In a lot of cases, high school is about ripping off band aids. As freshmen, we very quickly had to deal with the pain that our lives would not be the lives of teenagers on TV: there would be no spontaneous singing or dancing, passing periods would be less than half an hour long, and unfortunately, there was still homework and a lot of it.
That was fine; that was easy.
The difficulty came in the classroom, when teachers very casually dropped some knowledge or skill that shattered everything we had ever known or changed our way of life. That hero that you worship? He was a racist and sexist monster. The country you love? It’s done some terrible, terrible things. Want to read this book in thirty minutes? Too bad; it’ll take you a week and nine hundred annotations per page to understand anything that happens. Some classes are basically designed to ruin your life.
It’s not that everything we learned in elementary school history was a lie, it’s just that– no, wait, actually, everything we learned in elementary school was a lie, and understandably so. History can get pretty PG-13. Still, when you learn the truth about some of the people that you considered heroes, it can be pretty shocking.
All elementary school kids in the United States learn the tale of brave Christopher Columbus, the great hero who traveled such a long way to discover America the beautiful, whose acts were so kind and generous that we gave him a special day devoted to his memory.
In high school, we learned that most of that was crap. Columbus was looking for India and apparently sucked at it, because he ended up in the Bahamas, where he dubbed all the natives of the continent “Indians” because some people just can’t accept that they’re wrong. (Fun fact: Columbus died still thinking that the land he had landed on was in Asia.) Even worse, it was his voyage that pretty directly led to the deaths of many of those “discovered” “Indians” at the hands of Spanish conquistadors and Old World diseases. If anybody idolized Columbus before high school, they probably stopped after US history.
History teaches uncomfortable truths about tons of people whom we had previously thought infallible. Thomas Jefferson, although opposed to slavery, was hardcore racist and also owned slaves himself. After taking AP US History, editorial intern Jenny Zhang says, “I learned that my favorite president, Woodrow Wilson, was an extreme racist.” Andrew Jackson, subject of Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson and initiator of mass democracy, committed just a bit of genocide during The Trail of Tears. It’s hard to find any historic hero who isn’t disappointing when held up to modern day standards of human decency.
It’s even harder to find a country whose history is pure and clean, especially in the case of imperialism. Imperialism is never any country’s shining moment, because imperialism is usually accompanied by racism, bloodshed, and profit from both of these things. In AP European History, editorial intern Fatou Bojang learned about European imperialism and was shocked. She says, “One of the biggest things that got to me was The Scramble for Africa and how greed and imperialism caused these nations to invade literally every single African country except two.” For a lot of us, our ancestors were monsters. For the rest of us, our ancestors were terrorized by monsters. A lot of the heroes of the time were actually motivated by greed, respected for the immense wealth they brought to their countries and not condemned for the human beings that they brought under oppression.
Are you thoroughly scarred yet?
English ruins life in a different but definitely dramatic way. Did you see that alliteration? What is its effect? How does it contribute to the overall theme of this article? Now, in forty-five minutes, I want you to write a well-organized essay discussing-
You get my point.
For many students, English has ruined their capacity to do anything for pure enjoyment. In the seventh grade, editorial intern Haley Samsel took an English class that changed her life. “The moment none of us will ever forget was when he [the teacher] showed us a scene from Gilmore Girls and made us dissect it down to the very bones of the show….I haven’t met a student from that class who has been able to watch a show or a movie without ruining it for themselves by dissecting every detail of it.” Jenny Zhang reports a similar sensation: “AP Literature made me unable to enjoy any type of poetry without trying to look for literary devices in the piece.” English taught us to think critically–but oftentimes, being overly-critical could be the one thing standing in the way of simple enjoyment of a book or a movie.
We can’t look to the past for heroes, we can’t look to media for entertainment, and we can’t even look to the people around us because, thanks to school, we now know that human beings are self-centered and destined to cause our own destruction.
Editorial intern Vianny Lugo, who moved to New York after attending school in the Caribbean, got a lesson about the amibiguity of the term “America.” “I was surprised once a geography teacher from my current high school said that America is a country and not a continent.” In the rest of the continent, “America” refers to the entire continent, but the people of the United States proudly call our country America without a second thought. When I learned about this occurrence as a freshman, I was shocked to realize that I had been using the word “America” wrong for fourteen years.
According to Jenny Zhang, even science class was a huge wakeup call. “In AP Environmental Science, I learned that everything bad is caused by humans.” In addition to careless use of language, we tend to carelessly use natural resources, chemical toxins, and other things that are attacking our planet–and most of us don’t really care.
How to Be Happy
Obviously, school sucks, and we should all just drop out.
The reason school “ruins our lives” is that it shatters our rose-colored lenses and forces us to look at the world a little more critically. People used to be (and still are) super racist and greedy and insensitive. Some TV shows aren’t super well-constructed, and analyzing them will make enjoyment absolutely impossible. We can’t unlearn truths or undo historic harm any more than we can unlearn how to analyze TV.
What we can do is take the knowledge and use it for good. So history taught you that your hero was racist and committed genocide? Dig even deeper into history and find a new hero. You can’t enjoy anything because you’ve analyzed it to death? Read a book that was made for analysis, that you can’t possible understand without it. School doesn’t have to ruin your life if you don’t let it.