Recently, a successful friend said something to me that I have heard a lot since I dropped out of school in the eleventh grade, “high school was a complete waste of time.” When I tell people that I’m a dropout with a bachelors degree, they are often shocked. Friends have made me retell the story of how I ended up in community college so many times, I’ve grown sick of telling it. But, I’ll do it one more time, just for you good people.
When I had just turned eighteen, I ended up at an adult secondary school. If you are not familiar with such institutions, they are essentially second chance schools for delinquents, burnouts and other assorted degenerates. The only people who tried were pregnant girls, forced out of the big leagues by practical necessity or social stigma, and almost everyone else tried to sell me drugs.
One day in english class, we took a break from learning where the comma goes to hear a guest speaker from the local community college. I figured that anything she said had little to do with me, so I laid my head down and took a little nap, which was generally considered an acceptable practice. I faded in and out of consciousness as she talk for almost an hour about the school she represented. Her words were blurring with whatever sort of stuff is found in my subconscious. I thought I heard her say that you could attend community college once you turned eighteen even if you didn’t have a diploma. So, I figured it wouldn’t hurt to ask her if I had heard this right. She told me that I had and I walked out of class. The next day I drove across town and registered for college level classes.
Everyone’s K-12 school experience is a bit different. I still meet people who say that high school was the time of their life, but many more call college the golden days. For me personally, high school was an oppressive and creatively deadening experience. It wasn’t until college that I was able to reach my full potential and become an A-B student, instead of a C-D student.
Part of my problem was simply the rules. There were a million of them and they were enforced with almost no discretion, a strict zero tolerance policy. The principle once told me that I had no right to free speech as a student – I’m not kidding. This was during the Iraq war. I was told constantly that men and women were dying for my freedom, while being told I have no freedom.
However, my rebellious ways are generally the exception. Since high school, I have asked many of the A students how they managed to do so well. Usually, they tell me that they studied, a lot. This got me thinking. Most students spend forty hours a week at school. The studious ones then go home and spend two or three hours a night over a book. If you add in an extracurricular activity, many good high school students spend sixty plus hours a week working. This is more than most adults work. Contrast this to college, where a student will spend only fifteen to twenty hours in class each week. Why are some high school students working harder than some college students and working adults?
I’m not saying that I can supply all the answers to America’s education problem. But I do know I can’t go a month without reading some article about our slipping education ranking compared to other industrial and postindustrial countries. One the other hand, our colleges are ranked best in the world. Should high school be a bit more like college? Or do teens need the strict regimen of a high school day? Maybe I’m completely wrong and a better solution is needed. A solution that may be forming in the mind of a high school student as I write.