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Monday, July 1, 2019

School Has Robbed Young People of Their “Why”

To find their way, schooled young people need to rebuild their rudders and develop their own “why."

Photo by Kishor Kumar on Unsplash

Many young people today feel lost. Some are unable to chart a course for their lives and so find themselves stranded at home. Others float aimlessly in jobs where they are unable to find engagement and meaning.

All of these issues boil down to a deficiency of self-direction. Young people are adrift in the sea of life because they are rudderless. And it was school that broke their rudders.

Lack of Self-Direction

In school, obedience is the highest virtue. Do this, and don’t do that. Why? Because I said so. Stop pursuing that interest; instead, study this. Why? Trust me, it’s for your own good.

As the economic philosopher Ludwig von Mises wrote, “Human action is purposeful behavior.” An action’s purpose is its “why.” In school, the only “why” relevant to success is the crudely simple goal of obedience. Any further “why” is almost always someone else’s domain.

To find their way, schooled young people need to rebuild their rudders and develop their own “why.”

Thus, most children are deprived of the chance to exercise self-direction, to develop their own “why.” Instead, like highly intelligent circus animals, they are run by academic ringmasters through a 15,000-hour gauntlet of scholastic hoop-jumping. After undergoing such Pavlovian conditioning as that, is it any wonder that young adults have such a hard time setting their own paths?

To find their way, schooled young people need to rebuild their rudders and develop their own “why,” which is a complex challenge (one I will return to in future posts).

This article is republished with permission from Medium. 


  • Dan Sanchez is an essayist, editor, and educator. His primary topics are liberty, economics, and educational philosophy. He is the Director of Content at the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE) and the editor-in-chief of FEE.org. He created the Hazlitt Project at FEE, launched the Mises Academy at the Mises Institute, and taught writing for Praxis. He has written hundreds of essays for venues including FEE.org (see his author archive), Mises.org, Antiwar.com, and The Objective Standard. Follow him on Twitter and Substack.