Dropping Out to Learn


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When I entered high school, I realized that the only way to 'succeed' in class was to follow teachers like dogs follow their masters. Not in the sense of doing as well as I could, but to do better than the next person. The intense competitiveness and regimentation brought me to question the efficiency of conventional schooling, and the effect it was having on me.

Towards the end of high school, I found myself slipping away from class and struggling to stay focused. I took time off from school and started to nourish my own interests. I would read, study, challenge and question. No sense of competition, no strain or relative ranking. At school, however, I became a 'behavioural problem' and according to my teachers, 'needed to be disciplined.'

It starts in kindergarten: the school system tries to repress independence and teach obedience. Kids are not induced to challenge or to question, but the contrary. If you do start questioning, you're a behavioural problem or something like it. You're supposed to repeat, obey, and follow orders, or else!

If I think back about my experience, there's a big dark spot. That's what schooling generally is: a period of regimentation and control, part of which involves direct indoctrination, providing a system of false beliefs. But more important is the manner and style of preventing and blocking independent and creative thinking and imposing hierarchies and competitiveness.

My passion to learn brought me to a stage of confusion; what next? I couldn't let school bog me down, I needed to thrive. Was dropping out an option? When you hear those badly stereotyped words "high school dropout," you think of losers, stoners, and minimum wage job workers.

I had a choice: stay in school, or drop out and learn. The ironic choice that I faced tells something very important about the intentional design of the school system. I was trying not to let school interfere with my education.

All my experiences lead me to one conclusion: school really does "suck."

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Tristan Shaw is a senior student enrolled at a public school on the West Coast.