市川学園旧校舎 by naosuke ii is licensed under CC BY 2.0. / Cropped

We were told that the key to having a good life is to do well in a junior high school so that we can get into a good high school. In high school, we were brainwashed into thinking that the key to having a good life is to go to a good college. And then we were convinced that the key to success in life is to get into a good company. If we get into a good company, we can make a good salary, get married, own a house and a car, and then have kids.

We are told to believe that, if we don’t go to a good college, we will be on a path to nowhere that have no chance of ever building a successful life.

Now that I know that this is a total lie I am convinced that I never want to go back to my K-12 education. Do I complain about it because I did bad in school? Not really. This is not to brag, but it’s safe to say that I excelled in this path because I was able to go to a top school in Japan[1]. My grades were not impressive and I certainly didn’t fit in, but getting into the top school is the ultimate goal of K-12 education. I would say I gained advantages from school in comparison to others.

But I never want to go back. I would probably feel more stifled than I did because now I know what it takes to learn. It’s not a place we’re usually eager to revisit.

Think of how many hours we were forced to sit at those desks, listen to those teachers and follow particular routines for 12 years. How much of a lecture do you remember? I can hardly recall a thing they said. And I guess that’s not a surprise. All those lectures were incredibly boring. I wish I had used my time on something more interesting and fruitful.

Don’t get me wrong, I am grateful that my parents allowed me to go through K-12 education, considering the fact that there are many kids who cannot go to school. However, there are many things that should be improved in the traditional school system.

It is not a surprise that our modern school system sucks if we take a brief look at the history.

K-12 education has its roots in the army. According to the economic historian Stephen Davies, a modern form of mandatory schooling started in 1806, when Napoleon defeated Prussia. The Prussian state devised a program of compulsory and rigorous education so that they could train young men to be obedient and courageous in the battle. We can see many features from that time period which we take for granted now. They taught young men grouped by year rather than by ability. Children sat at rows of desks in front of standing teachers, rather than walking around together in the ancient Greek fashion. The school day was scheduled, punctuated by the ringing of bells. The syllabus was introduced, rather than open-ended learning. They taught several subjects in a day, rather than teaching one subject per a day.

This template of education spread to the world. Horace Mann, one of the American fathers of public education, visited Prussia in 1843 and was determined to emulate its schooling system. Some years later, the British took the same route. In Japan, Government Code of Education was issued in 1872, which modeled the western education system.

It’s understandable that our education depersonalizes students, because it was designed to make obedient soldiers. Horace Mann regarded education as a tool to turn undisciplined children into disciplined citizens. Japanese education minister in the 19th century said, “In the administration of all schools, it must be kept in mind, what is to be done is not for the sake of the pupils, but for the sake of the country.”.


[1] I went to Keio University. This was merely because I was lucky though.


Ridley, Matt. (2015). The Evolution of Everything. Harper.