by Stella Morabito

Why doesn’t anyone investigate the toxic effects of today’s bureaucrat-run mega-schools in the wake of a school shooting? It’s high time we place a share of the blame there.

Apologists for these noxious systems continue to shift blame for their failures using the media, various left-wing lobbies, and the kids themselves as programmed mouthpieces for statist agendas like gun control. Meanwhile, they keep feeding the beast by mass institutionalizing kids.

The correlation between public school environments and the deteriorating mental health of children has been intensifying for decades. We ought to consider how these settings serve as incubators for the social alienation that can fuel such horrors.

First, consider how common it is for a public high school today to house thousands of teenagers for most of their waking hours for four solid years. (More than 3,000 students attend the Florida school where the most recent shooting took place.) During their time in that maze, kids learn to “socialize,” basically by finding their place in a school’s hierarchy of cliques.

This sort of pecking order dynamic tends to breed resentment, status anxiety, and social dysfunction. Combine that with the toxic effects of social media and family breakdown, and you’ve got a deadly brew. Public schooling is increasingly unhealthy for kids’ emotional stability. Let us count the ways.

1. The Size and Model of Mass Schooling Is Alienating
Back in 1929-30, there were about 248,000 public schools in the United States, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. How many today? Far less than half. By 2013-14, the number had shrunk to 98,000.

When you consider that the U.S. population nearly tripled in that timeframe, there’s no question this factory model of schooling has grown exponentially. The numbers speak to the intense bureaucratization of a public school system that is becoming more centralized with less local control, packing ever-larger numbers of students in one place.

The natural effect is an emotional malaise that fuels a sense of confusion and detachment. I believe the sociologist Emile Durkheim coined the term “anomie” to describe this sense of isolation. Even the physical architecture of public schools is getting more estranging. They tend to be larger and more looming, almost blade-runner-like in their effect of shrinking and sequestering individuals to irrelevance.

There’s already much to be anxious about in those settings: the intensity of testing, the long days, the labelling, the constant social—and now, political—expectations that students must meet to fit in. The alienation of amassing larger groups of children enhances that.

2. Public Schools Are Abnormal Settings That Feel Like Prisons
Dr. Peter Gray at Boston College has studied in depth the harmful effects of mass schooling on children’s mental health. Gray makes the point that school is simply an abnormal setting for children. But instead of admitting that, our culture prefers to say that the children are abnormal for squirming. In short, school is a prison that actually causes trauma in children. (You can read more on this subject here, here, here, here, and here.)

Anxiety is a natural effect of being cooped up in a compulsory setting for hours on end, especially when you believe your future depends on your performance there. Yet few consider that environment as the cause or source of depression.

According to a neighbor of the shooter in the recent Florida case, the shooter “always had his head down. . . He looked depressed.” According to his public defender, “’He’s sad. He’s mournful. He’s remorseful. He is fully aware of what is going on, and he’s just a broken human being.”

3. Public Schools Are Breeding Grounds for Hierarchical Cliques
In large settings that promote conformity, people will naturally self-segregate into smaller groups. But the groups tend to be hierarchical. At the top are the “popular” queen bees and jocks, who tend to make it their business to oversee and regulate relationships among their peers.

The diva students sort and label their peers in various ways, such as brainy, prudish, a-hole, and geeky. Their lesser peers duly gravitate to a group that accepts them. At the bottom are those deemed “weirdos” or “loners,” who tend to face intense ostracism. That dynamic only hardens their situation as isolated, alienated individuals. So why can’t we guess which social strata school shooters tend to come from?

4. Giant Public Schools Are Breeding Grounds for Aggression
Public mega-schools are breeding grounds for relational aggression, behaviors intended to harm peers’ social standing. This “Mean Girl” dynamic gets reinforced in the schools and youth culture, as it’s modelled and promoted over and over again in hundreds of movies and TV shows geared towards teens.

5. School Bureaucracy Tends to Reinforce Social Pecking Orders
There seems to be a special pact between the alpha students and the school bureaucracy. I’ve concluded the bureaucrats in charge actually have a stake in maintaining such pecking orders and the psychically destructive social dynamics that feed status anxiety.

After years of observation as both a student and a parent of students who attended such mega-schools, I’ve come to compare this cooperative relationship to how prison wardens might single out special prisoners for privileges to keep order over the masses. I suppose this is the effect of an inherent divide-and-conquer impulse sewn into all bureaucracies.

6. Public Schools Are Increasingly Politicized
Identity politics and leftist politicization in the schools is pervasive these days. It especially piles on young men the label of guilty oppressor. Schools are becoming hotbeds of all sorts of political activity instigated by administrators and teachers. Privilege theory is now morphing into a new stage in which students engage in tell-all criticism-and-self-criticism sessions disguised as exercises in empathy. The message is loud and clear: take part in this political activism, or your social and academic standing will suffer. It’s now commonplace to get students to take part in political marches and protests, getting them acclimated to acting in concert with a mob.

7. Reduced Content Knowledge Promotes Conformity
Radical education reform has gutted school curricula of meaningful content, replacing it with identity politics, fads, and political activism. Kids are increasingly ignorant of the U.S. Constitution, the basics of civil society, and how our system of government works and why.

This growing ignorance of history, geography, and classics makes it harder for children to find context and their place in the world. It disables their ability to think clearly and independently, and it cripples imagination and creativity. Such ignorance creates a vacuum for a more cynical and nihilistic approach towards life.

8. Public Schools Disregard Students’ Family and Non-School Lives
School life and activities take up more and more time. By the time today’s public-school children graduate from high school, they will have spent about 17,000 hours in K-12 schools. When you factor in homework and other activities such as riding the school bus, it’s more than 25,000 hours. That’s a huge chunk of life, especially when kids can learn the basics of reading and math in about 100 hours of attentive instruction.

That figure comes from John Taylor Gatto, award-winning veteran New York City schoolteacher. Like the Borg, public schools are invading family life and every other aspect of life. Parents and families are increasingly treated as nuisances to the collectivist agenda of training children to conform to politically correct attitudes and emotions.

Children are also strongly influenced by the age segregation inherent to government schools, which teaches kids to be laser-focused on expectations for their age, judging anyone who might have been “held back.” This has an intensely narrowing effect on perspective.

9. Schools Are Becoming More Repressive
The article “The New Face of Punishment in the Public Schools” from the Rutherford Institute gives a raw look at the growing use of force and lockdowns in the public schools, including the use of tasers and shackles. The alarming rise of such measures in schools condition a child to accept school as a police state.

10. Public Schooling Is Increasingly Hostile to Christianity
Growing and intense aggression against any form of Christian prayer in the schools has a further alienating effect. It teaches any child who is emotionally hurting that he can’t even seek solace in a private and silent conversation with God without knowing he’d be ridiculed if his peers knew. The hostility towards religion also leads us on a path to utter lawlessness, since the rule of law evaporates when left to the devices of elites.

11. Enforced Conformity Promotes Peer Victimization
There are really no universal policies against bullying in public schools that would afford all students equal protection. (Such a policy would actually be Christian.) Instead, schools’ so-called anti-bullying policies pick and choose among various identity groups, in a classic divide and conquer mode.

The highly politicized nature of today’s public schools serves to draw virtual targets on the backs of students whose beliefs don’t align with its own. A bully is free to target with the taunt “bigot” any child who comes from a traditional Christian home, and the curricula will back them up. The “It Gets Better” campaign provides protection exclusively to LGBT kids. And, if a child’s parents are not on board with the transgender social engineering project, they can lose custody of their children, as the recent case in Ohio demonstrates.

In sum, the message is this: if you want protection from bullying, take on the persona of a protected identity group. It shouldn’t surprise us at all that “straight white males” are considered fair game for de-humanization.

12. Public Schooling Stunts Personality Development
In mass schooling, students who try hard to fit in among peers tend to get their uniqueness beaten out of them. That’s what socialization through mass schooling generally does. As Judith Rich Harris notes in her book “The Nurturing Presumption,” socialization “adapts children to the culture, making them more similar.” (Personality development, on the other hand, leads to more differences in individuals.) In this scenario, unique individuals who don’t conform so easily end up being seen and treated as oddballs.

13. Kids with Special Needs Are Especially Judged as Different
Anything that identifies a child as out of the mainstream will stigmatize him, no matter how much tolerance a school might claim to teach. This is just a natural effect of enforcing conformity among kids.

So if a child is called out of a classroom to attend remedial therapy, he gets sized up, especially if it’s a school that touts academic “Blue Ribbon” standing. Taking the “short bus” to another location for special education is basically the kiss of social death in the public school environment.

Peer grading is another open invitation to noticing and judging differences. And in the wake of school shootings, let’s not forget how horrid government schools are for kids with forms of autism like Asperger’s Syndrome, a symptom of which is inappropriate speech or “weird” (i.e., different) behaviors.

‘School Refusal Clinics’ Increasingly Treat Distressed Children
The Florida shooter used to “bang his head against a cement wall” when he didn’t want to go to school, according to a neighbor. Obviously, he couldn’t stand the school. It seemed to have literally driven him crazy. So what do you suppose the educational establishment proposes be done with such “school refusal” behavior?

First off, the National Education Association has for a long time proposed that high school graduation be compulsory for everyone until the age of 21. Can you believe that? Twenty-one years old! The NEA’s 12-point action plan to reduce the drop-out age begins with that proposal.

School refusal seems to be exploding under the radar. So, is it really the children who are the problem?
What to do with students who get physically sick at the prospect of attending such places? Answer: “School refusal clinics” have sprung up to get the kids right back into that noxious environment, which is never seriously considered as a source of the problem. The aim of these clinics is a type of conversion therapy with the intent of 1) re-institutionalizing the child and 2) if possible, reducing the child’s distress.

The first such clinic seemed to have started up in Las Vegas several years ago. But the idea has been catching on quickly, with more and more and more and more and more psychiatric centers treating school refusal in children. School refusal seems to be exploding under the radar. So, is it really the children who are the problem? Or is it more likely the toxic environment?

But never fear. Although people have been writing for decades about the inability of mammoth government bureaucracies to handle children appropriately, there’s always a new fad to the rescue, always another shade of lipstick to apply to the pig.

The jury should have been in a long time ago. As long as we institutionalize kids into prison-like schools built on a factory model and without any other choices, we’ll get more and more psychic alienation and social dysfunction. In this scenario, gun bans simply mean future mass killings would likely involve more knives, cars plowed into crowds, chemicals, and perhaps more bombs concocted from fertilizer and other household items.

It is well past time we investigate power elites hell-bent on preserving an alienating mass schooling bureaucracy that controls the minds and lives of all children. When will we stop feeding this beast?

Stella Morabito is a senior contributor to The Federalist. Follow Stella on Twitter.
Photo DC Public Schools / Wikimedia
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