The Case for Dropping Out of High School
An under-considered option for bright, self-starting students who dislike school.
I did well in school and reaped some benefit but I hated it. If I could do life over again, I would drop out of high school:
It made no sense to me that the best use of those robust years is to sit through and study four years of boring algebra, geometry, and calculus. And it turns out I was right. I’ve never used any of that.
It made no sense to me that the best use of those robust years is to sit through and study years of chemistry, physics, or molecular biology, and it turns out I was right. I’ve never used any of that.
It made no sense to me that the best use of those robust years is to sit through and study four years of history and I was right. The bumper sticker, “Those who ignore history are condemned to repeat it”, is simplistic, ignoring the opportunity cost of what one could be doing.
It made no sense to me that the best use of those robust years is to try to wade through the mountain of literature, from Silas Marner to Shakespeare to Camus. I believe I was right.
It made no sense to me that the best use of those robust years is to sit through and study four years of Spanish. Even though I got A’s, as I did in most subjects, I still speak little better than restaurant Spanish.
And regarding social life, if anything, the dysfunctional culture of high school hurt my social confidence.
I should have dropped out and been an autodidact: learning and socializing on my own.
Of course, most students shouldn’t drop out of high school, but more should consider it: bright self-starters who dislike school and are going through the motions, learning (or cheating) their way into good enough grades.
Making dropping-out work
Importantly, a parent and/or other mentor(s) are usually required to make dropping out work, helping to ensure the out-of-school teen’s life is superior to the student life in four areas: career preparation, personal development, social development, and fun.
Career preparation. The teen should volunteer or get paid to work in a series of workplaces, for example, a couple of months at each of a bookstore, a parent’s workplace, and at the elbow of a parent’s friend who is a successful, ethical business owner.
While a certain amount of scutwork may be required, the teen, depending on his or her ability, should be encouraged to ask questions, request permission to sit in on meetings, tactfully offer suggestions, and try out harder things such as to make a proposal for streamlining a process, finding new customers, etc.
The teen should keep a journal to solidify knowledge and for use in obtaining future, higher-level jobs or if applying to college.
Such could well be a wiser and more pleasant launchpad even for a high-level career.
Personal development. Here, I may seem contradictory: I believe that reading and discussing the universals — love, greed, war, etc — is crucial to becoming a thoughtful member of society. That’s what high school academics should consist heavily of. But in practice, too little time is spent on those in favor of inculcating little-used facts and concepts and alas, too often on ideological brainwashing.
So our model high-school dropout might read and discuss essays with a parent, friends, or in a reading group. Essays tend to be distilled examinations of the aforementioned Big Issues. Sources of essays: the Best American Essays series and the anthology, The Art of the Personal Essay.
Social development. As mentioned, high school may not be the best place for developing social competence and confidence given the negative synergies of a school full of hormonally driven kids with incompletely developed brains prone to risk-taking and insecurity.
But most kids who have dropped out can’t be counted on to provide a much improved social milieu. So it’s on the student and probably the parent and other mentors to provide opportunities for quality friendships. For example, the parent might invite good kids to the home or on family activities, and encourage friendships with adults at all stages, from those in college to retirees.
Fun. One of school’s strengths is that it offers myriad opportunities for fun: from recess to clubs to sports, even if just as a fan at the team’s games. The out-of-school teen might be able to participate in some of those but there’s usually a need to supplement. There’s the aforementioned parental facilitating of social life but it could also involve helping the teen enroll in government- and private recreational programs, from community softball to community theatre. In the summer, the child might become a counselor at a quality camp, and the mature teen might be allowed to go, perhaps with a friend(s), on road trips and other adventures.
But this blog often focuses on under-discussed options, and it is in that spirit that I raise dropping out for consideration by you or someone you care about.
I read this aloud on YouTube.
Career and personal coach Dr. Marty Nemko’s 12 books, including Careers for Dummies (Wiley, 2018) are available.