ryandrake
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.

cmrdporcupine
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.

CalChris
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.

Dave_Rosenthal
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.
progman32
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.
Ishmaeli
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.

karaterobot
> 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?

jimt1234
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.

Eleison23
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.

pram
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.
snapetom
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.

Al-Khwarizmi
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").

smm11
I'm late for class and can't remember my locker combination, every night going on 50 years.
x3n0ph3n3
I'm reminded of that amazing scene from Top Secret!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lvDFJVUaXUI

streblo
baron816
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.

jvanderbot
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.

Aeolun
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.

adamnemecek
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

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prussian_education_system

snickerbockers
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.
goldorak
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.
jdougan
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.

hypersoar
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).
Decabytes
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

damethos
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.
Falkon1313
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.

journey_16162
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.
simion314
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.

brundolf
Weirdly I have more nostalgia dreams about school (especially college) than anxiety dreams. Though I've certainly had those too
karencarits
> 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 the therapist?

https://sci-hub.se/https://doi.org/10.1080/00332747.1961.110...

acconrad
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.

Heyso
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.

theGnuMe
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…
sriku
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.

kstenerud
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.
trasz
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.
verisimi
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.

oneoff786
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.

AuryGlenz
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?

melissa576093
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.
norwalkbear
Because modern American public schools are basically prisons and traumatized kids.
RalfWausE
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...
chasd00
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.
garfieldnate
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.
samstave
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...

flashgordon
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!!)
hcarvalhoalves
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.
khendron
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).

krick
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!
arwhatever
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.

tosser0001
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

seper8
Absolutely hated school, but I rarely ever remember my dreams or have nightmares. Is that even normal, seemingly never dreaming or having nightmares?
hellotomyrars
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.

vertnerd
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.
balls187
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.

jprd
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.

cgrealy
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?

viksit
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.

seanmcdirmid
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.
scoutt
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...
de6u99er
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.

mackman
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.
psuresh
Yes. This is everybody's dream. I see my academic life 'corrected' in dream! More meaningful relations with classmates etc.
rtatay
Relevant xkcd: https://xkcd.com/557/
paxys
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.
irrational
I am so thankful that I do not dream. I’d hate to have my sleep disturbed by memories of school!
9tacos
Wow, I thought I was alone.
graycat
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 might differ.

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.

(1) Racket?

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 abolished.

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.

(2) Remember?

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 successful.

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 forget her.

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 know it).

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 socialization.

(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 important.

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 grades.

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 practice.

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 student.

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 students.

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 original research.

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 point average.

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 I didn't.

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 test."

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.

kwhitefoot
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".

dvfjsdhgfv
I find The Atlantic unreadable unless I disable JavaScript.
blobbers
... because I went back to grad school as a 40 year old.
RadixDLT
school is the most fun you will have in life
dsalzman
It really says something about western education that these PTSD like dreams are so widespread.
docflabby
Sounds like PTSD
coldtea
Obligatory related movie link:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lvDFJVUaXUI

pulketo
The real question is why animals dream...
kgbcia
ptsd
aaron695
ihateniggas
groffee
Is this another American thing?

I don't know anyone who ever dreams about school (non-US obviously)

sr.ht