School isn’t for everyone

Brent Simmons writes about high school:

I envy the people who had a nice time at school. For me it was a struggle against stupid, unfeeling power the entire time. I truly hated it. When I wasn’t in trouble, when I was actually sitting in class, I was just watching the minute hand on the clock, begging it to speed up, minute by minute. By my senior year I was the person in the school who skipped entire days the most. I stayed up late and slept way in lots of mornings.

Eventually I got suspended for smoking a cigarette without having filled out the paperwork.

Well. This is just to say that I preferred being at home, where I was reading and writing and writing computer programs. Like now.

There are young people who desperately need school for very practical reasons: food, warmth, sanctuary.

There are young people who thrive when they’re in a classroom learning from teachers and fellow students

And there are young people who don’t need school at all, who find it a toxic, frustrating, counterproductive activity.

As we’re building a system for COVID-learning, why not see if we can find a way to liberate these students from the tyranny of needing to buy what we’re selling.


Chuck McKinnon's picture
Chuck McKinnon on August 6, 2020 - 15:06 Permalink

My oldest son is like the writer. His last semester of high school he had only four classes to go, yet by the end of October he'd racked up 100 absences. At a maximum rate of four per day, it was a rather impressive, if dubious, total.

Within the year he joined the military, which was receiving 10x more applications than there were available roles. To his surprise, but not to mine, his aptitude test placed him in the 90th percentile. That plus his excellent physical condition secured him a spot.

We had homeschooled him from Grade 2 to Grade 9, and it was no better. We eventually sent him back to public school in Grade 10 because his mother declared that keeping his nose to the grindstone was more work than teaching the other three put together. Unschooling did NOT work for him; he squandered all his time.

He and I have since concluded that school was simply not challenging enough. Not just in the sense of "not challenging given his abilities," but in the sense of "all the challenges are artificial." Jason had figured out in Grade 1 that school is just a place where adults warehouse kids so we can get things done during the day, and any learning that takes place there is almost incidental. Homeschool was better but only marginally; he simply was not interested learning until it meant something. He wanted to test his mettle against others at work that mattered, and see how he measured up.

The military has provided that challenge, and yet also sufficient structure for a young man barely twenty years old. It's not for everyone, but boy is it working for him.

Derek MacEwen's picture
Derek MacEwen on August 7, 2020 - 10:32 Permalink

For those who don't fit the high school system there's a way to bypass it and go on to university, but it's not well-advertised, likely because it upsets a few apple carts.

UPEI (and likely other universities) has a special student category called "unclassified student", defined (vaguely) as "persons interested in enrolling in undergraduate courses for general interest or other academic purposes without having to gain admission to a specific program." Under this category, you are limited to taking two or three courses per semester. For many programs, after completing 5 courses including an English course, you can then apply for and, if your marks are acceptable, be admitted to the regular degree-granting program (without high school or other prerequisites), and these 5 courses count towards your degree!

Before being told about this option, the registrar's office will pitch finishing high school and/or the 2 year Holland College upgrading program, and you may have to get by the "student advisors" before finding someone who will tell you about it.

Oliver Rukavina's picture
Oliver Rukavina on August 8, 2020 - 08:17 Permalink

I had and still have anxiety attacks. My first two Schools were not very accepting of the Problem: 1. I had to stay in a Closet at Prince Street Elementary School 2. Birchwood did not accept my anxiety attacks and put me into a room by myself.
When I got to High-School, They were more Accepting to my Anxiety Attacks.