How Schools Encourage Co-dependency

Co-dependence is a technical word for what people used to refer to as “battered wife/husband syndrome” where one person in the relationship completely sacrifices their freedom and well-being to take care of the other person who takes them for granted.  Such people see themselves as responsible for managing the feelings of the other person.  They falsely believe they are in control of the other person’s feelings and deny the other person’s responsibility for their own problems.

There is a twelve point checklist used as a guide to determine if a person is co-dependent.  Let us go through this list of items one by one and see how the public school system encourages this pathological approach to relationships.

1. Solving [the teacher’s] problems or relieving [the teacher’s] pain is the most important thing in my life – no matter what the emotional cost to me.

Children are told to do whatever the teacher wants to keep them happy.  Teachers will often become emotional, yell, curse, beg, or demand that their students do the tasks they want the children to do, regardless of whether the children want to do them or not- homework, tests, in-class busy work, sport, etc. The most successful students, the ones who will be rewarded with good grades, are the ones who are typically the most co-dependent.  These children are taking on responsibility for making the teacher happy by always doing what they are told.

2. My good feelings depend on approval from [the teacher]

Teachers will intentionally or unintentionally put their students down by grading them on their performance.  Failing a test and getting an F can be devastating to a child.  Thus children feel that making the teacher happy is the only way for them to feel happy about themselves.  This is made worse if the teacher tells them how disappointed they feel in the child when the child fails a test or forgets to turn in homework. The child learns from this that they are responsible for the good moods of the teacher and sends the message that their self worth is dependent on how the teacher views them.

3. I protect [the teacher] from the consequences of his behaviour.  I lie for him, cover up for him, and never let others say anything bad about him.

Teachers are human and often have flaws.  I’ve seen teachers make mistakes about basic English grammar, lose their temper and scream at a child, teach terrible lessons, or just walk into a classroom and do nothing resembling education at all.  Some teachers are downright abusive towards their students, yet children often will not report this behaviour to their parents or other school authorities. This is because children are actively punished if they challenge a teacher’s ability to do his job. Children quickly learn there is safety in covering up for the incompetence of teachers.

4. I try very hard to get [the teacher] to do things my way

Because children are powerless prisoners of the government funded school system they can not use reason and negotiation effectively and consistently to assert their interests the way healthy adults would normally do.   Children quickly learn that lying to teachers is the most effective way of getting their needs met. If they need a breather, they ask for a toilet break. If they forgot to do their homework , they say their computer broke. Telling the truth only invites rebuke, so children realise quickly that they cannot be honest with their teacher. Children learn the exhausting and self-demeaning skill of lying to manipulate people.

5. I don’t pay attention to how I feel or what I want.  I only care about how [the teacher] feels and what [the teacher] wants.

Teachers often make demands on children that conflict with the needs of the child.  Children need to play games, socialise, talk out loud, make mistakes, be creative, explore and challenge people.  These are things a teacher will not approve of in a classroom of 20-40 students.  Children want to be children, but if children want to be successful at school they need to give up on having a childhood and act like mini adults to avoid punishment.  Children are encouraged to give up on their needs to meet the needs of the government funded school system and are often held to higher standards than what adults hold themselves to. It doesn’t matter if a child doesn’t want to do homework every night, if they are too tired to wake up early every morning, if they hate being forced to play sport, or if they see no value in their classes. Everything is about what the teacher wants, when the teacher wants it, and how the teacher wants it.

6. I will do anything to avoid getting rejected by [the teacher].

Children often attach emotionally to a teacher or an authority figure like a teacher.  These children will feel obligated to avoid upsetting the teacher for fear they might be rejected.  Since the teacher cannot offer the children the unconditional love a parent is capable of giving a child,  the child is left trying desperately to gain the approval and avoid the rejection or rebuke of the teacher.  This trains a child to believe their survival and well-being is dependent on making a favourable impression on others. School survival often depends on becoming a favourite of the teachers and school staff. Favourite children are given more leniency with assignments and grading or receive other kinds of preferential treatment  (i.e. being given special roles in the class which afford privileges, such as “teacher’s helper”) and these little perks can help make school a more tolerable experience for those children.

7. I will do anything to avoid making [the teacher] angry at me.

Children often find their time at school becomes a lot more difficult if the teacher is angry with them.  Part of being a good teacher is setting academic expectations for a student slightly higher than what they think they are capable of.   However, many teachers set unrealistically high standards of behaviour and academic performance for children and when children fail to live up to these expectations they get angry with the children.  Children typically deal with anger differently to adults and will internalise the teacher’s anger leading them to think they are responsible for the teacher’s anger.

8. I experience much more passion in a relationship that is stormy and full of drama.

While this item in the checklist originally refers to adult interpersonal relationships, particularly romantic ones, it does have applications here. Because the teacher in a public school is effectively an authoritarian dictator, the children cannot negotiate with them.  Even if the teacher wants to negotiate with the children, he can’t change the curriculum and class organisation without the risk of losing his job.  Faced with this oppressive relationship, some children develop the attitude of enjoying causing drama.  Annoying or mocking the teacher, acting out against other classmates, refusing to do schoolwork, or causing disruptions in the classroom to get attention all become exciting outlets for frustration and aggression. Every kid knows who in their class is the troublemaker, the class clown, the lazy one, etc. The risk here is that after school the children will have developed a taste for high drama relationships.

9. I am a perfectionist and blame myself for everything that goes wrong

Children learn in school that acceptance comes from other people instead of from within themselves.  When children evaluate their grades, their bodies, their clothing, their attitudes, they look at what the teacher and the other children consider acceptable, which often means setting an unrealistically high bar for themselves.  These children enter into adult life continually feeling frustrated with themselves for never getting it right, as they have been conditioned against self-acceptance and look instead for external validation of everything they do. Their damaged sense of self-worth leads them to feel as though nothing they ever do is good enough.

10. I feel angry, unappreciated, and used a great deal of the time.

Public schools, especially high schools, are full of angry children who feel none of their efforts are acknowledged or respected.  They are ordered about, judged, and expected to perform mundane tasks, many of little value to their careers or job prospects, year after year, so it is no wonder that they feel like this.  Children may study hard for a test, score poorly, and then be accused by the teacher of being lazy and not working hard enough. However, the danger is, do they start to believe that feeling angry, unappreciated and used is normal and how people ought to live?  In their romance?  In their marriage? In their career?  In their family life?

11. I pretend everything is fine when it isn’t.

Children don’t know what normal and functional behaviour looks like. Adult behaviour is modelled to them by their parents or teachers and they normalise this behaviour, even if it is dysfunctional. They have no basis for comparison. So when they see a teacher throw a fit at a child for not doing their homework, they don’t understand this is abnormal and dysfunctional behaviour on the part of the adult.  Have you ever seen an adult (other than a teacher or stressed out parent) lose their cool in front of a child and scream at them or threaten them?  Of course, you probably haven’t because that’s not normal behaviour. How long do you imagine a paediatrician, nanny, or even a toy store clerk would keep their job and professional reputation if they berated and put down children as much as teachers do? (Not very long!) However, in a public school, teachers face no consequences for acting out against other people’s children over trivial things. because of this, children learn to rationalise and excuse unstable behaviour as if it is fine when such behaviour is actually not normal or healthy.

12. The struggle to get [the teacher] to love me dominates my life.

Again, this goes back to children’s desire to win approval from their teacher and avoid rejection. The stereotypical “teacher’s pet” in the classroom is a great example of a co-dependent child. These children always side with the teacher, always eager to help out, to be seen as a model student. To these children, winning teacher chosen awards like “student of the week” are very important, as is getting top marks that will win further praise from the teacher. These children become very stressed out at the thought that they might lose their position as a favoured student. Simple mistakes, such as forgetting one’s homework at school and thus being faced with the prospect of disappointing their teacher the next day will often send these children into meltdowns. These children are on track to grow up to be people-pleasers, always sacrificing their own well being and integrity to please someone else, especially authority figures.

Conclusions

The interesting thing is, that because publicly funded school teachers are de facto representatives for the state, children raised in public schools become co-dependently attached to the government.  Go through the list again and notice that with all of these traits they apply to most people’s relationship with the government.  Children raised by school teachers are attached to the state in a co-dependent relationship and become the kind of citizen that big-government states want to have. They do not grow up to be free thinkers with questioning minds capable of critical thought.

Perhaps even more distressing is the idea that because these children normalise dysfunctional, co-dependent relationships, they grow up to recreate these relationships in their own families with their own children and perpetuate the cycle leading to a society filled with people who have never seen or experienced healthy relationships.

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