305 points by jelliclesfarm
14 days ago
I feel like this is because school, especially college, and particularly exams, is about as high-stakes as most people's lives ever get, so they look back at that time as peak-anxiety. Think about it: you're being evaluated and the result of that evaluation shapes the next step in the pipeline, and ultimately the trajectory of the rest of your life! Well, at least that's what the university officials, professors, your peers and parents all tell you. You pretty much have a series of "one chance" events that you must pass or you're done for. Failure of any step is permanent, and affects your average (seemingly) forever.
The whole path from elementary school through to college graduation feels like a career development game where the stakes are raised every year. Fail once off the path, and it's Walmart Greeter for you, forever! It's no wonder I still wake up in a cold sweat over it, 30 years on.
When am sufficiently stressed at work - a recurring dream I have is that I am in the exam room ready to take a test, but did not study or I have mixed up the dates and came prepared for the wrong subject.
But overall school and college was a great experience - the tests and assignments sucked, but what I remember is the great friends that I made, the interesting people that I met and all the personal exploration that I did.
No regrets that I took my sweet time to finish undergrad, in the grand scheme of life it was not time wasted, but time well spent.
Adulting does not offer the same opportunities - so kids bask in your youth! It's fleeting and gone before you know it.
> so kids bask in your youth! It's fleeting and gone before you know it.
Depends on the perspective, I guess. I was working in several different places, and sometimes I had hard time. Even working in the worst places, I felt better than in school.
I hated elementary school, because kids were cruel (some time I came back to home with chocking marks) and teachers decided to just not see bullying. Or decided to give me a hard time, too. When someone destroyed my textbook by writing on it while I was not at the desk, I got note to the parents because supposedly I told someone to do that.
I kinda liked liceum because finally people were more mature. But man, long term, it was very exhausting. The lesson schedule looked like it was set randomly. For example, in second class, being 16-17 yo, Thursdays I had lessons from 9 AM to 6 PM, and the next day I was starting at 7 AM. I was tired all the time and had no time for social interactions.
Please note that the following paragraph is not personal. It applies to the entire phenomenon. For me, it is annoying when grown-ups tell children that it is the best time in their life. When I was a kid, I felt fear a lot. As a teenager, I was depressed and tired all the time. And, you know, if it is the best time in my life, why should I care about my future at all? It is going to be terrible anyway...
Everyone has its own perspective. Maybe you had great time in school. Maybe for my mother, school years actually are the best years of her life. But telling young people that they are living the best time in their lives, and it will be only worse later, is... unfair.
I share your experience. I always felt out of place and struggled through school. Tired, extremely bored, constantly felt inadequate. There were a few teachers that basically carried me through because they saw something in me. But other than that it often felt like torture.
I want to echo this sentiment, albeit for different reasons.
When I have a particularly bad day as an adult, I often think back to being a child (or worse, teenager) in school forced to follow arbitrary rules by tired adults who were more interested in making sure nobody wore a baseball cap than keeping kids safe from anaphylactic allergic reactions.
When I think back to my school days and how anxious, stressed, unheard, and restricted I felt almost 100% of the time, I usually feel immediately better.
I remember being 16 in high school, and during the school day I couldn't just take a walk, because that would be truancy to skip class.
I couldn't just take a walk at night because our municipality instituted a curfew past I don't know, 10pm or something for those under 18, and a police car actively patrolled my neighborhood for violations.
I lived 18 years like that. Allowed to make no choices about where I went to school or at what time.
So now, as an adult, sometimes I just exit my apartment and walk down a city street when I feel like it, and it feels extremely empowering.
Taking a mental health day and not showing up to work, or better yet, handing in my resignation, also feel extremely empowering.
From my perspective, being a child sucked. I hated almost every moment of it, despite being reasonably popular in high school, having a close circle of friends, and never worrying about my grades.
Being an adult is amazing by comparison and I would never want to go back.
But I also understand that to some degree, that's a result of the freedom that comes with a high salary and an in-demand skillset that allow me to leave jobs and take days off with little risk. Many adults don't have that opportunity, and I totally understand how in some cases they could see their childhood as having been better due to a lack of responsibilities.
I don't think it's a perspective - I believe I was fortunate to have the support system that I had. As a child you are supposed to be protected and cared for. And I hope that I can do the same for my children.
Maybe you mistook my perspective for hubris - but it is what childhood should be - innocent and pure and if it's not, then society is failing.
I am sorry if I misunderstand something here – to be honest, English never was my forte, so I may miss some subtlety.
I did not take your post as a form of hubris. What I meant when I wrote about perspective is that personal experiences shape our assessment of reality. I agree that childhood should be innocent and pure. But sometimes, it is not.
No offense taken at all - I agree those formative years of childhood shape our view of the world.
Hope we don't let the bad experiences color the future.
Very much agree with this. I often (day-)dream about using a time machine to tell my younger self a few words that would have changed the whole experience drastically. The main advice would be: stop trying to care. You, my young friend, are not the stakeholder in the institutions you're forced to attend. The system doesn't have your well-being and your benefit as a first priority. The interests of the faculty, parents, and in some cases future employers, are much more important, and you have no way to influence that, no matter what you do. When they think about you it's invariably an afterthought and they have a world of incentives to deny reality, bias the analyses, and treat you and your friends as means to some end.
I hated school. I hated the inadequacy of lesson - some were obviously way too easy for me, while others way too hard. The number of lesson hours per week per subject didn't align with my interests nor the difficulty of the subject. The amount of wasted time was staggering. For example, it so happened that I didn't attend high-school for half a year in my fourth semester. I had enough scores in some subjects to pass, but for a few I didn't, and was given a few weeks to prepare for oral exams. I managed to learn half a year worth of biology, history, and chemistry in 3 weeks, and passed the exams. It was a Pyrrhic victory - I passed to the next grade, but at the same time I realized that I'm wasting (6 months - a few weeks) each semester. I started questioning the meaning of going to school; I realized that I could learn faster on my own, then realized that I would have learned a whole lot more if I could learn with a mentor who'd have my best interests in mind. I also realized that no teacher has an interest in working with someone like me, and that the system is actively hostile to all the non-standard approaches and needs. By the next year, I was diagnosed with depression and missed the whole year while trying to come to grips with that harsh reality.
Later on, I was locked in a constant harassment from an English teacher (a second language here). I learned English in private lessons and on the Internet and I was good at it. That was unacceptable for her. I was to sit quietly in the corner and when I tried to participate in the lesson, I was branded her enemy. The unfair treatment was to the point where I barely graduated, yet I got 97% score on the matriculation exam. I had an urge to find her and throw the results in her face, but I knew I would never recover the lost time and expended psychological effort to persevere.
If I could do it all again, I would focus all I had on breaking out of the system. That system very obviously wasn't made for people like me, but I felt helpless, knowing there's no alternative. It was wrong. The alternatives are always there, even if deliberately hidden as to not "encourage abnormal behavior". I could have tried harder to get away from the system that damaged my health and gave me next to nothing in exchange. And if I couldn't find an alternative, I would have changed my attitude at least: look, Mr. teacher, you're being paid to teach me, and I'm not being paid to learn. So, Mr. teacher, act like I'm a paying customer, please. Because otherwise, Mr. teacher, I'll go through all possible means to fuck you up, cheerfully and as a hobby. Just as you've been doing to me all this time.
Hell, I have dreams that I've forgotten to attend class all semester long in grad school and the final exam is tomorrow, and I never even went to grad school! It's like my brain subconsciously realized the undergrad panic dreams no longer make sense as that's too long ago, so now they've evolved to something more suitable for later in life, even though I never did that thing.
This is my dream as well. About 10 years (god has it been that long?) ago I took an informal poll of my small office and was shocked at how many of them had this specific dream. Not just some school anxiety dream. That specific dream where you have a class you either forgot you enrolled in or never attended and have the final coming up. It was like 60% of the office!
This is my common dream too. I realize that I’ve missed class all semester long and I try to show up without looking weird.
God, to make these dreams even worse, I once literally did completely miss an exam in college, as in, I somehow missed the announcement of when it would be, and skipped the study period in the morning when it was given, and then only learned about it later that day in the lecture when everyone was talking about the exam!
Once you actually live that experience, it (or versions of it) will haunt your nightmares for the rest of your life.
I have had a few dreams about forgetting that I have registered for a class, and realizing late that I have an exam.
A more recurrent dream for me is finding myself in the backseat of an empty, moving car, able to reach the steering wheel, but unable to control the brakes.
I wonder what this means. It is unnerving.
I've had that backseat driving one a lot, and it tends to come and go throughout my life.
Sometimes I'm alone in the car. Other times there is someone else in the front but they are incapacitated, or unwilling to bring the car back under control. I'm usually alone, though.
On a few occasions I was able to climb into the front seat, but of course then the brakes either did nothing or were so ineffectual that trying to use them to slow down only distracted me and made matters worse.
I am not a psychologist nor a mind reader.. but
(1) do you have a feeling that you have control of your own life? Maybe it feels that you are in a prison where "your hand is forced" and you cannot take own decisions, have to play the bad hand you received
(2) are you doing something risky, like working in a failing start up? Or a company thay is going towards bankruptcy?
I have one a lot where I’m driving on a narrow curvy overpass with no guardrails and I fall off, what’s worse my loved ones are with me
Wow I have had a dream very similar quite a few times. I'm driving on some very unstable road, often made of sand and the car falls into the lower levels of that road, getting stuck... Sometimes it's a curvy bridge the car needs to climb and it constantly tends to fall off. I thought the school exams were the only common dreams that I had, but at appears that similar ones to this one is dreamt by others too!
Yeah it’s very surreal, during the dream I realize that hmm, this is pretty dangerous, but am still somehow casual about it, and then I don’t complete the turn and the car starts plummeting down and I start saying I love yous and I wake up
It really sucks lol
It's such a common dream! I wonder how school-themed stress dreams would have manifested for people who lived before what we would recognize as "modern" educations system...
We could look at old journals. Maybe people who kept them wrote down their dreams.
Here's one from the early 20th century: https://nautil.us/read-the-lost-dream-journal-of-the-man-who...
There were indeed dreaming of school:
> I am an assistant professor. Suddenly I receive express orders from the dean to teach osteology at the very last minute. Anxiety, anguish * * * when going over the bones in my memory. I enumerate those of the hand: scaphoids, capitate, and I did not know any more. Meanwhile the class awaits me, the students yell. I ask to myself how I will lecture about bones if I have almost forgotten them? Growing anguish and I awaken with a sense of well-being, upon realizing that I am not a professor, I am old and no one is directing me.
I legit had a dream recently that I had enrolled in a graduate degree and then forgotten I was enrolled for months and now it was a week before exam time I had just had a realisation of "Oh hey, didn't I enrol in a degree?"
I have no idea where that dream came from or why I had it. I have never had a "didn't study" dream before, university was a relatively stress free time for me compared to my earlier years
haha, that's what gets me
I guess I'm brimming with enough (over)confidence to avoid the "didn't study" dreams or the "sitting in the back seat of an empty car" dreams, but I occasionally dream I signed up for some class and then didn't bother to attend it, wasting my time and snubbing the teacher.. "ah shoot, sorry guys"
The weird thing is while I was at uni I went to all my lectures, so I have no idea where the fear comes from
I have persistent dreams in which I decide to change my career to something more interesting, but requiring a different university degree that the one I have now (CS). In these dreams, I decide to go back to high school to improve on my final grades, so that I have higher chance of getting into my new university of choice (HS grades are a large component of that in Poland). Through these dreams, I attend the HS classes (as a 40-year old), sweat about the homework and exams etc. It's not a nightmare, it's just bizzare.
Oh my god it's due today -- wait I never even have been to that class all semester -- Oh no oh no oh no
Mine was that I had forgotten to take a class or that the records were lost and I had to redo the last years of college. It was a nightmare I had even a decade after getting my degree.
Same here -- my classmates and I go back to high school for taking one history class, as due to administrative difficulties one requirement for the degree was not met, and noone noticed until now. I went there more than 20 years ago.
Ughhh, I had a dream within the last couple months where I had to go back to high school for a very similar reason, to finish one last class or something. I couldn't tell you why, as things in dreams often don't make sense, other than that I had to. And it was very strange having to be in those hallways with all the school kids as an adult.
> I have dreams that I've forgotten to attend class all semester long
This one is a recurring dream for me and sometimes the context is middle or high school which makes even less sense.
Yes, I have this recurring nightmare maybe once a year and I graduated more than a decade ago. I am all stressed out because I realize I haven't attended one of my classes even once because I completely forgot about it.
These are the dreams that I have all the time as well. Usually the set up is: I dropped a class but it didn't go through in the system, I go all semester not attending said class thinking that I had dropped it, but then the last week of the semester comes and I realize that I am failing the class from missed assignments and tests, and the only way out is to ace a final I know nothing about so I can scrape by with a C.
I had a recurring dream for a few years after I'd graduated that I still had to sit my final year! The dream was so real one time that I woke in a panic and check my certificates to make sure! I studied in my thirtees as it was something I'd always wanted to do, so although I didn't have any career aspiration pressure the finals were stressful enough and I wonder if this was some sort of sub-consious shedding. Interesting to read the comments about similar experiences.
I have the same dream, except it's a marching band competition instead of final exams.
I have a recurring dream where the university revokes my diploma years after graduating because I actually somehow dropped out of all my classes and forgot to finish the final projects/exams.
That never happened, but I did drop a couple classes before the withdrawal deadline to fix the workload. It feels so real though.
I have variants of this. I have a diploma but I took a class and failed it after and that dropped me below a certain gpa and my diploma gets revoked.
Or I don’t have a HS diploma even though I graduated college and have had a job for 20 years.
For me, that is a common setup for a dream where I then have to take high-school or college classes again as my adult self.
In my opinion...
You earned your degree, and your subconscious needs to needs to acknowledge it.
Why would you be drug down by this question? Perhaps there is a deeper reason.
“Dig deep within yourself, for there is a fountain of goodness ever ready. Dig deep, and it will ever flow." -Marcus Aurelius
I dropped out of college and never have the forgotten exam dreams. However I did do four years of theater and I regularly have the opening night, don't know my lines nightmare.
I honestly have recurring PTSD from some of the violence I was forced to walk into day after day to graduate, where all school authorities were more interested in a coverup than helping. My grades were shockingly not that good in this environment and I was just told I was too stupid to learn any topic about computers I wanted and had to learn some less prestigious topics after graduation. In this environment I could hardly enjoy good times with friends, there was just too much of a shadow lurking over the whole thing.
I had to leave school to learn, and now that I’m a computer programmer, I feel apprehension that I might have to go back to school to four years to pretend to learn topics I learned independently just to assuage the school systems ego enough that they will give me an accreditation. The idea of going back to school makes me tense up at this point. Adulthood is so much less traumatizing because it feels like you have so much more choice to avoid abuse, and you can choose to confront abusive situations on your own schedule. You’re valued for so many more reasons than your ability to tolerate abuse and produce good test scores.
> When am sufficiently stressed at work - a recurring dream I have is that I am in the exam room ready to take a test, but did not study or I have mixed up the dates and came prepared for the wrong subject.
Because my high school Biology course (A Levels in the UK) was divided into modules assessed throughout two years I came to the last exam pretty sure that I didn't have to score many marks to get the grade I was aiming for.
I ended up in a weird situation where my instinct was to prepare really well but, in practice, I should skimp on revision for Biology and concentrate on subjects that weighted the end-of-year exams higher.
The strategy worked out - I hit what I was aiming for in Biology and in the other subjects. But that whole very tactical approach so went against my character that, to this day, anxiety dreams manifest about not having done the work for that specific exam. Often they're further exaggerated (e.g. I've simply forgotten to go to any lessons all year, etc) but it focuses around that event.
I find it weird that my subconscious prefers that over arguably even more stressful (and sometimes less successful!) exams at university. Maybe I was just more equipped to deal with it by then.
Clearly we didn't have the same experience at school. I'd never go back, not for anything. I'm glad you had a better time.
> recurring dream I have is that I am in the exam room ready to take a test, but did not study or I have mixed up the dates and came prepared for the wrong subject.
I get these exact nightmares. I wonder how common is this.
I have no idea how common the nightmare is. I have never had them. But I did mix up the dates for my exam.
My friend called me as I was about to go to the gym and asked where I was, with a very concerned voice. It turned out that I was supposed to be at an exam. I rushed home, changed clothes and went like crazy to school. Luckily they let me in as the last one of the day - of course I had not prepared in the slightest - but did absolutely fine :)
I have pretty much these same dreams, about once a year. My undergraduate was traumatizing. Yet I look back on it fondly 15y later. Kinda messed up
School is supposedly the best experience in life, and simultaneously the most frequent source of nightmares decades later. What a curious coincidence!
Haha.. jeez. Never thought about it like that.
> is about as high-stakes as most people's lives ever get
I don't think that's the case, but more that kids are being put in these "high stakes" situations without the mental capacity to handle them. Turning in an assignment late, underpreparing or waking up late for an exam, getting a B+ instead of an A, fumbling during a presentation – these are all insignificant and completely artificial problems in the grand scheme of life. However when you are a student going through them it feels like the end of the world, and that memory sticks.
I think a lot more people are struggling between passing and failing than getting a B instead of an A.
True, but as you get further towards "A" average, the seeming difference between an A and a B gets more important.
The only person I have ever known to have cried over grades was someone who cried over getting a B+ instead of an A. I know many more people who got D's instead of C's -- they didn't care.
I cared when I got a D instead of a C in my statistics course, but only because I retook it to get the D off my transcript. What really stung was I got the basically the same grade the second time around, but the professor (same professor) did a curve that year. I replaced that D with an A. Where was that curve the first time around?
Yeah, MIT versus SUNY essentially. I got A-Bish grade average but did well enough on the SAT to get a scholarship to a SUNY and said F it to the prestigious schools. Happily in less debt now. Didn't make a difference (well, retrospectively, perhaps in a different timeline, I'm a well-respected researcher with a PHD.)
I really wish school could some how be completely overhauled to project-based learning. I feel live tests and exams optimize for the wrong thing and in general don’t help anyone except making it easier for schools to score students.
I usually learned the most out of take-home exams. You’d usually need to study and brush up on things, but then having a week to thoroughly work out everything was always a great learning experience. It is a way of the professor saying “you should know this and if not, know how to figure it out”. It was an actually good test of your knowledge and skill and didn’t rely on being able to spit something out in one or two hours in a stressful environment.
I think you’re right that no adult experiences moments like you get in school exams. Almost never are you required to know some relatively arbitrary thing or solve some problem within an hour or teo. There are crunches and moments of needing to fix something quickly and important presentations, but in every case you are presented with something you already know about or have day to day experience with. And failure is usually not some drastic adjustment of your future. If the professor is not good, which is the norm, then exams are a bit of a toss up.
It would be nice if they were able to emulate some of the more security focused interviews I've had. It consists of sitting in a room, and just a discussion about random things. For example, say an operating systems final, where it consists of you sitting with a professor and just having a conversation about the class, like "Tell me what you understand about access times for devices? What about x, y and z?'. I know there's biases, but I feel like when a person can use conversational computer science about the subject, it shows they understand the concepts enough and are ready for the real world.
At my current company, the security positions are focuses like that and actually test people, the Dev interviews are two leetcode questions and a conversation to make sure you arn't a complete dunce. I havn't met a single dumb person on the other side of the fence, but I have met alot of dumb devs here.
This. school isn't teaching you the topic, it's teaching you to pass an exam. I had a physics teacher that fully understood this. All we did was past papers for like 6 months of I don't really remember much physics but I got a good grade in this class and it helped get me into uni so who cares.
If schools really cared about passing on knowledge then most things should be project/course-work based with a small write-up explaining what you did etc depending on the subject to make sure you know what you're talking about.
though we'd probably see much higher grades overall, but we wouldn't know if this is because it's a better way to judge knowledge or because the teacher just told them what to write.
The primary problems arise from (1) mass education and (2) cheating.
Project-based learning can't be managed with 40:1 student teacher ratios. The best learning has always come from projects and apprenticeship/mentorship style systems, but even managing that with 3 classes with a 10:1 student teacher ratio becomes hard. This should make sense, almost all the economic evidence is that parent characteristics are hands down the largest factors in what a kid's future income will be (mentorship).
Cheating is rampant which is why take-home exams rarely exist.
The reality is the world would be far better off with 3 times as many teacher, but you can't keep teachers wages as high as they are with 3 times the supply.
I left high school in junior year (intending to go straight to college — didn't work out, long story). I took the GED test, and I was SO MAD because I realized I could have aced that test straight out of 8th grade.
Has anyone ever asked about my GED? No. Lol. Has lacking a college degree held me back? No (though there are definitely fields where it would have).
One of the hardest parts of young adulthood is sorting out which bits of "received wisdom" actually deserve that label versus being cached now-bullshit that your parents and teachers don't know is obsolete. My parents were right about a lot of interpersonal stuff, but dead wrong about whether I needed to go to college in order to obtain good jobs.
Yeah, and all the advice we get is lagged by 10-20 years. Parents are pretty far removed from the reality of entry level job markets and changes in industries
> One of the hardest parts of young adulthood is sorting out which bits of "received wisdom" actually deserve that label versus being cached now-bullshit
This actually never stops I think.
In California you can't take the test until you're 18 (or perhaps a year or two earlier if you can convince your local school district to give you permission).
It appears that the limits for the CHSPE are still being at least 16 years old, or having completed part of tenth grade, which have been the requirements for as long as I can remember. However, it does appear the interpretation of that has changed. When I took it, if you were home schooled, even if you were home schooled for the express purpose of taking the exam, you could have your parents attest that you were working at a tenth grade level; I took it when I was thirteen by doing this, and know a number of others, some considerably younger, who did as well. It appears that the current requirements actually do require some form of official school district approval, which may have been in response to that method of taking the test early. If that's the case, it's unfortunate; I certainly don't regret having taking the route I took. If anything, I somewhat regret listening to the advice of those around me who kept advising me against it, and giving the normal school system, which made me miserable, more chances than I needed to.
As for the commenter's point on people caring or not caring about the GED/CHSPE; apart from needing it for my initial community college admission immediately after getting it, it never came up for me at all, despite teachers insisting for years that getting a diploma that way would ruin us. I don't even remember any the details of it, or where the documentation is: there's little point in having anything pre-university on a CV.
Huh, didn't realize that. I was on the older side for my grade — turned 18 at the end of junior year – so I guess it didn't come up.
That's what I find fascinating honestly. We let our kids undergo grueling periods while we as adults live a leisurely life. Kids have incredible strict rules to adhere to. It was almost completely unheard of for a kid to come in late in school. Kids can't do the things they want to do because parents stop them. That in combination with the high-pressure environment of school... I think the only reason they accept it is because they don't know any better.
Comparatively most adults have incredible comfortable lives. Besides going to work they can basically do whatever they want. There is no pressure to strive for anything. It's baffling to me how people can lay such high pressure on their children but let themselves go in their own life.
>It's baffling to me how people can lay such high pressure on their children but let themselves go in their own life.
The reason why most adults are not very motivated when it comes to learning is because school has killed their learn drive. The recurring dreams may very well be a sign of a traumatic experience.
You can read more here: https://supermemo.guru/wiki/Learn_drive
Instead of putting pressure, parents should take away this very crippling aspect of today's schools by telling their children that grades are not so important and that the often required cramming does more harm than good.
If a child's learn drive survives school it will surpass many of its peers futher down the road.
I didn't mean learning specifically. Anything really.
Half joking: where can I find this adult leisure? School meant free food and post school meant (really, really) struggling to stay afloat financially. It took nearly a decade to get to a point where I could take a vacation without risk of financial ruin (like get evicted or not be able to pay for fuel to get to work). Now things are much better financially but I still don't do what i want to do because i still have a lot of responsibilities. My kids however are leisurely creatures who i wish would take school more seriously as I'm worried about their ability to support themselves as they come to that age.
Of course everyones adult life is different but if you have a decent job you generally never have to worry about money, unless you spend it on unneeded stuff(I admit this assumes a western country). That doesn't mean it matches your experience, but an outlier doesn't invalidate the general point I made.
> My kids however are leisurely creatures
How so? They are forced every weekday under duress of the law to go to a place they didn't choose to be. If they don't perform in their forced labor they are put into more forced labor. They have to listen to you and you probably very often take away their agency to do what they desire. Kids do have more "free" time, but that time is not actually free. But the way the can spend is very narrow. But more time does not equal better.
> Of course everyones adult life is different but if you have a decent job you generally never have to worry about money, unless you spend it on unneeded stuff(I admit this assumes a western country). That doesn't mean it matches your experience, but an outlier doesn't invalidate the general point I made.
You grew up middle or upper class and the person you’re responding to didn’t, or had no or very bad relations with their family such that they didn’t or couldn’t help.
Don’t forget that school is the most orderly environment lots of children experience, the one where they’re most likely to be around educated people, intellectual stimulation, the least violent, the one where they’re reliably fed. Without the pretense that it’s about education that would be hard to keep up.
It is all bullshit.
One of my favorite engineers dropped out of college because the university (UC) demanded an English proficiency test for the diploma after completing 4 years of of school.
Now they have 40+ patents and confounded 3 biotech companies with 9 digit exits.
Friends from the old days ironically refer to them as Dr.<Name> because they are the smartest person they know.
Sort of a community bestowed honorary doctorate.
I knew a few people who were stuck in that mindset of "if I don't get straight As in everything I'm going to be doomed forever" mindset in both highschool and university. It did not seem to make them very happy, and it's entirely bullshit, especially in highschool.
Eh, I still dream about school sometimes, and it was as low stakes as it can get for me.
I never studied for anything, never did any homework, and to enter university in Germany I just needed good enough grades to pass high school (Gymnasium). GPA was irrelevant.
Of course, I don't wake up with any cold sweat over it.
For me as well, in the last years of Gymnasium they didn't control homework or even attendance much. I missed many classes in the last 2-3 years, because I preferred to stay at home and get some sleep or whatever. Or maybe it is more that I missed most classes by sleeping in class. Memories are hazy at this point. Which could be one reason that I've started to have these dreams where I notice I didn't attend this particular class all year and it's too late.
In Poland, if you want to get into any university, High School diploma is all you need. However, if you want to go the best ones, or to a popular subject (psychology, computer science) in a mediocre one, you need good grades.
The situation is similar in Germany, where I grew up. You need good grades to study the popular subjects. For mathematics, they took anyone who was willing.
I've found that it also sets some really bad habits for the real world, particularly for the types of higher upside / capped downside scenarios that you often see in startups or some of the arts (eg trying to make it big as an actress).
>The whole path from elementary school through to college graduation feels like a career development game where the stakes are raised every year. Fail once off the path, and it's Walmart Greeter for you, forever! It's no wonder I still wake up in a cold sweat over it, 30 years on.
I do not agree with this at all.
I don't believe the commenter actually believes that today. But it certainly may be the story they were told growing up.
I never experienced any anxiety from exams or performing well in the elementary school. School was easy for me and also, coming from one of the Nordic welfare countries, I never thought that my life would somehow be ruined if I didn't do well in school. I felt much more anxiety about other kids in school since I was quite nerdy and didn't fit in well.
Consequently, I never have dreams about exams. However, I do have dreams that I have to go back to school as an adult for some reason (usually because I missed some classes or exams or something and I have to do them now). The dreams are also never about the actual classrooms but just hanging around in the school with the teenagers and feeling weird about it.
Same experience here and also from Nordic country. But tons of dreams where I'm in school only to realize I'm not wearing any pants.
Guess it's also compensated by the number of dreams where there are car problems and parking tickets of all kinds.
Similar for me, school was easy; you reminded me that I've had the same "oops, go back to an early year of school" dream.
I can't say I ever felt like that during school, Uni maybe a bit but not school. My final school year was stressful during exam time but that's to be expected I guess since my uni application hinged on my exam results.
But having said that I imagine it could feel pretty different depending on what expectations you set for yourself, or more importantly - what expectations your parents set for you. If you've got mum and dad looming over your shoulder 24/7 pushing you for more so you can be a doctor/lawyer/CEO/whatever then you're probably going to feel pretty differently about the whole situation.
I think this is only true because your life has been so short at that point. The idea of having to repeat an exam next quarter or god forbid, next year feels like an unacceptable waste of time
But it’s fairly hard to truly mess it up.
Similar here. Still have occasional nightmares about missed requirements 40 years on.
I think it has more to do with the "mode" in which a child brain is, absorbing and learning durably. I can look at a class photo from 30 years ago and name all the kids I was with. I will struggle with colleagues I worked with 5 years ago. I think that's why the stress and trauma you live through as a child follows you all your life the way an experience as an adult might not.
It took me five, almost six, years to graduate high school. Underachiever is an understatement. I still dream about not having graduated. It feels so real in the dream, the failure. I am a successful business owner who has no issues with financial security. My lizard brain or whatever it is just likes replaying it to screw with me I think.
Like other commenters, this doesn't fit my anecdotal evidence of sample size 1.
For me, both elementary and high school were easy. I would do a minimal amount of work, show up to the exam and get maximum marks. Exams weren't especially stressful.
As a stereotypical school nerd, PE was stressful though - I do remember lots of anxiety being asked to jump the vaulting horse, do somersaults, handstands, and that kind of things I wasn't able to do.
And yet, I regularly dream about not having passed some non-PE high-school subject and having to retake the exam and/or go to class (even when these subjects were easy for me) and don't dream about PE.
Just because it's easy doesn't mean it didn't worry you. I recall significant amounts of stress about passing tests on subjects I never got lower than an 80% on. Just always expecting to do the test, thinking I did well, and then get slapped with a fail. Never happened, still worried me.
I'd honestly not be surprised if the whole "dreams about school" thing turns out to be world-wide low grade PTSD.
I mean this in a polite way, but if college is the highest stakes one has experienced, then that's a pretty narrow experience of anxiety and difficulties life has to offer.
To me that seems like a very fortunate life experience.
School was not very stressful for me. I never had especially high grades, but didn't do that bad either (3.4ish GPA in undergrad). There were specific classes that were annoying either because of the content or teacher. I'm sure there was some temporary stress over a few of those finals, but not excessive.
Work is much more stressful and high stakes. There's no real structure, no contract or performance guide (like a syllabus), and I need this job to support my family. Getting another job would be very difficult.
I disagree with this. In school I didn't feel much anxiety and didn't try very hard at exams. I didn't think my life would be over if I didn't do this or that. I simply didn't have those thoughts back then.
Now I'm older I understand what stress is and I do feel like my actions (or inaction) could ruin the rest of my life. There have been several key moments in my adult life that I can pinpoint as high stakes and peak anxiety. Yet I still have the school dreams. I had one just last night, in fact.
The issue is, people believe that to be the case. That sixth grade exam on long division you got a 17/100 on? It doesn't really have any bearing on what you do as an adult.
> That sixth grade exam on long division
Do you mean 3rd grade?
GPA actually influences someone's life forever. if they go to "bad university", the shame on their intelligence will follow up until Death.
Interesting theory. One data point for your theory: i never dream of school - school was the easiest part of my life and i seldom prepared for tests. I viewed it all as a req'd time sink to get a good job to escape poverty. My equivalent dream is being unable to punch or fight (like a kitten could take the punishment and keep napping) or move fast enough.
I don’t know about that, I was never particularly stressed at college or school. I’m way, way more effected by stress at work where failure to deliver has massive consequences on the state of my startup or the lives of the people that work there.
> so they look back at that time as peak-anxiety
ok, that tracks because I don't look back on that as peak-anxiety, and I don't have dreams about being back in school. But I do have dreams about peak anxiety events that I will not be sharing here.
I think this is one of many explanations. While exams were stressful. I loved learning and would love to go back for my PhD or even a brand new discipline if I had the funds to support my family with that lifestyle.
It 100% was not most stressful for me. Personally, I was quite comfortable most of the time.
There was way more stress later on.
I'm still confused why school relies on single point of failure tests
It’s the easiest way to do ranking and sorting in a consistent way for large populations and reduces opportunities for corruption/favouritism/teacher bullying. Once you think of school as a place for ranking at least as much as for learning things make more sense.
> Fail once off the path, and it's Walmart Greeter for you, forever!
What? That's so far from the truth. If you fail in school you just get to try again. You may not get into Stanford but realistically your life can still be great no matter how many times you fail.
While true that's not the story I was told as a student.
I don't think the commenter still believes that. But it's certainly reflects what I was told by schools growing up. Friends aren't important and work hard else your life will be menial labor until you die.
But kids don't necessarily know it isn't true, that's the point. The stakes are made out to be much higher than they are.
I'm not really one to bash my country, the US, but we have to pay for school here so you really only get about 1 -> 1.5 shots before your debt is too high to keep attending.
It depends on the school. Public schools are pretty cheap at the "worries about failing" level where you can start at an AA/AS school.
Most definitely. When I was doing computer science the threat of failing a class and costing myself money and sure that I was anxious pretty much the entire time I was in college. I had a lot of fun though
There isn't a week when I don't have a day where I feel like a total monster at 7:15am trying like crazy to motivate my frustrated and anxious teenager off to high school and asking her about her homework and the like...
And then promptly waltz upstairs with my coffee, sit in front my computer, read the news and (mostly) happily write program on computers all day, while playing with my border collies and walking through my hobby vineyard in my spare time.
School sucked for me, and I kinda... turned out despite it... but I somehow have to get my kids through it.
Naive question here: I've wondered about this. Non-parent here (so far), so I'm about to arrogantly over-simplify a lot of things...
The science around teenagers needing more sleep, and doing better in life/school/everything if they start their day later, seems well-established at this point.
Additionally, there's plenty of known-better ways to learn beyond the rote-memorization-and-standardized-test system that's still de rigueur.
Are there no schools out there that put these things together and make an attempt at something better, especially for high-performing kids? What if school started at (say) 10-ish, and it gradually became more and more self-directed as kids headed towards graduation? What if it also mixed in all the latest cutting-edge research about how kids learn math/science/languages/etc? What if it also got creative with the curriculum and mixed in all the topics that people always say should be in schools, like "how to do your taxes" and whatnot?
I remember getting to college and being wildly unprepared for everything. School before then was devastatingly boring and fostered very little independence. Then college came along, and it was both brutally difficult and had almost no guardrails of any kind.
It was quite a transition, and it makes me wonder why there aren't more varieties/experiments around radically different approaches to schooling. At minimum, for high-performing kids, you'd think the modern world would have something.
>I remember getting to college and being wildly unprepared for everything.
You answered your own question here. Most “high performing” kids will lose interest in one of the foundational branches of math and will decide instead to read fantasy or build a potato cannon.
Without the structure stressing the stuff that is truly important despite it not seeming like it at the time, the vast majority will land in college needing to take remedial high school courses in math and science.
I think the main difficulty for middle and high schoolers is adapting to a class/learning schedule which is a slow drip of multiple subjects all at the same time.
I know that my own children don't master subjects that way and it also doesn't mirror adult work.
The high performing kids need less help.
As to the why things are the way they are, people don't wanna do better because it's inconvenient.
Doesn't that depend on what school is for? If the importance of school is overwhelmingly the subject matter or the grades, then I'd agree that high-performing children need less help. To the extent that children need something else from school, high-performing children might need more help than average-performing children. Maybe the average-performing children are more dependent on effective study techniques, while the high-performing children can perform at the expected level with little study. If the subject matter turns out later to be useless, at least the average-performing children have picked up the study techniques they need to learn something useful, but the formerly high-performing children might then face a bigger challenge. Even if school subject matter is useful, that doesn't help those who already know it; they aren't gaining knowledge or productive habits.
Sure, in the ideal world school would be a productive experience for everyone.
In the current US system, it's hard to justify focusing additional resources on students that are already performing well.
Yes, there are alternative schools out there. They are increasingly rare though. I was lucky enough to end up at one and it was fantastic.
As another commenter noted, it's the privileged kids who get opportunities like that. Which is a real shame because it's an environment that lifts those who need more flexibility and personal support.
Part of the function of a school is to free parents time so they are able to go to work. Even high school essentially is in large parts teenage daycare. This function gets diminished when they start later in the day - meaning economically, you diminish the potential output of your population.
Schools that are up to date on this and follow advice exist, but are expensive and rare - which also attract parents who do not need to sit at a desk or stand in front of a CNC machine at 8:30am. Gordonstoun/Schloss Salem comes to mind.
> I remember getting to college and being wildly unprepared for everything. School before then was devastatingly boring and fostered very little independence.
College wise, what I recall was a lot of freshmen who just couldn't be assed to wake up for class or do homework without parents on their case. Especially with the dorm basically being a 24/7 LAN party, and I recall one dude who just watched like, every DVD ever. The coursework itself in freshman year was comparatively breezey.
For school before then, I suppose it depends on your definition of boring and independence. IEPs for gifted kids can put you into advanced classes of all kinds. It's still very much on rails, so I'd liken the independence to a choose your own adventure book. And, sure you can do AP English instead of normal english but you have to read like, Bronte and Hurston, so the boring is only far off.
There's a big push in this area at the moment. I've just recently started a Head of Engineering role where I'm developing supporting tech for school aged children. In our case the programs are currently more on the supplementary side of things rather than replacing core curriculum.
I don't have anything to do with it (yet?) but our sister institution is Alpha School - https://alpha.school
They're trying to change schooling to be more efficient, engaging, and self directed.
My understanding is they're far from alone, and there's a lot of interest in overhauling traditional schooling at the moment.
I mean, there's been interest in overhauling traditional schooling since forever. However, a significant up-tick in (temporary?) home-schooling during the pandemic really got parents thinking about education methodologies.
OP's experience has far less to do with school, and significantly more to do with parenting a teenager.
I feel totally the same! Even though I don't have particularly bad experiences from school I do really prefer my current stage of life, where I work and learn about things that I'm really interested in.
A week training course can get super tedious even on an interesting topic. When the kids are bored at school I get it. Not sure what the solution is, life is geared up this way.
Recess helps. But most people would rather go home an hour sooner instead of spending an hour in the middle of the day at work futzing around.
Passing off your anxieties to your kid sounds like a great plan. Kinda glad now my parents left me to my own devices regarding school after like, 6th grade.
Except legally you can’t simply not take tour kids to school. Doing it in a “non anxious” way is a challenge
I most areas you can homeschool, which is whatever you and your kid want as long as they pass some tests and file some paperwork.
Which gives you way more ability to pass the anxieties. Cause then OP would be doing the teaching and choosing curriculum instead of coding. OP would also do motivating and asking questions still, much more of that actually.
In Europe you mostly can’t homeschool.
Apart from a few countries you can.
Hm the data for Greenland is wrong.
Like, apart from the whole Europe.
Europe isn't a monolith. Have you read through the notes for countries with more restrictive regulations, particularly the yellow and blue labels? With reasonable-enough provisions to ensure equivalency to the public school system, it seems like most countries permit homeschooling.
Germany and Sweden are not "the whole Europe"
> School sucked for me, and I kinda... turned out despite it... but I somehow have to get my kids through it.
We live in a society. I don't get to define the world my children live in. They will have to work and survive in the same world you and I do, with all its broken processes and expectations. It's complicated and full of contradictions.
When she was at home during COVID, her mental health suffered greatly, and remote learning simply did not work for her. Daily structure is important, and so is social interaction. And we cannot provide that for her at home.
My (teen) daughter I referred to is in a specialist arts high school program on a media&visual arts track. It's unique for our whole province, and required an audition (portfolio in her case) to get into. But she does have to maintain a reasonable report card in other subjects to stay in that program or risk getting dumped out into the local 'regular' high school. By and large she's motivated by that, but it is anxiety inducing.
The 7:15am departure time reflects this situation. She has to take a (school board provided) cab all the way across the city for 8:40am bell time. It's a garbage start time for teens, but I don't make the decisions.
She is a very bright and talented artist. Her post-high school situation will be a financial struggle, I'm sure, but likely also quite rewarding and creative. Just need to get there.
Yes, why? My thought exactly.
This is quite real. I did EECS at Berkeley Engineering and I still have nightmares about not finishing something and this is close to 20 years later. I’m going to a BBQ next week with some of my classmates and I’m going going to ask them. A buddy went to West Point and he had similar nightmares. My guess is that it’s more prevalent in the very demanding and competitive STEM majors and probably architecture. I remember humanities classes as being a lot of work, nothing at Berkeley was easy, but manageable and nothing like the STEM load.
For my EE120 review session when we staggered in, the GSI consoled us saying if it meant anything, we’d done as much in one semester as he’d done in two and a half at his school and he was a Berkeley grad student which is insanely competitive to get into in its own right.
I did CS at University of Washington in the early 2000s and I still have nightmares about it. I loved the coursework itself, but the whole meta game of the program was pretty traumatizing.
They (along with some other STEM programs) used first and second year calculus and physics courses to select who they would admit. So you needed to be within some top percentile of the students in those courses at the end of your second year or else you would need to transfer schools or choose a different major.
On top of this, the course registration system was similar to trying to get a PS5 on launch day. If you didn’t get your courses registered without time conflicts within 5 minutes of opening well, better luck next quarter. And then if you didn’t get the course you needed this quarter then you were at risk of having to overload yourself the following quarter to get back on track.
One strategy to mitigate the registration crunch was to sign up for more courses than you actually intended to take. You had a grace period of I think a week during which you could drop a course with no consequence (and folks on the wait list could take your place). This mechanic is the source of my recurring nightmares. In my dreams, I forget to drop the extra course in my schedule, and I only realize it after the second midterm.
The UW was absolutely awful (Probably Legislature's fault) with the bait and switching on the education they offered. Some other state schools have similar problems.
Hey! I’m an incoming UW CS student and I would love to hear what you mean by that! I’ve already taken my calc physics and CS at community college so after reading your comment it sounds like I’m in for the worst of it.
Thank god CS is direct to major now (I think it started in 2019?) so there isn’t that second year thing now.
If you have any tips I’d love to hear em!
If you're already in the CS program then you've got a great head start. Even 20 years ago they had a way to be admitted out of high school, and for the folks who were eligible (I wasn't) and took advantage of that it was great for them.
I can give some tips I wish I had known when I started. No guarantees any of this stuff still applies since it's 20 year old info, but I suspect some of it may still be good ...
- Aim to spend 2 hours studying or doing coursework in the library / lab for every hour you're in the class. So if a class is 5 credits it will take you 15 hours a week, 3 in lecture, 2 in section, and 10 studying or in office hours.
- For upper level math or CS courses, these are often only 3 credits because there's no section, but you still need to spend at least 15 hours a week on them (so 4 hours of work for every hour of lecture)
- Put the study hours in your calendar and stick to them even if you don't feel like you need them. If that means you get work done before it's due, that's great, now you can take it to office hours with your TA or prof and get a free check on your work before you need to submit it to be graded.
- Buy a paper notebook for each course at the start of the quarter. Attend all of the lectures and sections and write everything down the instructor presents in writing and also anything they say that might be important. It doesn't matter that the prof posts slides, notes, recordings or whatever on the website, write the material down anyway by hand because it forces you to pay attention and it helps you internalize the information. Use the notebook as your first stop when you have questions doing your coursework or reviewing for tests.
- I've heard registering for courses is still tough. You get a freebie your first quarter as an incoming student, but 2-3 weeks before the second quarter start looking at the course guide and plan what you want to register for. Approach it like you're a coach preparing for the NFL draft. You need to put down the courses you must have, and the ones you'd like to have, and your contingencies if things don't go to plan. Also pay attention to the instructors, ask around for students who have taken the courses you're planning to to get feedback on who teaches well and grades well and who doesn't -- if the course you need isn't being taught by the instructor you want, you may want to try to take it a different quarter if you can.
- Make an appointment with an advisor to get advice on your course schedule. Since you're in the CS dept, you can make an appointment with their counselors.
- On course registration day, wake up early and do your best to get the courses you want with the best schedule you can. If you can't get a course you can try showing up on the first day anyway and get on the wait list or email your advisor and ask for help.
- Do NOT try to take too much in one quarter. Try to do no more than 2 hard and 1 medium or 2 hard and 2 easy courses. Nobody will stop you if you take 5 hard 3 credit math or CS classes (assuming you have the prereqs) because it's only 15 credits, but by my thinking that's 75 hours a week of work. It's unsustainable and sounds insane but you will almost surely meet or hear about people who try it. Don't be one of them.
- If you tested out of your foreign language reqs, great. Don't try to do more than you have to, unless you're really serious about the language and want to double major in it or something. I tested out of Spanish and I should have left it that, but I stupidly spent a year taking Japanese which I didn't need and just took up a lot of mental bandwidth. If you want to pick up another language, go to language school over a summer or something, don't spend your university time on it.
- Make friends. Leave your dorm room door open as much as you can if you live in the dorms. Hang out in the CS lab as much as you can.
- Hit the gym for an hour a day. UW has a great gym with tons of fun stuff and classes. You must exercise to perform your best in school. Seriously, put it on your calendar and stick to it.
- Pick a couple CS courses a year that you're going to go hard on. Set aside extra time for them, maybe double, do your very best work, and go above and beyond on assignments. Profs will remember their best student in a course and this can open doors for you.
Wow thank you so much! I didn’t expect such a detailed response and I really appreciate it! Most of these still seem totally applicable so I’ll put them to good use. I didn’t realize classes were so hard to get in to (Looked it up and it still seems to be an issue) so I’m going to be prepared next quarter.
> For upper level math or CS courses, these are often only 3 credits because there's no section, but you still need to spend at least 15 hours a week on them (so 4 hours of work for every hour of lecture)
This confused me at first. In my orientation session (14 hours long over 2 days…) they never talked about this! At community college basically all classes were 5 credits so it was weird to see many hard classes only be 3 or 4. Sounds like they aren’t going to be any less difficult… Quite annoying!
> Pick a couple CS courses a year that you're going to go hard on. Set aside extra time for them, maybe double, do your very best work, and go above and beyond on assignments. Profs will remember their best student in a course and this can open doors for you.
I’ll give this a shot for sure! There are quite a few classes that I’m interested in taking and it’s probably worth putting in a extra effort on the stuff that’s actually important to me.
Thanks again! Your comment gave me a lot of insight about college and UW. Hopefully I won’t have too many nightmares about UW :)
>- Do NOT try to take too much in one quarter. Try to do no more than 2 hard and 1 medium or 2 hard and 2 easy courses. Nobody will stop you if you take 5 hard 3 credit math or CS classes (assuming you have the prereqs) because it's only 15 credits, but by my thinking that's 75 hours a week of work. It's unsustainable and sounds insane but you will almost surely meet or hear about people who try it. Don't be one of them.
>- Pick a couple CS courses a year that you're going to go hard on. Set aside extra time for them, maybe double, do your very best work, and go above and beyond on assignments. Profs will remember their best student in a course and this can open doors for you.
These things go together, and it's unfortunate that, no matter how much faculty advise students not to take on enormous course loads, so many of them insist on trying anyway. It's not just a matter of sustainability: you often won't learn as much as you would be able to learn by taking a few classes and being passionate about them. You simply won't have time. Good university courses are not situations where there is a fixed checklist of things to learn, or ceiling of perfection that you can spend a fixed amount of time reaching and then gain no more. As an undergraduate, the faculty at the physics department I was in would even give relatively easy research and independent study units to those of us they trusted would use the decreased number of courses (but same number of units) per term to think more about physics.
And yes, being known to the faculty as a promising undergraduate is useful. Their doors will be open for scholarly discussions and academic advice at a far more informal level. They can often give better, more specific advice on courses and plans, and can push administratively to make those plans possible. They can point you to topics and resources beyond your classes, and help you understand them. Departmental requirements that don't make sense for you individually can often be substituted or waived. And if you're interested in graduate school, research experience and strong faculty recommendations are all but required.
Getting this sort of reputation in a department usually involves going above and beyond in courses not by doing what is expected perfectly, but by doing things that aren't expected, and that takes passion and time (and choosing classes and professors where it is possible).
I used to have the exam nightmares, for years after graduation, but they were replaced by nightmares where I have a pen of livestock somewhere I've just totally forgotten to feed for like, a month.
For awhile after my daughter was born those were replaced by one where I had another infant I was supposed to be caring for that I had totally forgotten about, but thankfully, those didn't persist as she grew and my brain went back to the livestock version.
Funny, I did EECS at Berkeley nearly a decade ago and also still have the occasional nightmare about forgetting to finish something, but remembering at the last minute. Something something about evolution rewarding anxiety and neuroticism.
> My guess is that it’s more prevalent in the very demanding and competitive STEM majors and probably architecture.
My spouse has a bachelors in architecture, and definitely experiences these. Sometimes it's a design presentation that is needed but wasn't done at all, etc.
Architecture degrees are immensely stressful to get, and then the licensure process is insane, and then there's no money in it unless you're a partner, but partners don't get to do much of the conceptual design and drawing stuff usually, which is what usually brings people into architecture school and is the bulk of the school work.
If people knew if you wanted to make a good living in architecture, you'd really just be babysitting contractors, trying to get electrical and hvac engineers to live with the consequences that arise because buildings need both light and ventilation, fighting with permitting offices, and stamping other people's drawings, student life could be a lot less stressful; it's not worth spending every night in design studio working when the job sucks.
Computer Engineering was a lot less work for a bachelors, even though it was a lot. Of course, my school had biomedical engineers, they worked their butts off.
Engineering school is an a living nightmare. People who did not do this degree will never appreciate how much we suffered.
Is EECS at Berkeley significantly harder than other majors?
gpa in nationally ranked engineering schools is usually quite a bit lower than other departments, and a 4.0 is often unheard of. Varies with school.
My ee was from uiowa. Less pressure, but no money.
Harsh so much that I never want to go back to that kind of treatment, and their abuse after I graduated in trying to drag me back into a graduate program.
I'm going to be a repetitive guy with a Roman I know, so downvote me.
I remember being ~23 and telling someone a generation older, "Yeah, it's crazy; I've been out of college for 2 years but I still have awful dreams about being late for class and showing up for a test I forgot about." I was taken aback as they said, "Oh, I still get those." Sure enough, 20 years later, and so I do.
I once forgot that I’d registered for a course. Got an F in it, and had to contest the grade.
Another time, I had a two hour course, but I thought it was a one hour course, and always came an hour late. One day, the teacher finally snapped: “Are you EVER going to get here on time!?!” The answer was no. No way I was sitting through two hours of that. It was my easiest class in university.
Most of my school-related nightmares have stopped at this point in my life, but they generally weren’t much worse than reality.
I’ve had both of those scenarios as nightmares several times, although I don’t believe I experienced either in waking life.
My big problem with schools (and likely a contributor to my own nightmares) is how they treat themselves as arbiters of what is good and right, above parent's wishes, and especially above the people sitting in the classrooms. High schools should be treating their students as equals to their teachers at the very least. They're adults at this point, but the inhumane regimentation and arbitrary expectations continue. The odd power dynamic boils my blood. It pounded the agency out of me until more than ten years after graduating high school. Students are customers of the school and therefore should hold vastly more power, yet they're treated as cattle. Yes there are amazing teachers who do everything they can, but they're swimming against a strong current.
I have four teenage sons. "treating them as equals" is super, duper silly. Their brains are totally, completely not regulated enough to make good decisions still, and that only changes usually VERY close to graduation.
Indeed, the prefrontal cortex isn’t fully developed until around age 25.
I think the problem is the exact opposite. We would would much better off if we treated teachers as the community leaders they are
“Students are customers” - Hard disagree here. I had a great time in college but the effects of the neoliberalization of the university definitely diminished the experience. Schools are one of the only pre-capitalistic institutions left in society that situate folks in time and tradition. Now they are becoming another money grab.
Some are naturals at it and you’re lucky to be around them. Though quite a few don’t have it in their blood. We don’t reward our teachers too well so in the end we get the few naturals versus the it’s just a low paid job, don’t need to apply themselves too much to it. The naturals stick to it despite low pay and bureaucratic obstacles but truly enrich our lives. I remember fondly the few great professors that changed my perception on a subject.
Isn't there a contradiction between wanting that freedom but then taking a decade to redevelop agency?
I don't see how, but perhaps I'm missing your point.
If you interpret what they said as "I want freedom but explicitly chose not to find it until 10 years later" then sure, that might be a contradiction.
If you interpret it as "I really freedom because it took me 10 years to fully realize what happened to me and want others to avoid the same thing" then it's more clear it's not a contradiction. It wasn't a choice, but rather a path they were sent down unknowingly. That's different than thinking it doesn't matter until then. This was my interpretation of it at least.
The GP was framing the school as particularly toxic because it constrains people who really ought to be considered adults as if they were cattle.
In my view, an adult ought to be able to leap at the chance for agency as soon as they emerge from these constraints. Maybe not immediately, but in a year or two at least. Otherwise, it circularily casts doubt on the premise. The argument is that the definition of an adult has to meet a certain standard.
School can be traumatic, and people are allowed to feel bad even if others have it worse, but unless you are severely bullied I see many of the descriptions in this thread as being overly dramatic compared to the crap that people have to deal with in other parts of the world. Hundreds of millions of kids would kill for the chance to be stressed at an American or European school.
Granted, this is not a generous point of view. The only reason I'm making these comments is because I recognize myself so much in the GP's experiences.
I have the college dreams fairly regularly. Usually they are about forgetting to attend class for a whole semester.
But my other recurring dream is about being an LDS missionary again. I think that experience in real life was even more stressful than college—definitely more guilt-inducing. In the dream I'm my current self—mid-40s, married, kids, career, atheist—and yet somehow the church has managed to coerce me back into the mission field alongside the 19-year-old true believers.
Almost every other former Mormon missionary I've asked about it reports having similar recurring dreams.
I also have the forgetting to attend class all semester dream. It is incredibly vivid and I wake up super stressed and sometimes, because college was so long ago, wonder if that actually happened to me.
What were the stakes? What did failure look like? Did you get punished if you didn't indoctrinate enough people?
Eternal hellfire, presumably.
For mormons, you'd presume incorrectly. Talking with missionaries, they believe in a three tier system, the lowest "hell" being darkness, cut away from the light of God
> The reason school dominates as a go-to anxiety setting, Anderson said, is because school is where we build our understanding of how life works.
This was more or less my theory already. Our first, foundational experiences of anxiety, or at least specific kinds of anxiety.
I'm curious: was anyone here home schooled during high school and then didn't attend college? Where does your mind go to for the equivalent of the "institutional anxiety" dream scenario?
School is quite wrong on teaching "how life works", school push us to be competitive and individualist. While real life is much more abput cooperation.
School (at least in France) tell us beeing wrong is bad. But making mistakes is essential part of learning.
I cheated my way through high school. I had a scam for every class, every test, every homework assignment. So yeah, I had dreams about school, but mine were more about me feeling guilty. They typically went like this: Some bureaucrat did an audit of all the school work from my high school during the late-80s and somehow identified me as a cheater, so the school revoked my diploma. My college found out, so they revoked my degree. My employer found out, so they fired me. The dream usually ended with all the other kids from my school laughing at me because I got caught cheating, and my life was ruined.
I eventually got over it. The dreams stopped. Once I got to a certain age, I just accepted I was a stupid-ass kid who made mistakes. Live and learn.
BTW, if you're still in school, don't cheat. Take it from me. I spent more time and effort on cheating than I would have if I just did the work as assigned.
I cheated throughout highschool (hacked school system for test answers) and college (old fashioned cheat sheets) and have zero regrets or shame over any of it. I resent the awful system our society has and I resent how awful it has treated me. I 100% encourage cheating for people like me and it was extremely low effort. It resulted in a pretty good start off to my career and I'm now quite successful on my own honest merits.
I never cheated through university but did a lot as well through high school and cegep (pre-college in quebec). Was more like cheat sheets but also just checking what people wrote next to me, or plainly just work with someone next to me where we would pass each other papers with answers.
I have zero remorse. Having to do so much memorization is just not how my brain works. Now employed, I rarely memorize anything but you can bet I can find anything very fast.
I stopped in university mostly because the stakes were higher (you can get expelled for real). I also had to work harder in university because engineering was just so much harder than anything I did before. Also, most classes in uni let you have a sheet of notes instead of wasting time memorizing all those concepts.
I cheated a lot, both in high school and in university (it was basically standard in both places, and I went to best HS in town and one of best CS universities in the country). Never had any regrets about it. I'm from Eastern Europe, so don't believe in a just and well-organized world, anyway - over here, we view it more as a jungle, so in you manage to get ahead without directly harming anyone, it's ok.
BTW I stopped cheating in university in later years, as the classes got more interesting and we were no-longer required to do brutal workloads (the university stuffs first two years of CS degree with a lot of math and physics, to weed out people who are not tough enough I guess).
> I spent more time and effort on cheating than I would have if I just did the work as assigned
You likely didn't. I've heard this many times from people who cheated or people who take steroids. It's just a rationalization about your shitty past actions.
I turned 50 this year, and I'm finally done with college for good. I will never earn a degree.
I tried at least 5 times to finish college. I honestly gave it "the old college try" over, and over, and over again. I really wanted to please my father with that piece of paper in my hand. But that path just wasn't for me.
Elementary school and high school were marvelous, formative experiences for me. The schools were truly safe, secure environments where the Catholic faculty and staff respected me and upheld my human dignity, no matter what. I was never hurt or mistreated by the Irish sisters, nor by the priests and religious, or lay teachers. Now contrast that with my home life where I was subjected to endless shame, emotional trauma, and humiliation. I basically wanted to escape to school and stay there forever.
Unfortunately this came apart at the seams in college, because guess what? My parents had always been the ones pushing and cajoling me through homework and projects and tests and perfect attendance. Without my dual-helicopter parents doing all the work for me, I was doomed to failure, over and over in college. So I dropped out again and again. It wasn't for lack of trying.
Years ago, I did have "school flashback" dreams. I was naked in class. I forgot to study for a final exam. I was being teased or bullied by classmates. Yeah, it was all on replay for years, but I worked past that.
I took a final swing at earning a degree and I got halfway to an Associate's. But truthfully, I did finish what I started, because I earned three professional certifications and landed a fantastic steady job. So in the end, my college days weren't wasted, despite all the credits I'll leave on the table.
I'm grateful for the faculty, staff, and admins who always treated me with utmost respect, kindness, and reminded me of my innate human dignity, and through them I was able to discern a vocation as an educator in my own right.
I have dreams of still being in the military. I always think “I couldn’t have been stupid enough to reenlist, this isn’t possible” while it’s happening.
I have these often as well. Had one the other night where I was headed back to bootcamp at 50. Somehow convinced myself in my dream that I could totally do it.
I always wake up with severe anxiety and have to look around to make sure I'm not living in the barracks.
Same here, with this exact reaction. "Why did I reenlist, I can't believe I would do that?"
And I'm either deployed overseas back in combat or getting ready to leave. And I can't find my weapon or parts of my uniform or equipment.
I served in Israel, mandatory service, and I used to dream for the longest while that my discharge papers got lost and I just stayed there forever ;)
Since I'm making one random reply I might as well mention I used to dream about going to school and not being able to find my class. I think the dream had me skipping all classes (which I did, to go write code instead) for so long that I didn't even know what classes I was supposed to be in or where they were.
Part of my school PTSD is why we (mostly) home schooled our kids.
That is so fascinating. Thanks for sharing.
I was pretty traumatized with parental expectations in school. Starting from high school, to college, to graduate school, I always had the same dream at the start of semesters - I'm incredibly late to the first class to the point I basically miss it. It has a cascading effect where in the dream, I basically feel doomed to be behind all semester. I've never had this dream outside of when I was a student, and that includes a very long hiatus in finishing college.
This is story is one of those things where you read it and the explanation is so obvious, but it never hit you until you see it written out.
I clicked because it's a naturally interesting topic because I (like many others) have this dream, and I usually find The Atlantic to be good quality.
But this doesn't give any meaningful answer to the question, just some speculation that anyone could make and which doesn't seem to be backed by any scientific evidence (of course, I'm aware there is probably no such evidence, but they could be more straightforward about the answer to the title question being "we have no idea").
I'm late for class and can't remember my locker combination, every night going on 50 years.
I'm reminded of that amazing scene from Top Secret!
And this amazing scene from Futurama :)
Not sure if it's true, but I like to think "Lightspeed Briefs" is a joke based on Fruit of the Loom (at least for a while, stylized as "FTL" in their branding).
FTL is also used as an abbreviation for "faster than light" in sci/scifi discussions of exotic methods of fast travel.
Bizarrely, I remember there was more to this dream sequence. After he runs through the hallway towards the camera, shot switches to Rivers running in dark mist saying "I need to find the exam!" The mist evaporates revealing students in stadium seating in an auditorium, and Nick asks if this was the physics exam, and the response is "where have you been all semester?" and someone else asks, "where are your clothes?" before the mist returns to white out, and then Nick wakes up relieved he's only being tortured by Nazis.
As for the OP site, it is not even possible to scroll down... it's stuck in the top. Shitty JS.
I ran track and cross country in college and graduated in 2010. I had been having the same dream for many years after: I hadn't trained at all during the summer and was completely out of shape by the time the cross country season was starting in the fall, and was going to have to confront my coach about it and get kicked off the team.
I told my former teammates about this probably two years ago, and as it turned out, many of them have been having this exact same dream.
Years of dealing with anxiety painted a different picture of these events.
When I get really anxious, I've learned to notice it not because of how I feel, but because of what I think about. My mind does two things. It will either distract me with soothing ideas (video games, side gigs) or (like TFA) it will go full anxiety and I'll hyper-focus on anything in the past that made me feel helpless, angry, or afraid.
Anxiety manifests as exam dreams, resurfacing relationship issues suddenly, body image woes, or just constantly checking to see if I have my wallet.
There's a much simpler explanation that works for me. Your mind is trying to explain the signals it's receiving, and it is grasping at straws by surfacing memories that triggered similar signals. It's a byproduct of a correlation engine and that's pretty much it.
I understand the obsession with divining meaning in arbitrary shared experience, but if my 350,000 hrs of use has taught me anything, it's that the mind is an arbitrary, guideless storyteller.
There's actually quite a bit of research supporting this, it turns out.
This is odd. I grew up and went to school in the Netherlands, and while I’m often still annoyed with the arbitrary scoring of academic affairs, it’s never been a source of anxiety.
All the dreams I have about high school and university (and it’s not so many) involve having fun with the friends I made there.
I kind of have to wonder what other people go through.
It's just the nature of being anything lower middle class, or above in the US. Preschool is required to get a leg up on elementary school, which is required to get into a good middle school, required to get into a good high school, and finally, required to get into a good university.
If at any point in that chain you fail, you've been led to believe your life will be a failure, there are no social programs to save you. You will work minimum wage for life.
And if you do succeed and get a degree, your reward is $100k in student debt. Which you will have to pay down over the course of 20 years working corpo jobs and barely scraping by, since you need to enrich landlords in the process.
Another data point. European. Never dreamed about school. Never felt anxious while at school. I also went to an average school and was an average student so maybe that helps.
The period from high school to the end of university was probably the most intellectually interesting part of my life. It was like discovering how the world works, finally being free, going some places, meeting some people, experimenting socially, reading books.
It's because school is a shitty, shitty place no matter if you go to a good one or a bad one.
No, there are no good schools.
High schools went downhill when teachers stopped spinning homespun silk
> No, there are no good schools.
Wew. I find this remarkable that someone has been in every school of the world and is now posting here to report back on his experience.
It's terrible that something that should have been wonderful was so painful for you. I've completed 11 years of post secondary spread pretty evenly over 30+ years of adulthood and loved it more and more as I've continued. Thinking about starting a PhD in year 50!
College was a vacation after high school. It's famously a place some people try to stick around after they could leave.
Loving higher ed is pretty common. Loving high school, way, way less so.
Did you enjoy school while growing up?
I occasionally feel the calling to go back to school for the sheer joy of learning and mastery. It’s an odd feeling though, because I always hated school, from elementary to undergrad.
I graduated from high school in 2008 and college in 2012, but I still have a recurring nightmare where I find out that there's a class I'm supposed to be in but somehow forgot about and now must somehow redeem my grade despite having not shown up for any lectures or done any homework.
Most countries decided to go for an education system that consistently causes PTSD in a large part of the population yet most ppl thinks there is nothing wrong with it. In the name of competitiveness the wheel needs to keep spinning and crush more and more souls.
While that's entirely true, is there an educational system right now that doesn't scar its students as severely?
You say most countries, but if you forget homeschooling I'd say this is pretty much 100% of systemic education on the planet right now.
I've been told that people who actually do fail out of school tend to not have these kinds of dreams, or at least at a reduced rate.
I've asked some aquaintences over the years and their experiences didn't contradict that assertion.
Could be an interesting research topic.
I pretty much flunked outta college my first time around and "Failing and having to repeat grade X" and "Slept through the final" are two of my most common reoccurring nightmares
Same, I was kicked out of my first try at college for low grades and have had variations of the school dreams in the article
The early psychoanalysts made this observation and Freud mentions it as well. They did not have large sample sizes though; see e.g. https://sci-hub.se/https://doi.org/10.1080/00332747.1961.110...
I think its because its something they faced, and dealt with, it didn't destroy their life, the way your parents told you it would.
There are lots of ways your life hasn't been ruined, but you don't dream about them.
I just stop going halfway my Bachelor and basically only have "cool" dreams about school (if at all).
So you might be on to something.
Funnily enough, I have the inverse of this dream. Exam-taking was never very stressful for me, so I never had the classic dream. But when I was a graduate student and started teaching my own classes, things changed. I, an inveterate procrastinator, started dreaming that that I'd shown up to the final without writing it. This, to me, is much more humiliating that blanking on a test. And I still have those dreams today, as well as a few variations (e.g., it's final grades time and I haven't graded any of the homework, or I've been supposed to teach a class but haven't remembered to show up for weeks).
I haven’t had one in a long time, but I would get Nightmares about forgetting to take a grad class, not finding out until the last day, and not being able to get my diploma because of it.
So similar to the stories in the article
Every now and then I have a nightmare; that I am back in class, writing a final exam which I haven't studied for and worrying that I will lose a year because I have failed. And then I wake up in anxiety and wonder what the hell did school do to me?? I had plenty of friends at school, never bullied and it was pretty much smooth sailing, so If I am having those dreams, I can't imagine what other people that were teased/bullied/extremely introvent during school are dreaming as adults. I am glad I am not the only one thought.
I think it's curious, especially so many people reporting the same thing. Is it just people who were pressured really hard in school? I wasn't pressured, and could usually ace a test (or at least pass it). Certainly didn't ever stress about homework, and often didn't do it.
I don't think I've ever had a dream like that. I have dreamed I was back hanging out with my friends again, or exploring a weird sub-basement under the school, but nothing like what people are describing.
I'm in my late 20s, still dream about school. But it's not like in the article. I almost never stressed about exams much. I never have any nightmares about it. Just dream about being in class, hanging out with people. I attended 3 schools total (primary, mid, high) and all occur in the dreams. Sometimes the people get mixed up, i.e. the class consists of a mix of colleagues from mid and high, or more rarely, the primary pops up. That's kinda weird when I think about it.
I am not convinced by this, at least for me. I think my dreams will place me in a random scene, it could be at school but could be at any of the schools during my lives with a mix of colleges and now my son will also be at the same school and weird situations come up where me and my son are in the same class.
During the dream the mind starts to realize something is wsrong, like "it is Ssunday why am I at school" , but sometimes the thought is "I did not prepared in years for this subject, in fact I was sure I finished the university, but then if I am here it means I still need to pass one more exam because I did not finished, then you get stressed out that something went wrong with the birocracy or you forgot to do some exam or sign something and you don't have finished"
My opinion is that there is no encoded way your subconscions is telling you are stressed about something, I remember in my high school years , my eye sight was getting worse slowly and I had many dreams where I am getting blind or my eyes are glued and can't opened them, pretty direct manifestation of the fears and anxiety without any metaphors with hidden meaning.
Weirdly I have more nostalgia dreams about school (especially college) than anxiety dreams. Though I've certainly had those too
Me too. Overall I had a pretty good experience in college and grad school and I kind of miss those days. It was easier to make friends, it was easier to get exercise without even trying just from all the walking I did everywhere, and I guess I just always had this optimistic view of the future back then. :)
> To put all the above in the language of
latent dream thought, the dreamer's
thought is not simply: "I'm guilty because I misbehaved and I fear punishment, just as I feared when in school I
was confronted with an examination."
Rather it is: "I'm guilty because I'm misbehaving [or wish to misbehave] now
in the same manner as I misbehaved in
connection with this particular examination. I wish I had not done undeservedly well in connection with this examination.
I wish I did not behave thus. I am trying
to overcome this old pattern. I am examing myself. But have I the strength to
do so? Dare I share this knowledge with
I got mono 2 months before college graduation. At the time I didn’t think “oh I won’t graduate” but in retrospect being out of school for 2 weeks without doing any work can really make things difficult, especially that close to the end of the semester.
Now I have recurring dreams about having one class that I haven’t studied for at all and there are 6-8 weeks left in the semester. Long enough that I could study at the expense of literally all of my waking time, but short enough that there is real anxiety I might fail this class and not be able to graduate.
At least now I know having these dreams now is evidence of waking anxiety that I have to manage.
I do dream about school sometimes too.
But for me, it is speaking up to the teacher (telling him he is wrong), or confidently not caring about what the teacher is ordering the class to do.
Or event confidently deciding not to go to school today.
I can earn a living with my programming skills, I have 0 reasons to endure school bullshit anymore.
Sounds like you had a bad experience. Sorry to hear that!
These dreams usually connect to something you are currently anxious about so your brain is pattern matching the anxiety to recorded memories. You can reduce the intensity of the trauma by revisualizing the event/dream while following some rapid visual stimulus. This is the emdr stuff for ptsd etc…
While the "Dream analyst" said plausible things about the author's dream, I have no idea how they (the analysts) know it. So I tend not to believe that easy explanation.
The only consistent thing I can say is that if the dream situation occurs in real life, then my feelings and emotional response to the situation will likely be the same. That's been the sole valid anchor for me.
Anxiety about "authority figure" is a little odd, for example, relating to my school dream of having to vacate my hostel room and realising I lost the key..a friend comes up with "I think I have it" and upon checking the keybunch, it doesn't have my room's key. I'm not panicking but don't want the room door to be smashed down when I'm not around. I have something old and precious inside I need to grab.
Is it weird that I've never had a dream about school or meeting expectations? I do have anxiety dreams, but they're always about realizing that I'm missing some piece of equipment that I spend the dream looking for while the thing I wanted to do is now not getting done.
I don’t dream about school. I barely think about my childhood at all. (For which I am eternally thankful.)
By all rights, I should have nightmares from those years but all of mine come from more recent events or entirely fictional ones.
The good dreams are usually out of the stories I write.
Had the same problem, until one night I’ve realized - in my dream - that I’ve already graduated and I while I could still do all those things, like taking exams, their result won’t ever matter again. It happened once or twice again, with the same result, and it’s been gone ever since.
Sounds like directed dreaming, which is a possible cure for these dreams.
Perhaps, except I didn’t do it on purpose - I can’t control my dreams.
I breezed through high school but I still have high school dreams maybe once a month.
It’s not that surprising that a situation you dealt with frequently in your teenage years is still there. I usually bluff my way through high school dream situations successfully. Feels good.
If we want to be truly honest, childhood is when we are primed by our parents, school, culture, etc to become servants to the beast system. As children, we accept all that as normal - our world, our desires, expectations etc are formed then. By time we are adults, having accepted the provided framework, we no longer have the inclination to learn or adapt - we think we know how things are. We then dutifully feed our kids into the same system, and call it right, good.
But some part of us, call it spirit if you like, still recognises and observes what is going on. Perhaps it tries to nudge us back towards authenticity and away from the entrained, domesticated behaviour, that will have us coding our own future dystopia.
I’m 34. The only people I can visualize in my dreams are people I knew when I was a high schooler or maybe earlier.
I’m married and we’ve been together for 10 years. I regularly have dreams featuring my wife’s sister as she was in my grade and I see her pretty often now. My wife’s name/persona will only very occasionally be in my dreams, but never her face. I didn’t know her back then. I also have a nearly one year old daughter and she’s been referenced in dreams but not seen.
To be honest, it freaks me out a little. I had a ski accident when I was 12 where I had a concussion, so maybe that did something. Is anyone else out there like me?
The people in my dreams are also often not proportional to the amount I see them in real life. I've found that I at least remember mainly dreams which had a strong emotional footprint, and teenage years definitely have the largest one.
I still sometimes have dreams I’m sitting in either middle school and/or high school math class working complex math problems. Usually these are algebra problems. Sometimes I do the problems by hand in my dream and sometimes I have a calculator. I’m not bad at algebra in real life. I can pass algebra. Calculus is a little more difficult. I’ve chalked these dreams up to having some types of problem(s) in my real life with only one logical solution. As it makes sense in algebra there is usually one numerical solution for an equation, unless you are working with inequalities or something.
Because modern American public schools are basically prisons and traumatized kids.
I'm not American and didn't go to American public school but still had the same kind of dreams way out of school. And article author mentions his is about college. So yeah sorry this doesn't fit your narrative.
Sure, in a way, it's the same narrative.
Future generations will look back in horror, if we're lucky.
6.7% of US kids are home schooled now, and it increased 10% year over year from 2016-2021.
One can hope.
We’re homeschooling which paradoxically ends up with our kids thinking school is some magical place where everything is great and you get to hang out with friends all day.
Not everything is great. But you do get to hang out with friends all day.
I sympathize with this take but as someone who was fortunate enough to attend private schools throughout my education let me just say, I also have stress dreams about school. I finished college 8 years ago.
If it wasn't school, it'd be something else.
It's hard wired evolved response to surviving life-threatening experiences, such as being attacked by a predator. The brain processes those experiences over and over to help avoid them in real life in the future.
We don't get attacked by predators anymore, but we have the same brains circuits as animals who did. So the process just plays out on whatever unpleasant life experience it can grab onto.
Bingo, it's the trauma.
High school in particular was by far the most stressful sustained period of time in my life—I've had the odd day or week that might measure up, here and there, but never months in a row (at least you get Summers off). I've very quickly quit jobs that turned out to be a small fraction as stressful as high school was—they're vastly worse than a decent work environment, but still not as bad as high school. It's that bad. And I had a pretty easy high school experience! No intense bullying, no gang violence happening at/around school, none of that stuff.
9-10 hours a day of work (if you're doing all your homework, anyway), plus more if you actually want to be earning any money. Rushed minutes-long passing periods several times every single day. Having to ask to go take a shit if you didn't manage to fit that in to your few moments of semi-free time. About 6 hours per day comprising ~50-minute stretches that are about as draining as sitting in that many meetings of that length in a day (which is quite the fuck draining). Super-early mornings in most places, in the time of the life that's the very worst for that kind of thing, physiologically and psychologically. The sheer weirdness of spending almost all your time with a whole bunch of people about the same age as you.
The number of people you are around and interact with in a day, navigating their emotions and demeanors and all that, teachers and students and administrators, exceeds what I've ever seen at any job by a long shot. That you may at any moment be subject to behavior that would get someone arrested or at least fired from a job in the adult world, but you'll still have to be around the perpetrator for potentially years with no real way to leave yourself.
Immovable extremely short deadlines and unchangeable scope—hope you don't have the odd day where you just don't feel up to it, because the thing they assigned you today is due tomorrow, period. All your work literally thrown in the trash soon after you finish it. Near-zero tolerance for real life getting in the way of the work. Sick? LOL, no, there's not someone to take on a little extra work so you're not doubling up when you get back—it's all on you, have fun with the pile of inane tasks to complete while you still feel kinda shitty. Personal days? "Mental health" days? LOL no.
It's very, very bad. Strict rules and enforcement, weird and toxic social environment, tight and short deadlines completing assignments that serve no external purpose whatsoever covering things you don't care about (sure, that's kinda just how education has to be, at least to some extent, but that doesn't make it not-demoralizing).
I don't love the comparison to prison but it really is one of the closer analogs from the "real world", or maybe notoriously-bad careers/jobs (Amazon warehouses?) that employ people with few other options, though in my experience even most low-wage, low-skill jobs aren't anywhere near as bad as high school (but I've also not worked in the notoriously-bad ones).
My high school dreams (well, nightmares) finally mostly stopped... in my early 30s. Mostly. That's a hell of an effect. And again, my experience was surely in the top half, at least, as high school experiences go.
I enjoyed high school and college -- found them to be fun more than anything -- and I still have "I screwed up/didn't attend a whole class/have a crazy test in school" dreams.
I think it has more to do with school being the first place you have those pseudo-professional experiences of "Ahhhh! I blew it! I didn't work hard enough!" So your brain is like, "I think I have this one in the archive somewhere."
Yeah, I find the stress/bad memory theory unsatisfying -- high school was one of the happiest times of my life and I rarely found it stressful, but I still have not-infrequent nightmares of being back in (my or another) high school and having skipped classes or not knowing where to find classrooms or whatever. These dreams are generally not similar to any actual events I experienced in high school.
And... the worst part is that you have to report to 5 ~ 6 "bosses" of whom, would assign homework as if they are student's only boss.
Modern American and public do no useful conceptual work in that sentence. It’s exactly as true without them.
On the other hand, many children are born into circumstances so bad school is a welcome relief. Warmth, regular food, some intellectual stimulation, people who don’t hit them, ever. It’s not what you’d want for your child but it beats what lots of children get at home.
Oh, yeah because students from other countries don’t have them at all…. Anxiety is just an American thing, /s
I went to an American high school and a former commie one (Albania), and I can tell you the American HS was a walk in the park in comparison to the one back home.
My take is that this is a pretty universal occurrence.
What made Albanian education so harsh?
Academically more intensive, but that's not really what upsets people in USA about school.
I never dreamed about school (at least as much as i can remember), the military on the other hand... and no, not deployment is what i dream about, its basic training! Whatever THAT has to say about my psyche...
I’m 46 and still occasionally have dreams about college. I’m in my last semester and almost failing it’s finals and i cant find the building/roomn the exam is in. They’re always some variation of that.
Walking into class for the last course I need to graduate. Oh, didn't remember the final exam was today. I didn't even study for it. In fact, I don't think I even ever picked up the textbook. I get handed the test and I don't understand a single question. I'm going to fail and have to stay in school for another semester. Plus, apparently, I forgot to put on clothes when I left the house. I'm in class completely naked. Not again!
One of my regular dreams, along with the one where I get fired and go back to the manual labor job.
I'm always in the middle of a test that I didn't study for. There's a nebulous higher stakes component to it beyond just failing. I can't read the questions for some reason, but I feel the topic of the test, and it's different every time. Some nights it's high school, others college, but now mostly licensure-related since I guess that was the last time I actually took a test.
I'm 54 and have had the same high school nightmare several times.
I find myself in my old high school and stuff has changed and is really confusing. I end up being compelled to go to classes and somehow have a schedule foisted on me that's too complex to be readable. I feel anxiety that the other students will notice my graying hair!
For me: time for finals and, oops, I didn’t attend a single class and I have no idea what the final will be about.
Maybe this dream is due to the fact that I missed at least half of all my classes because of basketball at the rec center.
I sometimes have a dream that I've gone through several months of high school without realizing that there was a class I signed up for but never went to. After finding out the horrible mistake, I'm guaranteed I won't be able to catch up, and my school career is over. Seems like an extremely unlikely scenario in real life, but I've had the dream more than once.
I have literally never dreamed about school... and i have extremely lucid dreams and an incredible memory of my dreams, to the point where I have had a running theme of dreams that only occur once every ~5 years.. but i can be conscious of them recurring and recognize im dreaming it again and even the story lines...
but i also have vivid memories of being only months old and laying in the crib...
but I cant recall what I had for lunch yesterday
my dream trigger is if I attempt to use a phone in dream or read a pricetag, or attempt to clean up a mess...
They do? I never actually was especially studious so had not much pressure to do well. Though I didn't party either and sat at the computer labs (in the physical library at high school) coding or learning new things to code. Quite enjoyed it actually. Lucked out that back down under engineering was a low demand course back in the day soon entry into college was easy (kids for some reason at the time dreamt of being accountants and actuaries!!)
I used to dream about school/college, but stopped after my 30s – nowadays it's such a distant memory that it feels like a previous / someone else's life.
I always did best at the exams I had nightmares about. To the point where having an exam nightmare would make me feel better about an upcoming exam, I would actually start to worry if I had a big exam coming up and I hadn't had a nightmare about it yet.
Still today, 30 years later, I get these dreams. Usually when I have a big work or life challenge coming up. And the nightmares still boost my confidence (though the nightmares themselves suck).
Because school is horrifying! Why would anyone even wonder about that? Being tortured for 10-14 years, and all of this while being young and full of hopes too!
I frequently still have dreams of it being discovered that I missed a portion of high school aha I am required to go back to finish.
I also spent about a decade in the U.S. Air Force, and even though I’ve been out 15 years now I still dream that I’ve forgotten my uniform hat, and separately that I get called back in and am fearful because I still have only the previous generation of uniform style, which was phased out years ago.
For years after graduating I would have this sense of undirected foreboding every Sunday.
I finally realized it was just a carry over from years of being a real procrastinator when it came to getting my school work done and the gnawing panic I would get knowing I had a lot of work and little time to do it.
It was weird that after recognizing the source that feeling dissipated pretty quickly and I really embraced being free of it all
Absolutely hated school, but I rarely ever remember my dreams or have nightmares. Is that even normal, seemingly never dreaming or having nightmares?
I find myself gifted in being able to have wild lucid dreams and remembering details, and even learning! I also have nightmares that I can't wake up from and they're terrifying. I often know it's a dream (or is it?) and can't wake up. You're missing out on a lot of fun, but you're also not tormented. If you want to remember your dreams, smoke less weed and concentrate on that blurry moment of going from awake to asleep. Our dreams are in the REM barely-asleep part of the sine wave.
I don’t do much lucid dreaming but agree with the last point. It’s why I find it hard to get up early in the morning sometimes. I know if I keep sleeping and waking up in short chunks that I’m going to get a lot more dream time in and I enjoy most of them.
I have had plenty of dreams where I’m at my high school and hanging out with friends who were there and even sometimes people I know now as an adult. But it is never anything stressful. Just like hanging out in school how life was then. Never anything like what I hear others say as far as tests and all that go.
I guess since I never worried about any of that crap in school, I’m not haunted by it.
You will all be happy to know that teachers suffer from their own brand of school dreams where they are unprepared for class, can't find their lecture notes, and so on. I just left the profession, and now I will be plagued by both kinds of dreams for the rest of my life.
My first job was contingent on graduating. I would have nightmares that my school would notified me that I failed some required course, or didn't have enough credits to graduate. I would wake up and count the credits on my transcript.
After my 3rd job out of school, I stopped having those dreams.
I had undiagnosed ADHD, Anxiety and Depression in college. Didn't end up in class a lot.
The dreams I have are from the same age range, but are about making sure I get all those entitled Moms their Furbies before Christmas Eve while working at Toys R Us.
It isn't about school.
I wonder if age matters.
School and high school are the formative years of your life where you are essentially building who you will be as a person. College is generally your first taste of independence.
Do people who go to college as mature students have the same dreams?
has anyone done research on whether people in the 1600s or something had recorded dreams like these and what those were?
i wonder if this is a consequence of the modern system or just inbuilt to us as a species.
I have weird dreams about never having graduated high school even after I got my PhD. No anxiety about university or grad school, but high school keeps popping into dreams I can remember.
I don't dream ever a out school.
I had a great time at school. Never learned for tests or exams, always good (enough) grades, never got bullied, lots of parties and girls and later on drugs.
I rarely dream about school but sometimes when going to work I feel something is wrong because I can't feel the weight of my backpack - I must have left it somewhere...
This seems correlated to symptoms of imposter syndrome. I stopped having the dreams around the same time I started to get over imposter syndrome. Only took 18 years.
Yes. This is everybody's dream. I see my academic life 'corrected' in dream! More meaningful relations with classmates etc.
Relevant xkcd: https://xkcd.com/557/
It's this XKCD that actually made me realise I was not alone, that it's a general phenomenon.
I'd say I dream about this twice a year, being out of college for 11 years now.
There's an acronym for it – PTSD. We put children and young adults through trauma in their formative years and are surprised when that stays with them forever.
I remember friends and colleagues having literal panic attacks and numerous other symptoms immediately prior to exams followed by depression and binge drinking immediately after. In my school's history there are several suicide attempts, one of them in my class.
For me, exams were half of it. The awful kids and staff were the other half. It was sheer misery. I don’t miss anything from that time of my life.
I don't miss it either. The day I graduated was the best day of my life. Felt like I was waiting for my life to begin.
Yeah I came here to say this too, though I don't think it'll be popular. Schools are like prisons your parents send you to every day so they have time to work.
A couple games have riffed on this:
Indeed. Glorified daycare. All those kids are there just to enable their parents to work during the day. At some point they figured they should do something useful with all that time so they started teaching stuff in classes which has the added benefit of structuring the children and making it easier for one teacher to manage them.
Is it related to the school and/or major? My major, Computer Science, was very difficult for me and I needed a lot of tutoring and couldn't miss anything. I saw some others not struggle at all through CS. Then I saw [redacted as to not be a jerk] majors and thought that was the easiest shit ever. The latter people shouldn't have any bad dreams of skating through Sociology. Whoops.
It may amuse you to know that, as a sociology major myself, I always envied my engineering school friends because they didn’t have to do nearly as much reading as me and it was possible for them to help one another on problem sets in a way that doesn’t make sense in writing-based liberal arts courses. The grass is always greener, I suppose!
Why can't you help your classmates with writing? You may have been doing it wrong.
You can help with writing skills-wise, but the thing with essays is that they are subjective and do not have a single correct answer. I took a few STEM courses and found that it was common for STEM students to work together on problem sets because they could compare answers to figure out if and how they had gone wrong. There is no equivalent to this in liberal arts.
Having dipped into the humanities and social sciences (but ultimately graduated with a Math degree), I'd say that the potential difficulties are different rather than absolute.
You often have to do a TON of reading and synthesis in H or SS fields. Mind-boggling reading lists aren't uncommon. If you're lucky the prose is a friendly style. If not... well, you know that feeling of trying to take in a math text quickly? It's not quite that bad, but it's related, lots of unfamiliar phrasing and terminology that you have to work out the connections between and condense semantics from. And then... you may not have well-defined problems. Essay questions/assignments amount to "come up with some thesis and supporting arguments that show familiarity with the material and the ability to generate interesting insight." Do "interesting" and "shows familiarity with the material" sound like uncomfortably subjective assessments? Why yes. Yes they are. Good luck! Also measuring things and experiments are hard. You can be reasonably dull in the natural sciences and still gather a useful amount of empirical observation; in the social sciences or humanities you're going to have to be pretty clever to get good empirical observations at all.
OTOH I would agree that CS and Math often have an additional level of conceptual difficulty, especially the more abstract the corner of the field you're working with, from "you'll definitely need some well-chosen concrete examples as introductory points and probably a bunch of graduated problem sets leading to the eventual brain-twisting revelation" to "you don't understand this, you just get used to it."
I'm considering a grad program that blends the two, so maybe I'll change my mind when I'm done.
Humanities can be just as hard, but easier to bluff. In STEM wrong is obvious, and the only hope of skating by is if the teacher is forgiving with the expectations.
I am so thankful that I do not dream. I’d hate to have my sleep disturbed by memories of school!
Wow, I thought I was alone.
Here "Why adults still dream about
school", The Atlantic and many of the
comments in this thread touch on some
serious points about life and education.
Here I hope to give some examples for some
lessons that might help others. Some of
what I give are opinions where some people
I consider the US system of formal
education K-12, college, and graduate
school through Master's based on classes,
tests, and grades. Ph.D. is related but
often quite different. I can't comment on
schools of law or medicine.
This formal education does a lot of good
in the sense that the US would be a lot
worse off if the whole system were
Still, a lot about this system is too
close to being a racket, a lot of
misleading the students, a lot of serious
harm done to some of the students, and
good for the schools.
Yes, I remember school! I don't have bad
dreams but can't forget.
Some that I can't forget are the girls!
Uh, maybe these days it is politically
incorrect to mention, but I was a boy, now
am a man, there has been no ambiguity, and
I very much do remember the girls. Often
they tried hard to be be pretty and
otherwise feminine and were very
E.g., in 9th grade algebra class, I looked
over to the right along the wall and saw
some of the girls, perfect posture, very
well dressed, immaculate, perfect decorum,
etc. They struggled with the course, but
I found it easy; so at times I tried to
help them, but they didn't want my help!
When I was 14, I met a girl of 12, and we
tried to be boyfriend/girlfriend. About
18 months later we had a misunderstanding,
that we handled poorly, and broke up.
But she was the prettiest human female I
ever saw in person or otherwise. I
downloaded her high school graduation
picture from Facebook and keep it in the
UR corner of my computer screen. Can't
A few years ago, a women explained to me,
at that age, 12 and early teens, girls are
the prettiest they ever get -- seems true
for the girls I in was in class with in
grades 6-12. Can't forget.
But there is a lot I'd prefer to forget:
From nearly all the teachers nearly all
the time, I got a lot of contempt.
In math and science, occasionally I would
fight back, take a problem others were
struggling with and solve it. And I had
some significant victories -- on the
standardized tests of aptitude and
accomplishment, in math and science I was
one of the best students in the school,
but mostly the contempt continued.
Once for fun I attacked how to inscribe a
square in a semi-circle. My approach
seemed novel so I wanted to check. The
teacher said "You can't do that.". Later
I discovered that she was wrong, that I
had reinvented similitude. Can't
forget. I learned a lesson: In K-12 and
college, some of the teachers are actually
not very good with their subject.
The social situation was a mystery to
me: It was very competitive, with maybe
even a pecking order. I had no idea
what was going on; I was no good at the
game if only because I had no idea there
was a game.
Some of the boys took athletics quite
seriously, but I saw no reason to do that.
Some of the pecking order depended on
academic performance and, as I look back,
maybe I was doing well at that (but didn't
Then for the girls, eventually it dawned
on me that for the girls my age, I likely
was not going to be very successful
socially because I was fighting Mother
Nature, Darwin, and likely the parents of
the girls. Instead, once the girls
started being interested in boys, they
were more interested in boys 2-4 years
older than they were.
But there is a cliche: The boys are
interested in things and the girls, in
people. So, in the social pecking order
game, the girls will dominate.
I wish someone had explained to me that
game and other issues and lessons of
(3) Tests and Grades.
My father was an expert in education,
had his Master's in it, yes, had a
teaching certificate for grade school,
and had a career in high end education
theory and practice for the US Navy. But,
for my grades, he didn't care! So, at
home I was getting no big push to make
A's. Lesson: If he didn't care much
about grades, maybe they were not very
In the 4th grade, we had a spelling test,
and I missed "pneumonia". When I saw how
the correct spelling was so far from being
either intuitive or phonetic, I still
wanted to learn the important material but
gave up on spelling and grades.
So, I learned the arithmetic but didn't
bother with the tedious, redundant
exercises in a big workbook. The teacher
sent a message home that I would complete
the workbook or she would fail me. Dad
gave me a little arithmetic test and
concluded that, yes, I was plenty good at
the arithmetic. Then he looked at the
workbook, and together we used a
calculator to fill in all the results.
So, again I got contempt for grades.
I never got over my contempt for grades.
In particular, I never lost sleep, got an
anxiety disorder, or had bad dreams about
My summary: Knowledge can be really
important. Formal education can be one
way to get some parts of the important
knowledge. But courses, credits, and
grades are usually a bit distant from
being directly helpful later in school or
In some situations, a perfect or nearly
perfect grade point average can be
helpful. In nearly all academic
situations, getting such a grade point
average is very stressful. There is
considerable question if such grades are
worth the stress.
Short of perfect or near perfect grades,
possibly surprisingly grades don't count
for much, either for or against the
In particular, possibly surprisingly, in
the best US research universities, for a
Ph.D., there is some contempt for the idea
that a Ph.D. will be awarded for high
grades in courses.
There is something of a secret concern,
cliche: Some student has been making
grades of A from the first grade on, has
done really well at doing what she (the
main concern is for girls!) was told, but
can't do original research. This
concern is likely more from some profs
being arrogant about their research than
they are with actual experience with such
Some universities make a point of stating
that there is no coursework requirement
for a Ph.D. Instead of grades, a usual
hurdle is the qualifying exams. And
important beyond all else is publishable
Or, in short, once submit a paper for
publication, no one checks your grade
point average. And once the paper is
accepted, no one cares about your grade
In grad school, I got contempt from the
faculty. Then I took an unsolved problem
in an old subject and got a nice solution.
The work was clearly publishable. The
contempt went away. Then no one cared
about my grades, when I made A's and when
In general there are ways other than
course grades to show aptitude and
accomplishment, and usually these other
ways can make up for grades of B, C.
K-12 can give, each year, for each
subject, a standardized achievement
test. A student who does really well on
one those tests should have a reason to
complain if they are also given a low
grade in the subject.
E.g., there are the SAT and GRE exams.
And over a wide range of possibilities, at
times actual practical achievement can
count a lot more than grades.
When I was a prof teaching an applied math
course, I had a little approach: I
would hand out some exercises, work them
in class, state that the tests would be
like the exercises, and advise the
students "If you can do well on these
exercises, then you should do well on the
But exercises on the tests would be fairly
easy -- making an A was not difficult.
Then the rest of the class would be for
more advanced material. Students could
take it seriously or not as they wished.
And some of the students did take the more
advanced material seriously: It was good
working with them, fun for me, productive
for them, with no stress about grades.
Is this a US only thing? It's certainly not something that has ever bothered me and none of the people I know who attended a university ever mentioned such a thing.
So I think this dictum applies: When a title asks "Why" first ask "If".
Definitely not US only. I still dream about my math & German exams. I did well on both though
I'm from Romania, I still get those recurring nightmares related to uni and even to highschool (some of the HS professors were even more demanding than what I got at uni). I attended uni about 20 years ago.
It is culture-specific, but not US-only.
BTW, given the current state of psychology, 50%+ of psychology is culture-specific. (See "How emotions are made")
Even Freud wrote about this type of dream a century ago
... because I went back to grad school as a 40 year old.
school is the most fun you will have in life
It really says something about western education that these PTSD like dreams are so widespread.
I think there is an important difference between having stress and having a traumatic stress disorder.
Not western but US.
Sounds like PTSD
Obligatory related movie link:
The real question is why animals dream...
Is this another American thing?
I don't know anyone who ever dreams about school (non-US obviously)
European. I dream about having to go back to high-school to finish some course, or take an exam covering something I know nothing about. It often occurs to me that I have an university degree, so it doesn’t make any sense, but it usually drags on for a little more before I finally wake up.
I finished high-school 25 years ago.
I'm from Europe, out of school for two decades, and still dream about it. A lot of math exams, but anything, really.
S. Korean here. Dreamed about failing college entrance exam last night.
Funnily enough, I thought this was a Korean thing...
I had a coworker from Vietnam tell me he still has nightmares about the university entrance exams. He has a PhD. Said it wasn't as stressful in comparison.
Australia here. I'm in my late 70's but still have dreams where I'm stressed about a coming exam, although in the dream I'm well aware that I'm no longer working and am long since retired.
Do you have any Chinese (i.e. went through mainland china middle school entrance exams / high school entrance exams / college entrance exams) friends who will share their dreams with you?
Chinese here. Dream of high school constantly - most recently last night.
Show me a Chinese kid, especially immigrant to Western countries, that don't have anxiety about school and I'll show you a unicorn.
My Chinese friends tell me when they were kids, all students' grades were made public, so everyone knew exactly how each student was performing. Also, a student's grades were a direct reflection of the family. So, if a student was doing poorly, everyone knew about it, people generally looked down on the parents, like the poor performance was all their fault. I've heard stories about managers at work talking to employees about their child's performance in 3rd grade.
My friends are all in their 50s, and they all tell me they still have nightmares about school back in China. Not sure if school in China is still like that, though.
I'm from the colonies, now in Canada, and I get these dreams once in a while.
I was very sleep-deprived at university and once fell asleep after pulling an all-nighter for a Saturday morning exam, only to wake up on Sunday evening, with another exam looming Monday morning. Another time I overslept and was 2 hours late for a 3-hour exam. So, my dreams actually have roots in reality.
UK here - took me quite a few paragraphs to remember that in the US "school" can also mean university. I was wondering when the article would actually get on to the subject of school.
Or from India if you have prepped and sat for the IITs
(UK) I've had dreams about university/school and I very rarely dream
India. Normal engineering degree. Still get dreams (age 42)