Are You Important?
When you are in school, do you feel as though the work that you do is important? Is it meaningful to you? Does your homework help your community, or improve society? Do you feel a sense of risk, danger, or hardship in anything your teacher assigns or assesses you on (not to be confused with drudgery and anxiety)? Does school give you a personal sense of purpose and meaning? Or are you bored and complacent?
“As wealth goes up in a society, as modernity goes up in a society, the suicide rate goes up, the depression rate goes up, schizophrenia goes up in urban environments. They’re not good for the human psyche.”
Joe Rogan’s interview with Sebastian Junger (war correspondent, author of Tribe) isn’t about school and education, but it’s not a difficult leap to suggest that our genetic programming is incompatible with modern schooling. Some of the most ideal conditions in which our genetic programming resonates is an infantry platoon in combat, or a sports team. I’ve done both of those things, and although I love peace and am intellectually against our current wars, I can testify that something about being in combat spoke to me at a primal level.
“The irony about modern society is that it has removed hardship and danger from everyday life, and it’s in the face of hardship and danger that people come to understand their value to their society, and they get a sense of meaning from that.”
I can say the same thing about playing football, which I did in some form or another for 15 years. You are important; the work you do matters; you are fighting to survive, and even more importantly, you are fighting for each other’s survival. There is purpose and meaning behind your actions, and your actions are how you are judged and respected by your peers. These are extremely powerful and addictive experiences because this was how we as a species survived for tens of thousands of years, and evolution is not a quick process.
“You don’t feel like you are earning your own survival in the world, you feel like it’s being handed to you. I grew up in an affluent suburb and I never had a sense as a young man that I was contributing in any way to the fact that I was physically alive on the planet…that kind of life is correlated with depression.”
You aren’t important to the school community, and the work you do doesn’t matter. You know that as well as anyone else. If you transferred schools, dropped out, or graduated, the school will not be better or worse. The buses will still arrive, the bells will ring, the lessons will be taught, and students will continue to do their best to remember the answers until the test, at which point the information will be purged from their minds. Your grades are important until the moment you get into college, and from that point on they are literally meaningless. You are responsible for nothing more than what the teacher tells you to do. It is an incredibly safe and dull environment.
“Why do you think people join ISIS? There are people in Europe joining ISIS because they want a sense of purpose.”
Even the phrase “school community” is a misnomer. Students are competitors with one another. They compete for grades and class rank, as well as for the affection and approval of the teacher; group work during normal school hours is typically superficial and met with groans from students, who are concerned primarily with their own grade and not with other students learning.
“The one thing that I cannot survive is that kind of complacent affluence…look at their suicide rates, their addiction rates, their depression rates.”
This is not how we are genetically wired to interact with each other in a community. If for tens of thousands of years our group of 40 humans were to be in constant competition with one another, we would have gone extinct long ago. The school environment cannot resonate with our biology in the same way that, ironically, many afterschool sports and clubs do.
“Sell your house, sell your car, move into a community where you have to be inter-reliant with the people around you, and you have to interact with them every day. That is what makes people happy.”
I’m not suggesting that we start drafting kids into the military, or make participation in sports compulsory. I do posit that humans are a learning species – it’s how we survived for as long as we have – and to effectively teach and learn we need to be able to replicate some of the conditions in which we were programmed to learn. We can’t pit students against each other with grades and expect authentic learning communities. Boredom is much more serious than “teenagers being teenagers” – twenty thousand years ago nobody found figuring out how to keep their clan alive “boring.” Boredom is a deadly disease.
“The less you have, the happier you are. At the end of the day, you could probably make that as an empirically true statement.”
Teens need to struggle and take risks with real life endeavors, surrounded by people who support them, not led by someone whose job it is to rate and rank them. We need to create opportunities for young people to have significance to their community, and they are of no use to their community locked up in a school building all day.
“If soldiers are missing war, and cancer survivors are missing cancer, then something’s missing.”