Crap Detection in School

When I think back on all the crap I learned in high school... by Mashthetics (CC BY-NC-SA)

When I think back on all the crap I learned in high school… by Mashthetics (CC BY-NC-SA)

Once you leave out all the bullshit they teach you in school, life gets really simple. ―George Carlin
[Human history] has been a continuing struggle against the veneration of “crap”.
—Neil Postman & Charles Weingartner
Just for the record, the weather today is calm and sunny, but the air is full of bullshit. —Chuck Palahniuk


School should teach you how to thrive.

Lists of names and dates don’t make for joyful living. Anxiety-filled socialization backfires. Pleasing grownups to get ahead can be useful, but it’s less rewarding than guidance counselors would have you think.

To live a fulfilling life, what you need to learn is crap detection, and school doesn’t teach it (though it gives you endless opportunities to practice).

What do I mean by crap detection? Seeing through the stories people tell you to the biases beneath and the truths they conceal. Knowing what’s what. Thinking for yourself.

The land of the free is fueled by convictions like think for yourself, speak your mind, and make changes as you see fit. Here we value equality, fairness, truth, and courage. But what do most schools teach you?


Teachers are grownups are right; students are children are wrong.

Don’t trust your judgement; others know better than you.

Sit still and stay quiet. (Gold star!)

You have no power.

Knowledge can be broken up into “subjects”.

There’s a right answer and a wrong answer.

If it’s important, it’s on the test.

Your worth is measured in grades. (Like meat!)

When the bell rings, stop whatever you’re doing.

You have no right to privacy.

You have no right to free speech.

You have no right to free expression. (You can’t wear that.)


And so on….

After more than a decade of this mind-numbing, soul-crushing nonsense, how can anyone begin to fulfill their unique potential? The answer is, they can’t.

Crap Detection Lesson One: don’t simply buy what your well-meaning teachers and administrators are selling. Nodding and smiling is a dead end. Skepticism will open doors you never knew were there.



  1. Paul Simon sums it up well:

    [links to song “Kodachrome”:
    “When I think back
    On all the crap I learned in high school
    It’s a wonder
    I can think at all…”—Ed.]

  2. Read the book. Lived the crap detecting thing as I thought it was a cool way to piss off the adults…The truth however is a bit more complicated than a quick two word sound-bite. The principle of keeping an open mind, remaining inquisitive, and use your own best judgement does not preclude the possibility that your teachers are giving correct and useful information. Don’t stop there. Learn to research, read, study, and develop opinions based on reason. Learning is a lifelong process. Oh yea, some times a nodding smile is in fact the perfect tool to assist in extracting wisdom from the situation. We all learn what is useful to us. Some just take longer than others. For me it’s been over 60 years and counting.

  3. At the beginning of my teaching career, I remember when the book first came out and I loved it. It most certainly did influence my teaching. Now looking back on my 40-year career in education, I can honestly say that, yes, there are teachers that would make me cringe at their methods, but there were MORE teachers that loved the PROCESS, as well as, if not more than, the content. Those outstanding educators were creative, and their teaching methods were interactive, encouraging questioning, intelligent discussions, and problem-solving. You will always find some individuals in any field that you wish would quietly go elsewhere. Hopefully, we will continue to attract those who love young people, and go into education to encourage the development of caring, smart, knowledgeable, ‘think-outside-the-box’ students, who will go out into the world, better off because of their good education.

    • I’m glad you’ve known so many good teachers and I hope the current state of education doesn’t discourage promising would-be teachers. I mentioned “well-meaning teachers” because curricula requirements often undermine even the best teachers’ efforts. Note: the book Marcy refers to is Teaching As A Subversive Activity by Neil Postman and Charles Weingartner (1969), whose first chapter, “Crap Detecting”, inspired this article.

What do you think?