Now, before I venture any further into this topic, allow me to stress that the opinions I shall express here are not based on pedagogical or psychological research of any kind. Nor are they supported or inspired by any education or learning theory. In addition, my convictions do not take sociological theories or frameworks into mind. I must add that I do not hold most theories and research in high regard. My assertion that high school is a tremendous waste of time is based almost exclusively on my experiences as a student and as a teacher and an intuitive sense that secondary education is a broken paradigm, one in need of a long overdue transformation, but that is currently being utilized for the overall purpose of time-wasting during an individual's formative years.
My first problem with secondary education is its curriculum. Though it may have served a useful societal function in the past, secondary school is little more than an unnecessary extension of primary school, and as such delivers limited returns on investment. With the exception of a few specialized science subjects and more advanced concepts in mathematics, high school students continue learning the same sorts of things they spend eight years of their lives learning in primary school. It’s no wonder most students check out altogether sometime in grade ten.
Much of what is taught in high schools could easily be shifted down to the primary school level, especially in years seven and eight, and yes, this includes more advanced skills such as algebra and calculus. We spend too much time babying kids in primary school, and this babying continues in high school where students are often fed challenging concepts and subjects too late. Though I am sure most would disagree, I believe primary school students are capable of learning a great deal more than what the primary curriculum currently offers.
Nearly all high school curricula also lean heavily toward indoctrination. Rather than teaching students solid, tangible skills, most high school subjects concentrate on discovering how students “feel” about things. Hence, a high school English class reading Romeo and Juliet will spend more time discussing how students feel about patriarchal oppression or the lack of women’s rights or diversity in Romeo and Juliet’s Verona than it will analyzing Shakespeare’s ingenious use of language.
Whether it is based in humanism or pragmatism or post-colonial anti-racism-pro-diversity-it’s a small-world-after-all–ism, secondary education is far more focused on getting students to think and feel “correctly” about things than it is about getting students to think. Though not many observers or critics make the explicit connection, the safe-space/snowflake culture dominating most university campuses in the West today bleeds into contemporary secondary school curriculums.
Another problem with high school curricula is high and low-achieving students – high achieving students often stagnant and become bored, while low achieving students become apathetic. Some high schools attempt to address this issue by including AP and other advanced courses for the higher achievers and technical and vocational training for the non-academically inclined students. I believe this is a good strategy overall, but then again the inclusion of AP courses and vocational training high school undermines the validity of high school to a certain extent. For example, what if high-achieving students were offered bona fide university courses instead of Advanced Placement courses? Conversely, what it non-academically inclined students were placed in long-term apprenticeship programs instead of being mandated to attend high school to read Audre Lorde poems?
One way to achieve this would be to extend primary school to include grade nine and scrap grades ten, eleven, and twelve altogether. If this were done, all students would stay in school until grade nine, or until they were roughly fourteen years old. After that, academically-inclined and gifted students would have the opportunity to enroll in university while those with more practical interests could pursue technical, vocational, or on the job training to learn skills and begin careers.
This kind of system would allow students to finish a BA or have useful job skills by the time they were seventeen/eighteen. This would instill a sense of responsibility in students and present them with meaningful challenges at a time in life when most hunger for meaningful challenges. It could also eliminate much of the apathy, indifference, and passivity high school education tends to breed by shortening or eliminating the perpetual state of adolescence, which extends well into adulthood for most people today. It would also allow students to get an earlier jump on life, by getting married at a younger age, entering work at a younger age, and having children at a younger . . . well, we certainly cannot have any of that can we?
Of course, the main problem with the kind of criticism I am indulging in here is the assumption from which one starts. My notion that high school is tremendous waste of time does not imply that I believe the rest of our education system is admirable or wonderful; nor am I suggesting that eliminating or reorganizing secondary education alone will lead to anything net-positive in the West. The West is corrupt to the core, and Western education plays a massive role in this terminal corruption. Reforming education would require a complete dismantling of the system, not just the elimination or restructuring of one of its components.
Regardless, in my opinion the chief purpose of secondary education in our contemporary system appears to be time-wasting and extending adolescence into perpetuity, and there is no evidence that this approach to secondary education will change in the future, especially when our contemporary obsession with "lifelong learning" is added into the mix.