All the growing furor about the vital need to reform education is based entirely on changing what happens in schools: making sure kids can go on to college, evaluating teachers to get rid of incompetents, broadening parents’ choices of schools.
Does that mean that hordes of dropouts are doomed to poverty and uselessness? I’ve known a fair share who had a passionate interest in knowing more about something that wasn’t included in the standardized collective testing they were subjected to in class—and they left.
I stayed in school, but while growing up and after, I also spent a lot of time in public libraries having a ball with subjects like the history of atheism (I never could leap into faith); the blues and jazz (leading me to write books about those musical genres); and why and how the First Amendment is the only guarantee we have of remaining free individuals against an imperial President and a tyrannical popular majority. From that selfreeducation came writing and speaking gigs that helped me make a living.
None of those aforementioned subjects were part of the curriculums at the prestigious Boston Public Latin School or Northeastern University, where the president kicked me out of the campus newspaper’s editorship for being irreverently independent.
And I’ve known a number of scholastic dropouts who found a calling—a true vocation— way beyond academia. They did what one of my favorite independent souls, George Bernard Shaw, advised long ago: “Get some books that really grab you, get under a tree and read them. That’s how you learn to learn. Keep reading.”