Failing to Learn, or Learning to Fail

As society progresses, the knowledge we retain as students has become more and more useless. As adults, oftentimes very little of the skills we developed came from high school, and more through the tough experiences of the adult world. Of course, this is to be expected. High school should present the foundation into adulthood, but it is tough to say it accomplishes even that. If high school does not develop the skills we need to carry on, then all of the time and energy we put into those years bear very little returns. Identifying these flaws will hopefully incite change through the next generations, as it has already become too late for us.

The first, and likely most prominent of what schools’ fail to do for us is focus on developing our ‘soft skills’. Soft skills refer to various social skills that aid in interacting with peers and being able to manage and problem solve with them. On the contrary, schools focus solely on ‘hard skills’, which is the technical knowledge on subjects. 

While the development of hard skills is necessary for the academic growth of the child, soft skills need to be developed alongside them, as they are just as, if not more, important in the career department. In The Hard Truth About Soft Skills by Michael Jones et al, it was discovered that among both the fortune 500 and non-fortune 500 companies, recruiters ranked soft skills far above aspects like work experience or GPA in school. It becomes increasingly obvious that as long as you have these soft skills in place, your value in the workplace is much more desired.

While some soft skills may naturally develop during school, providing an emphasis on the teaching allows students to be more successful overall. Various schools that understand this importance of developing soft skills began to provide programs for social and emotional learning, or SEL for short. In “Children benefit when taught social and emotional skills—but some methods are better than others,” author Roisin Corcoran highlights that while there was a large difference in results from each SEL program, most of the programs did end up rating high in their effectiveness for students. There is still room for improvement, but as a basis, these programs have made a difference in student’s education overall, which can lead them towards more success in later life. 

Second, standardized testing has seeped its way into every corner of the country, and so have the dangers that come with it. While there are many flaws within standardized testing itself, one that is truly detrimental to students is that they are taught around these tests, rather than gaining more general knowledge that could be more helpful to them. Author Samantha Reddell explains this perfectly in her paper, “High Stakes Testing: Our Children At Risk.” Among many things, Reddell writes about this concept of “teach to the test,” which is essentially teachers centering their education around optimizing students’ performance on standardized tests. Many times though, the original lesson or knowledge is lost in the pursuit of doing better on these tests.

These tests also lead towards more stress for the students to perform well, which impacts psychological health. Reddell again speaks on this. “Their self-esteem is lowered when they do not receive scores they may be aiming for, or when they do not do as well as their classmates. Students are put under undue stress to outperform, simply because teachers are put under stress to make sure their students do well.” If students are actively being drained of their mental health while learning, then they do not have as much drive towards the later years of adulthood. To add on, if students are not even properly learning what they are being taught due to the methodology of the lesson, then there are no positives that come out of it, only sacrifices.

The topic of mental health leads into the third way schools are failing their students: through their lack of mental health literacy. As kids, if you are not taught how to healthily cope with stress or deal with different mental obstacles, then it will compound and create a negative feedback loop. In the article “A review of online course dropout research: implications for practice and future research,” the authors Youngju Lee and Jaeho Choi analyze the different factors that lead to students dropping out of online courses. In this study, Lee and Choi found that there were 14 different types of psychological factors that led to dropouts; a staggering 20% of all the factors. Out of all of the other significant categories, psychological issues are by far the most impactful. This could be a result of the lack of MHL programs.

When schools are introduced to MHL programs, the overall mental quality of students goes up, showing that when they show the effort, schools can be able to correctly nurture students into being successful. On the smaller scales, different programs are working well. In the article “Promoting Mental Health Literacy in Schools,” a program derived from Canadian schools was implemented into a German school. Author Alexandra Fretian that this program will sufficiently increase students’ willingness to seek help, and decrease the amount of stigmatizing mental behaviors. While it has not been done yet, a nationwide plan was encouraged and may be feasible in the near future.

These small programs have shown to be helpful, but it is not yet the norm for the United States of America. Much like a pandemic for a disease, unless action is taken towards the majority, the ailment will remain a nuisance and detriment to any of those it affects. Young adults still have much to experience, so it is the duty of the programs before this adult life to suit these students with the skills necessary to succeed in the adult world. As of right now though, schools are set up not with the student in mind, but with the convenience of the program. In order to truly change the system, the very style of education our system currently uses needs to be rebuilt. Maybe then will our young generations be able to make it in the real world.


Corcoran, R.Children benefit when taught social and emotional skills—but some methods are better than others .

Fretian, A.Promoting mental health literacy in schools.

Jones, M., Baldi, C., Phillips, C., & Waikar, A.The Hard Truth About Soft Skills: What Recruiters Look for in Business Graduates .

Lee, Y., & Choi, J.A review of online course dropout research: implications for practice and future research.

Reddell, S.High Stakes Testing: Our Children at Risk .

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