This morning I read “Worried About Risky Behavior? Make School Tougher” in the New York Times. Here’s my very quick response. 

This terrible article highlights how worthless researchers can be when they ignore context. Basically, the researchers argue that students get marginal reductions in drug use as school swallows up their childhood. The more oppression we place on the children, the less (marginally, again) risky behavior they engage in.

But they cannot imagine a world where children are not oppressed. They take it as a given that children must be harmed. They cannot imagine that children do not need to be subjected to standardized, coercive curriculum and the harmful practices and structures of schooling for 180 days a year, for 13 years of their youth.

Risky behavior is often a response to environmental cues. What does school teach young people? That there is a right answer. That there is a right path. And if you stay on that path all your problems will be solved. But students learn in school that it is not so easy to stay on the right path because to be on the right path they have to do everything everyone else demands of them, and nothing that they want to do. To be on the right path they have to be perfect for the adults, and they have to step on their peers to get to the top. And guess who can do that? Only one person in any given school (and then they go to college where they compete against a bunch of other people who did the same). School environments resign people to the lie that they cannot lead exceptional and remarkable lives.

If you really want to reduce risky behavior you allow young people to develop their own interests, develop executive functioning skills, and find purpose in their lives, you allow them to take meaningful risks as opposed to having to find an outlet for their natural adolescent risk seeking desires.

The article gets one thing right. Students who spend more time on schoolwork have less time to do other things. They have less time develop meaningful relationships. They have less time to develop their social skills. They have less time to pursue their interests. They have less time to develop meaning within their lives. They have less time to develop mastery in areas they care about. They have less time to sleep. They have less time to understand who they are. They have less time to actually educate themselves.

We can do better. Unlike these publication obsessed researchers who want to ignore context, we can actually focus on the context. And schooling is a harmful context. Change the context.

Photo Credit: Alex Wroblewski/The New York Times