DSY Installment 1 – The wounds and woes of the schooled mind

Welcome to the “deschool yourself” podcast.

Healing the fifteen thousand hour infliction of public school.

This eight-part podcast series explores the effects of schooling and its impact on our ability to flourish as productive, independent and happy adults. This series provides insights on how to reverse the negative effects of schooling for a better view of oneself and the world.

Hosted by Zak Slayback and Jeff Till.

Show outline below:

Persistent feeling of discontent, dissatisfaction, discomfort

If you are like so many people, maybe even most, you have a persistent feeling of discontentment in your personal and social life. It may be a dull sense of frustration. It may be a sense of inadequacy, like you aren’t doing enough, accomplishing the right things, or measuring up to how you are supposed to be.


Still might be busy

You might be crazily busy with nearly every moment of your life filled with activities, responsibilities and events, but you still feel like you aren’t accomplishing much.


Accomplishments don’t line up to your personal, intrinsic values

And what you are accomplishing doesn’t necessarily make sense or is aligned with your intrinsic desires or values. You may be doing everything correctly in life – the right college, the right job, the right career path, the right relationships, the right hobbies – but it personally doesn’t feel right.


Might be doing everything right

You may have garnered the approval of every entity and person that common society applauds. You got the right GPA, you attended (or attend) the right university, you have or are on track to the right job, and your escalation within your employer’s company is to be admired. Your parents and extended family may approve of your trajectory and accomplishments. As do your friends. Any sensible benchmark of what society deems right is being checked off, but, still, it doesn’t feel right.

You may have a panging desire to do what normal people do. Again, the right education, the right degree, the right job, the right relationship – all modeled after the American white ideal. You’ve been told about it by your parents, your teachers, your friends, the media. It’s in the TV shows and movies you’ve seen. It’s modeled by people in your life who others’ admire.

The financial and personal metrics all make sense. Right money in, right money out. Material possessions might stack up. The proper brand of car, the right house, the proper brands of clothing, etc.

But, still, it doesn’t feel right. You’re discontented.


Conveyor belt (or worse treadmill) mentality

Your time is tightly regimented. The alarm clock goes off in the morning. Precisely 8-10 hours is spent at school or work, with a modest lunch break largely scheduled for you. You are given instruction on how to complete your work. You have set objectives that you need to meet. You are trained on how to complete them. At five thirty or seven or sometime you are released to go home to get ready to do it all over again. Fun and relaxation are completed on the weekend, as expected.

Maybe you live close to where you grew up. Perhaps you haven’t thought about where you live or why. Vacation is a once or twice a year condensed commodity.

Expectations about how you live, how you study, how you work, how you behave and what you do are constantly being established from external motivators. The measuring stick of your life seems to belong to someone else, but not yourself. The stations of life move you along as if on a conveyor belt: first school, then college, then graduation, then working, then marriage, then family, then empty nesting, then retirement, and then finally: the void. The final goal is completing the conveyor belt as expected. Pleasure, finding yourself, exploring your love is something to be constantly deferred:

“Once the next step is achieved, I’ll get to be myself. I’ll get to be happy.”

Is this you? Or is this a little like you? Or have you felt this way?


Listing common frustrations and feelings

Have you:

  • Felt pressure to perform well in school, test well, do every assignment asked of you and get good grades? (Even if you didn’t actually do it)
  • Felt compelled to attend a certain college?
  • Like school, felt compelled to complete college, do your assignments, test well, and get the good GPA and diploma?
  • Felt like external credentials (HS diploma, graduate degree, college diploma) were absolutely essential to your future success?
  • Enter a career because it was what you were “supposed to do”?
  • Enter a career because it was considered stable, lucrative, respectable, etc., regardless of what you thought of the actual work tasks?
  • Let others control your schedule and time without your own consideration?
  • Purchased things you may not have really wanted?
  • Sought the approval of your parents, teachers, employers or friends at high costs to yourself?
  • Made large life-decisions (e.g., got to college, choose a job, get married, have children) automatically with little evaluation or thought to what you should decide?
  • Had trouble managing free time?
  • Struggle in seeking for “permission” to do something?
  • Had trouble being creative?
  • Felt like you needed to conform to others?
  • Had trouble directing yourself?
  • Felt frustration at your own inabilities and powerlessness?


For most people, this endless cycle of external obligations, external motivations, and external expectations controls their lives and minds. It becomes routine to complain about the routine. “Death and taxes, ha ha ha.” The conveyor belt of life is a state of nature, how we are “supposed” to be. And, sadly, the conveyor belt is a treadmill 90 percent of the time.


Or maybe it’s something else. Maybe something elusive and positive

Perhaps the negative situation described above doesn’t weigh on you mind. But you are still discontent with your life today.

Perhaps you know you could change your life for the better. For me personally, it was having what was considered a really good job, but knowing in my heart and mind that I could be doing something bigger and better. I knew that a path to self-dependence, bigger rewards, a huge jump in income, a better management of time and more autonomy would come if I could start my own business. I could see others doing it and knew that the path to a different kind of success came from taking a risk and being the boss of my own career. But it would involve risk, right? And lots of it. I knew I would have to take a shot if I wanted things to change, but for some reason, I was terrified, petrified to take action, even though I knew the only way to make the change was to do something different than I was doing.

Why the fear? If there is one has to change in order to realize change, then why the hesitation? Was something holding me back? Was I so engrained in my current state of nature that I could not seize an unconventional opportunity even though intellectually I knew it was right?

For many people, they can visualize a future that is better and different than the path they are on. But they can’t take it. Taking risks seems alien and unnatural. Change is something that they weren’t “taught” to do. Doing something different breaks out of society’s conformity. Change is not obedient to anybody. And there are no external expectations for it, only for maintaining the status quo.

It’s as if maybe we were trained to avoid risk, change and independence. As if those attributes were purposefully made alien and scary to us.


Or maybe it’s just a “blah” feeling of disinterest and apathy

For others, a persistent discontentment might come from being generally bored and disinterested in life. Perhaps the pursuit of new activities, self-growth, gaining new knowledge, taking risks and other change seems uninteresting or uninspired. Some people go through the motions of life – work, eating, chores, commuting, television – without motivation to do so or not. It may seem like the motivation to do things is always externally driven, such as when punishments were given by parents, grades by teachers, and performance review by employers. But when it comes to personally motivating change without an external guide, the feeling dissipates or doesn’t exist.

In truth, the intrinsic motivation to do something different may have been stolen or quashed. Or, intrinsic motivation may have been something to be learned or nurtured, but never was. Either way, its nonexistence creates apathy and unmotivated attitudes and behaviors.


Some people can’t seem to “grow up”

For others, they have trouble becoming true adults. Adult occupation escapes them. Adult relationships, either with friends, parents or even potential lovers don’t work out. They don’t leave home. They don’t pursue adult activities such as being self-reliant. They can’ take care of basic life activities that most adults do.

They are infantilized long past their teen years. Some of them may continue to live with their parents, depending on their financial support and direction. Some choose to stay in school as long as they can.

For some reason, they’ve been denied the tools of self-reliance. They’ve been seemingly trained to be dependent, or have been continually motivated to be dependent on outside authorities. Even the task of learning new things is something they are incapable of alone. They always need to be told what to do, given a pat on the head when they do something right, and have someone there to pick up the pieces when something goes wrong.


“I’m happy/free/creative when I…”

For others, they may realize that the peak times when they are genuinely happy or free or creative or productive or content comes at times that are wholly outside of the activities they are “supposed to” strive for. They’re the times when the activity pursued has little to nothing to do with the automatic mechanizations of life i.e., those automated stations one moves from as if on a conveyor belt – school to college to work to mortgage to family to retirement and so forth. The joy comes from breaking out of the status quo and where doing something different is a complete relief from reality. Perhaps it’s a hobby, or a sport, or when taking a risk, or being on vacation, or just when in a stress-free state of relaxation.

The biggest culprit of being unhappy/unfree/uncreative for many people is work. They may have a career that is based on somebody’s else’s expectation for them and measure their success at their job on extrinsic motivations (e.g., external approval, arbitrary metrics of title/compensation, expectations of authority or society, etc.,) These type of extrinsic motivations on what you are supposed to do or how you are supposed to behave, regardless of how happy they make you, is a lesson that is hammered in through school where all motivation comes from authority and measured arbitrarily with comparisons to others (e.g., testing, grades, diplomas, and so forth.)



Did something start to crack? Did the discontent gradually become exposed?

If you’ve self-identified with some of the symptoms above, or even if the topic of this book interested you, you’ve probably noticed that something is wrong with you and you’d like to change.

If you are at all like me, who attended the full 15,000 hours of public school and then 4,000-6,000 more at college, there was a moment where I realized something was wrong. The problem was creeping into my life, a feeling of discontentment matched with an urge to do something different, but also matched with a complete mental block on how to change and a simultaneous yearning to keep things the same.

And, if you are at all like me, the idea that I might have been “broken” by some externality, some giant raft of indoctrination and training, was a complete non-thought. An impossibility based on my undisputed history and state of nature, that of being schooled. This made it very, very hard to identify the source of discontentment, identify the reason I was adverse to action and change, and why thinking differently was so hard.


School might be to blame

A person’s discontentment with their life, their sense of obedience and conformity, the unwillingness to act, etc., may come from a lot of places. It may come from DNA, or from how somebody was parented. These are very likely. It may come from “society” or “culture.” It is, without doubt, reinforced by our media and our institutions.

It might also come from inside, meaning that each of us is our personal enabler or blocker to change. This is the healthiest of all positions because it puts the power to act and change, and ultimately this is the position one must obtain to change.

This said, what shapes most people for 15,000 hours during their childhood, starting at age five and lasting until age 18 or even the early twenties? It’s school. It’s the place where 7-8 hours a day we were taught that we had no power, we were taught to obey authority, we were gave tedious, often meaningless assignments to do, and we weren’t free to use the bathroom or get a sip of water without permission.

With this much time under the screws of the school institution, it is very possible that our fundamental abilities to think for ourselves, to direct our futures, has been damaged. How could it not? The schooling process, run by the government, grabbed most of us during our most developmental and vulnerable time. It would be impossible for this 15,000-hour process to not have inflicted deeply-penetrating, difficult-to-reverse behaviors and attitudes into our psyche.

The third chapter in this book will go into detail on what the schooling process has done to most of us who endured it.



Introducing “deschooling”

In order to reverse the oppressive effects that schooling had on people, in order to free themselves to take control of their lives and decision-making process, most people will have to take formal action to undo the damage the 15,000-hour schooling process incurred. This is called “deschooling”. It’s the purposeful set of activities, knowledge, behaviors, beliefs, tools, etc., that one needs to employ in order to reverse the effects of schooling. It’s a newish concept originally popularized by Ivan Illich in his 1971 book “Deschooling Society” and can mean different things[1]. For our purposes it means “reversing the effects of the 15,000-hour schooling process.”

At its core, deschooling represents some massively different changes in conventional thought that may seem incendiary, unnatural, hyperbolic or plain crazy. These uncommon attitudes or beliefs have to be first accepted before a deschooling process can occur. In this book, we will try to explain these beliefs in some detail even though the main scope of this book is deschooling, not simply a criticism of school itself[2]. These beliefs include:

  • The traditional and conventional idea of “school” is not about educating children, but instead a system of indoctrination intently focused on making children obedient, conformist and apathetic.
    This is a controversial idea in itself. We recommend that you do not dismiss it out of hand, but instead take an open-minded view of this notion as you continue reading. If this fact is not accepted, you’ll have no chance at reversing school’s damage.
  • That you, yourself, have been fundamentally damaged by the schooling process to the point where it affects your ability to act and change, think about risk, take care of your desires and alleviate your fears.
  • That reversing the effects of school will be a powerful way to enable your mind and body to do new things, to mitigate discontentment, and empower yourself to treat opportunity, authority, ability, attitudes and risk in whole new ways. Or, at the minimum, you will be better prepared to deal with frustrations that were born from the school experience.
  • That you will begin practices (most of them mental or contemplative in nature) to work through your deschooling process.


Paths to awakening and deschooling

There are very, very few don’t need to deschool as they were never schooled in the first place. Homeschooled children are exceptionally rare (only three percent of the population), especially those that didn’t replicate a schooling process (a fraction of those three percent.)

Here Jeff stops writing prose

  • Perhaps others were immune to school.
  • Most don’t
  • Some bumble through a change, but never identify school as a source issue and sort of make up their own path to a new normalcy
  • Others, like me, bumble through like above and then only towards the end of their deschooling process do they identify school as the source
  • Others, like Zak, identify early and can have a purposeful and planned path or method to deschool themselves.
  • Hopefully many more, partially due to books like this, will identify their schooled pasts and will be able to act.

To flesh this out, we’ll start by examining who you might have been before school and then take a deep look into what schooling might have inflicted upon you.

[1] Some use the term to mean the same as “unschooling” which is removing children from the schooling environment and giving them freedom to learn on their own terms. Others use “deschooling” to mean the decompression or conversion time between taking a child out of school and converting to homeschooling. Both of these meanings good and noble, and essential for mitigating schooling before it begins, but this book focused on those adults who already went through the entire schooling process.

[2] There are entire, wonderful books on this subject. Please see our appendix for a suggested reading list.

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