"School is not a place for smart people," Rick says matter-of-factly as he belches over his dinner. Education in Rick and Morty is not treated with reverence, but that doesn't mean what Rick and Morty says about American schools is unfair. On the contrary, the animated series actually makes some pretty salient points. Morty is possibly a genius and yet he struggles in school, and Rick is the most intelligent being in the universe and he dropped out.
The traditional school setting is just too uniform to help every student; each person is different and, subsequently, each person learns differently. There is no simple solution and the Department of Education shouldn't be lampooned for our failing schools, but the system is in desperate need of a revamp. Maybe a cartoon sociopath is just the push we need to reconsider the nation's strategy on formal education.
Here's how Rick and Morty highlights the failures of American education.
The Morty Academy Is A Perfect Satire Of American Education
In "The Ricklantis Mixup," we see a "school" in which the students (a group of Mortys) recite rote phrases about loving adventure. This mocks the way American children are made to recite facts and figures without much emphasis placed on critical thinking. This type of learning is shallow and fleeting and doesn't really foster true knowledge acquisition.
Schools Aim To Make A Standardized Product
The Morty who becomes president of the citadel gives a speech during the debate and comments on the Morty Academy saying, "They teach all the Mortys to be the same because they're threatened by what makes them unique."
While this sentiment cannot literally be transcribed to fit formal American education, the general premise is enlightening in regard to there being little room for creativity or original thought in our school system.
Morty Struggles In A Traditional Education System, But Is Clearly Intelligent
Morty struggles in school, but he can disarm neutrino bombs and is interested in alien cultures. Clearly, he's a smart kid; he just doesn't respond well to a traditional academic environment. He's very intuitive and insightful, but, as evident within the show, schools don't always reward those traits.
Learning By Doing Is The Preferred Method
You hear college graduates say that they learned most of their job on the job all the time, and that school didn't prepare them for the workplace. Morty is very much the same way. His adventures with Rick teach him far more than all his years in the classroom ever have.
School Standards Of Failure Are Too Universal
At the end of the pilot, Jerry tells Morty that he doesn't perform well because he has "some kind of disability" and he must "work twice as hard to keep up." This, quite reasonably, stresses Morty out.
School standards of success and failure are too universal to be tailored to each individual child and how they learn best. The result is that a smart kid who doesn't do well in such a setting will internalize those failures and view themselves as incapable, like Morty does.
The Status Quo Is Aggressively Maintained
There's a brief scene in which Mr. Goldenfold is handing out quizzes and the class groans – for which he berates them. It's hilarious because of how relatable it is. Teachers are probably tired of handing out regular quizzes and getting the same annoyed response, but that is simply the standard method of knowledge assessment.
One-On-One Learning Is Superior
In the very first episode, Rick convinces Beth and Jerry that Morty is gaining valuable experience by going on adventures with him; he attributes it to learning by doing. But implicit in this dynamic is the one-on-one attention Morty gets, which simply is not possible in a traditional school setting.
What About Teachers Who Talk To Kids On Their Level?
Frankly, sometimes this works, and sometimes it doesn't. A teacher has to be really good at connecting with their students to pull this off, and there are probably a lot of educators who think they're better at it than they truly are.
In "The ABCs of Beth," Morty's math teacher, Mr. Goldenfold, attempts to connect with his students by inserting some vulgarity into his teaching style. After getting no response, he angrily adds, "Come on y'all, I'm trying to make this appealing to your sex-addicted lifestyles!"