students are encouraged to be unique individuals.