Other High School Dropouts

I don’t usually tell people this, but I dropped out of high school. I was unschooled/truant for a couple years after being booted out of 8th grade, and then spent a week in high school before dropping out. In fact, I never did get around to finishing my high school equivalency, which means I don’t have a high school diploma.

Why? Despite attending a relatively well-regarded public high school, I was shocked by the inanity of the classwork and a social structure that felt more like a prison ward than a place of learning. Ultimately, though, it was just boring.

Turns out I was not alone. Researchers surveying HS dropouts had this to say about them:

They struck us as articulate, capable. These kids wanted to be doctors and nurses and engineers and astronauts and then they hit the schoolhouse door and they’re confronted with an environment which is not inspiring, not engaging and often disorderly and unsafe.

Some had high grades and were just bored out of their minds. They found no connection between the classroom and life and their career aspirations.

I frequently hear my fellow faculty complaining that the university is becoming much like high school, and while they are usually referring to the abilities of a large proportion of the students, I have a feeling that we are treading toward it feeling more like a high school as well.

I won’t articulate this fully, but the atmosphere of the university has become so involved in how to control students and faculty actions that learning is often swept aside. Our university has, over the last year, had a management consultant group meeting with focus groups. In one group that included faculty from across the campus, the facilitator compared graduating students to making hamburgers. It wasn’t a joke–at least not intentionally. The person didn’t understand why the analogy was not just flawed, but disrespectful.

For me, college was far better than high school. I could pick topics of interest, engaged with my peers, and located environments that were stimulating both intellectually and socially. I was still bored, particularly in classes that felt like high school (only bigger), but it was a step up. It was not until graduate school that I found an environment that really suited my temperament. Somewhere between third grade at a Montessori school and graduate school folks seemed to have forgotten what school was supposed to be about. Perhaps dropping out is the best way to graduate from such institutions.

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  1. Posted 3/4/2006 at 6:09 pm | Permalink

    I couldn’t agree with you more Alex. If anyone had told me how much fun grad school was going to be, I would have skipped undergrad and saved myself all of the pain. Some of us just have to work harder to find that place where we fit…but when we do watch out world.

  2. Posted 3/6/2006 at 7:09 pm | Permalink

    I’m a high school dropout too, but I think we had this discussion once. Luckily for me, after I went back, I knew why I was there. I was there to learn. So I made it a learning environment. With the help of some teachers and despite others. What high school lacks is space for intentionality on the part of people. People who want to learn cannot, because there’s no mechanism for it.

    I became a high school teacher myself, and a lot of my time was spent helping students conceptualize their experience in school. I have a feeling that failing at school is in part a lack of imagination. Not a bad thing. I didn’t have it. I couldn’t imagine how the experience could make sense to me, or how to mold it to my needs. After working, I realized that I wanted to make it work, and did.

    University was the same. Boring. But I made it intresting. Even found some interesting courses. But mostly it was me making it interesting… reading Alexander Pope out really loud in bars while drunk. Organizing poetry readings. With beer. Having dinner parties in my room with 3-4 toaster ovens.

    I didn’t find gradschool or my doctorate any better, and neither is the job now as a prof. Unless I make it so.

    What I learned from Maria Montessori was that intentionality and task dedication are the hallmarks of success in a learning environment. I added the idea that you have to have a creative imagination when it comes to surviving in the institution, and not expect it to be anything in and of itself. But that’s just me. And I’m having fun.

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