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The Harmful Effects Of Mainstream Schooling.

There exists an ever growing body of evidence that suggests the school system is very far away indeed from being an optimum environment to encourage learning. Indeed, the system frequently destroys any potential love of learning the child may otherwise have developed.

The main characteristics of the schooling system that may be particularly unhelpful are summarised below:


1) The Strong Element of Compulsion:

Children are essentially forced to learn things which may neither be of intrinsic benefit to the child nor interest him. Children are largely expected to all learn the same things ; this, of course, means individual differences, interests and talents are frequently overlooked.

Oppressively frequent standardised testing is not conducive to the development of creativity in the child, nor is the control and regulation that is a part of the school system.

Indeed, in order for the child’s natural inclination to be creative to flourish, environments in which learning is non-directive and not rigidly regulated are much to be preferred so that the child’s creative instincts are not systematically stifled.

Research has found that children tend to produce more creative work when they do not believe anyone is going to judge and evaluate it.

Knowing one’s work is going to be assessed by others can create stress that inhibits creativity and spontaneity.

2) Conformity.

School tends to encourage everyone to be pretty much the same as each other (a main reason most schools in the UK make all their pupils adhere to a strict uniform policy). Students are all encouraged to do well by an extrinsic reward system (for example, high grades, university entrance) which detracts from any idea of making the work they do rewarding in and of itself, irrespective of external rewards it may lead to.

This tends to produce a mindset that leads people who have been educated in such a manner to seek ‘respectable’ (but soul-destroying) careers which offer high extrinsic rewards (such as money, company car etc) rather than careers which are intrinsically rewarding (in other words, work that the individual finds deeply personally fulfilling irrespective of any extrinsic rewards it may bring).

Those who choose careers for their extrinsic rewards such as money, once they realise money (or some other extrinsic reward) doesn’t make them feel as good as they thought it would, often deeply regret their choice of a profession. And, as their error gradually dawns on them, it leaves them feeling utterly bereft of any semblance of a sense of personal fulfilment or meaningfulness in relation to their work.

One person I know fell into this trap by becoming an accountant, and, to extricate himself from his mind-numbingly tedious profession, changed his career to social worker, even though this involved paying for training and then a fifty per cent cut in his income. It worked ; he is much happier now and feels he is doing something both personally fulfilling and of tangible social value.


3) Rebelliousness.

Many young people are particularly unsuited, in terms of their natural temperament, to the school learning regime. This results in such individuals becoming bored, frustrated, resentful and, perhaps, angry in response to the system (dramatized particularly well in the Pink Floyd song and video, Another Brick In The Wall).

images (1)

Above: Lyrics from the Pink Floyd classic, Another Brick In The Wall. (The reference to drugs presumably alludes to the sometimes inappropriate diagnosis, and ‘treatment’, of so-called ADHD).

Essentially, in such circumstances, the individual and unique needs of the child are not being met, and, if the child finds it difficult to conform to the school’s rigid and inflexible expectations, he is generally blamed and punished, which, one hardly needs to be a genius to deduce, is highly likely to simply exacerbate the problem.

It should also be noted that people with rebellious natures are vital to the progress of society,  think Martin Luther King and the Suffragettes, to take just two examples from history.

4) Devaluation of the Child’s Innate Abilities.

For example, in the UK, children are subjected to standardised testing at a very young age, and, from then on, for the next thirteen years, they are constantly evaluated and compared to their peers.

Those who are unsuited to such an oppressive and stressful evaluation process and are regarded by others as ‘failures’ may well internalise this and start to believe they are ‘of little worth.’ However, they may have great talents, in other areas, that the school fails to identify, nurture and develop.

5) Perfectionism.

Some students who are constantly pushed to do better and better, and who equate their human worth with their academic performance, may become obsessive about always doing exceptionally well, and develop the debilitating attitude of perfectionism that plagues them throughout their lives.

6) Reinforcement of the Economic Divide:

Research shows that those students who come from well off homes do better at school, on average, than those less fortunate children who come from poor families. This is because, for example, wealthier parents are able to provide their children with extra learning resources (such as books) and private tuition.

As these children from wealthier backgrounds do better, they tend to go on to earn more in their careers than the less fortunate children go on to earn, thus perpetuating the economic divide.

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

Pathological Perfectionism May Be Linked To Childhood

pathological perfectionism

A person who is a pathological perfectionist may be defined as one who feels obsessively driven to continually meet the exceptionally exacting standards s/he invariably sets him/ herself AND this behaviour leads to significantly adverse effects. FURTHERMORE, a person suffering from this is too dependent on performing exceptionally well to maintain his/her self-esteem.

Negative Consequences Of Pathological Perfectionism May Include:

 – social isolation (so busy trying to attain great success the person is likely to have little time to socialise/ maintain a relationship)

– no hobbies/ no time spent on recreation (s/he may see these things as a ‘waste of time’ and/or feel guilty about undertaking such ‘frivolities’

– limited range of interests

– exhaustion

– insomnia

– poor concentration

– obsessive preoccupation with errors/perceived failure

– constant self-criticism

fear of failure leading to procrastination and avoidance of tasks


Pathological Perfectionism May Also Increase The Chances Of Developing Conditions Such As The Following:

– depression

– anxiety

– obsessive-compulsive disorder

– insomnia

– eating disorders ( e.g in quest to have ‘perfect’ body)

Futile Treadmill:

Pathological perfectionists are likely to discount, dismiss or minimize their successes and fixate only on how they perceive themselves to have ‘fallen short’. No amount of success satisfies them, they always need to do better and achieve more.

In this way, they become trapped on an exhausting, debilitating treadmill, never reaching their ‘destination.’ An utterly futile exercise.

Of course, striving for success can also be undertaken in a more psychologically and physically healthy manner. There is no set point when striving for success becomes so intense and obsessive that it could be termed ‘pathological’, but the more negative consequences it gives rise to, the more likely it becomes that it could reasonably be so categorised.

Also, when deciding if one’s perfectionism is pathological, to what degree one’s self-esteem is dependent upon always achieving great success is a particularly important consideration; the greater the dependency, the more unhealthy the person’s mode of perfectionism is likely to be.

Do Certain Types Of Childhood Increase A Person’s Likelihood Of Developing Pathological Perfectionism?

It is likely that genetic inheritance can put a person at greater risk of developing pathological perfectionism than average. However, so far the research suggests that environment plays a larger role.

For example, if one was brought up by parents who only showed their offspring affection and approval when they excelled in their activities (in other words, the parents’ love was conditional upon the offspring’s achievement levels – eg academic, sporting, musical achievement etc – click here to read my article about problems gifted children may face) such offspring might grow up to develop pathological perfectionism ( in an attempt, conscious or unconscious, to win/ keep their parents’ love).

Also, if one experienced a childhood in which there was significant psychological upheaval and one grew up, in consequence,with a deep sense of life ‘being out of control’, one may become a pathological perfectionist in an attempt to compensate for this. A workaholic, for example, may be so driven in his/her work/career as all other areas of his/ her life feel out of control.


Pathological perfectionism can respond very well to cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT). Also, if the perfectionism is linked to other conditions (as mentioned above), these too may improve if pathological perfectionism is successfully treated.

Perfectionism And Comorbid Psychological Problems

Psychological conditions that frequently occur comorbidly (simultaneously) with perfectionism include the following

– anxiety

– social anxiety

– eating disorders

– depression

– obsessive – compulsive disorder

Let’s look at each of these briefly in turn

1) Anxiety may be linked to perfectionism because one feels constantly under pressure to reach exacting standards which are often, in fact, unobtainable, thus dooming one to perceived ‘failure’.

2) Social anxiety may be linked to perfectionism because one is always nervous in social situations that one’s ‘performance’ may be less than perfect and that one will make a faux pas or show oneself up in some way

3) Eating disorders may be linked to perfectionism if one is obsessed with gaining the ‘perfect’ body as such an obsession can lead to the development of anorexia nervosa or bulimia.

4) Depression may be linked to perfectionism because if one sets impossibly high standards for oneself one is likely to be constantly oppressed by a subjective sense of ‘failure’ and of ‘not being good enough.’

5) Obsessivecompulsive disorder may be linked to perfectionism. For example, one may be obsessed with ‘perfect’ household cleanliness and therefore feel compelled to spend extreme and excessive amounts of time cleaning and re-cleaning it to the point that it seriously diminishes one’s quality of life.



David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).


Perfectionism Linked To Having Inflexible, Authoritarian Parents

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

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