March 22, 2015

"But abolishing high school would not just benefit those who are at the bottom of its hierarchies."

"Part of the shared legacy of high school is bemused stories about people who were treated as demigods at seventeen and never recovered. A doctor I hang out with tells me that former classmates who were more socially successful in high school than he was seem baffled that he, a quiet youth who made little impression, could be more professionally successful, as though the qualities that made them popular should have effortlessly floated them through life. It’s easy to laugh, but there is a real human cost...  I’ve learned from doctors that you don’t have to have a cure before you make a diagnosis. Talk of abolishing high school is just my way of wondering whether so many teenagers have to suffer so much. How much of that suffering is built into a system that is, however ubiquitous, not inevitable? 'Every time I drive past a high school, I can feel the oppression. I can feel all those trapped souls who just want to be outside,' a woman recalling her own experience wrote to me recently. 'I always say aloud, "You poor souls."'"

From a Harper's Magazine article by Rebecca Solnit called "Abolish High School." You'll need a subscription to read the whole thing, but I wanted to alert you to its existence. The proposal in the title doesn't seem to be more than a rhetorical device, or the attack would be obvious: Isn't the cure worse than the disease? She anticipates that with "you don’t have to have a cure before you make a diagnosis."

63 comments:

Wince said...

A doctor I hang out with tells me that former classmates who were more socially successful in high school than he was seem baffled that he, a quiet youth who made little impression, could be more professionally successful, as though the qualities that made them popular should have effortlessly floated them through life.

Maybe the lack of social standing high school is pivotal to certain paths of earned success in later life. Nothing helps keep the mind focused like not having a date for Saturday night.

Anonymous said...

To me, the obvious attack is that the cure is no cure at all: what you'd need to abolish is adolescence.

TurbineGuy said...

My 15-year old and 17-year old moved to Scotland last year to finish there schooling (their mother is English and lives there).

The colleges in Scotland are based on qualifications, not years fulfilled.

This year my Son was able to start his HNC in Mechanical Engineering which is equivalent to a college Freshman, while my daughter enrolled in a specialist engineering program that will feed her into the same program as my Son, in two years.

Both my kids will end up with Bachelors of Engineering (Honors) by the time they are 21.

The best thing... its absolutely free for them.

Heartless Aztec said...

I became a high school teacher in part to protect the downtrodden, champion the bullied and provide succor and direction to the lost. Those themes were much bigger than me. I couldn't stop a mass murderer but I did and do have numerous now middle aged adults stop me in the aisles of supermarkets, car repair shops and professional office to tell me thank you for stepping forward on their behalf. I've always thought that that the physical plant of high school needs a serious reimagining. It could easily B so much more - intellectually and emotionally for the young people that pass through.

Eric the Fruit Bat said...

That whole the-meek-shall-inherit-the-earth thing, applied to graduating from high school, was a cliché at least thirty years ago.

And unlike many clichés, it's not even true.

But people want to be flattered so I can see the appeal.

Heartless Aztec said...

Addendum - I hate typing on a phone.

Fernandinande said...

The best thing... its absolutely free for them.

The worst thing...someone else is paying for it.

Freder Frederson said...

The worst thing...someone else is paying for it.

There are a lot worse things that a civilized society can pay for than ensuring that all qualified students get the best, cost free, education possible.

What exactly is wrong with providing a free college education?

I doubt many eighteen year olds can pay for their own college education. Someone else (even if it is their parents) are paying for it.

Laslo Spatula said...

I thought "The Breakfast Club" solved this already.

I am Laslo.

Unknown said...

"What exactly is wrong with providing a free college education?"

I used to tell my daughters, "If it costs you nothing, it's worth nothing to you."

The people receiving free stuff eventually feel entitled to free everything.

chickelit said...

Abolish mandatory high school but allow employers to import and hire kids from countries that didn't as a compromise.

That'll learn 'em in a hurry.

My best teacher ever was in high school link not provided so of course I would vote against such idiocy.

iowan2 said...

@ freder

Nothing is free.

someone else pays.

That you are so blind that words mean absolutely nothing to you, is scary, assuming you vote for politicians that hand out this "free" money.

Sebastian said...

"What exactly is wrong with providing a free college education?"

If the education is in fact free, it will require enslaving the instructors. Perhaps a feature, not a bug of Prog proposals.

If the education is not in fact free, it will involve upward redistribution from the less intelligent to the more intelligent. Since "intelligent control" is the nirvana of Progressivism, maybe that's also a feature, not a bug of Prog proposals.

College is just another market, severely distorted by current arrangements. "Free" college further distorts the market through overuse by people who wouldn't choose it otherwise and inefficient allocation of capital.

Of course, some non-Progs still believe in the shocking notion that adults should make their own decisions with their own money.

If TurbineGuy's kids have talent for engineering or parents who can pay for college, they can borrow or ask the old folks nicely.

Behind "free" there's always force: "free" college for the kids requires force used against the neighbors to cough up the dough.

Sam L. said...

I never attended my HS reunions. Went to two of my wife's.

Beloved Commenter AReasonableMan said...

My impression is that middle school is a lot more difficult than high school. Through grade school the kids largely live in the dream world of childhood. They begin to wake up in middle school in a very uneven way, creating a lot of personal and social angst. By high school this process is largely complete.

When my youngest kid hits middle school age I am seriously considering buying a yacht and going sailing with her through the middle school years. I can't be worse than middle school and may extend the joy of childhood a little longer.

Drago said...

AReasonableMeltdown: "When my youngest kid hits middle school age I am seriously considering buying a yacht and going sailing with her through the middle school years."

Wow.

Let the record show that on this day I am in complete agreement with that sentiment.

Children as they develop need to be put in positions where they are challenged and must struggle and overcome significant obstacles while in parallel nailing down those academic basics that will open the future for them.

It took several iterations with my first 2 before we discovered what those channels for achievement were and they were not what I had envisioned going in. It did involve a significant amount of home schooling to free up the capacity to engage in those other activities and the payoff has been rather significant.

I'm hoping that we can be as successful with the next couple coming down the pike. But, of course, that will be up to the kids just as much as us.

madAsHell said...

I can't be worse than middle school and may extend the joy of childhood a little longer.

"Daddy, you are embarrassing me!!"

Rusty said...


When my youngest kid hits middle school age I am seriously considering buying a yacht and going sailing with her through the middle school years. I can't be worse than middle school and may extend the joy of childhood a little longer.

You might want to learn to ail first.

Drago said...

Rusty: "You might want to learn to (s)ail first"

ARM, do you sail?

Laslo Spatula said...

The skill, with cheerleaders, is to recognize the midway point of high-school demigod and cashier at Costco. That is the prime point of accessibility before the Cheerleader outfit leaves the top shelf of the closet.

It is like the point between 'new-car-smell' and the first big dent you can't afford to repair.

I am Laslo.

Bruce Hayden said...

That whole the-meek-shall-inherit-the-earth thing, applied to graduating from high school, was a cliché at least thirty years ago.

And unlike many clichés, it's not even true.


It actually was, in my experience, and that of my partner. At her 20th, she no longer was covering everything up, and was still, a 10, but without the baby fat in her cheeks. The homecoming queens were fat and dumpy, the football players were fat and bald, etc. Few had aged that well.

I spent a part of my 20th reunion listening to a classmate who had been on the state championship football team, state championship basketball team, and was state champion in a track event talk about how that was the high point of his life. Someone who wouldn't really give me the time of day back then.

What seems to have happened in many cases is that athletics, sexual success, etc. were the metrics that indicated success in high school. But, the nerds were the ones who succeeded in life, because it takes a lot of study and hard work to get into a good college, do well there, and get into a good grad school. And, if you get drunk every weekend in HS, and even college, you probably aren't going to become a doctor, lawyer, or maybe even an engineer. So, it was not surprising that those of us with professional degrees ended up together by the end of the night, with little to talk about with those who had peaked in high school - because none of us had been popular back then, but had done much better later one.

Anonymous said...
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Mountain Maven said...

If a teenager has good parents to talk her through the mess that is public education, the bad parts can be mitigated. We tend to forget that parents have the biggest impact on children, if we make time for them.

Joe said...

A less drastic solution would be to end public schooling at the end of what is now the sophomore year. Kids would legally be allowed to be emancipated at 16.

While at it, severing the tie between sports and schools would be another leap forward in education.

William said...

I would think that the best time to have glory days is in high school. Just for one thing, you can lap up the adulation of high school cheerleaders without all those pesky moral charges. The second best time would be in your late twenties when your record goes platinum. You could tell all the former jocks about how expensive the car insurance is on your Ferrari.. And some of those hs cheerleaders who ignored you are still doable. Spite fucks are the sincerest form of copulation......The least enjoyable time for glory days is later in life. If you reach a certain level of education and maturity, there's no fun in spite fucks or bragging about your new car to someone who's behind on his mortgage. Still, late term glory days are better than no glory days at all.......

Michael K said...

"I doubt many eighteen year olds can pay for their own college education. Someone else (even if it is their parents) are paying for it."

I did. I left home at 18 but had a scholarship to college for tuition. I also had $500. to live on for a year. In those days, before the political left got hold of education, the university did not have lots of non-teaching facilities. In fact the only men's dorms were for the football team and the band. I lived in a fraternity house, which was the cheapest way to do so then. Fraternities began as cheap living quarters, not drinking clubs.

I had a job part-time and later, I dropped out for a year and worked full time until I had decided what I wanted to do with my life. It took a couple of years.

My kids got these things paid for which might not have been such a good idea but that is the standard for parents these days.

My father told me, "I want you to get this idea of college out of your head."

A friend of mine, living in Ireland, was knocked down by his father when he told him he wanted to be a doctor. His father called him "A bloody snob."

Today, we have delicate flowers who can't bear to hear a conflicting opinion.

I don't think there should be financial aid except for STEM majors. Plus, of course, we should end H1B visas.

SteveR said...

High School is a business and the jobs are sacred and secured, so you can't possibly consider abolishing it.

Beloved Commenter AReasonableMan said...

Rusty said...
You might want to learn to (s)ail first.


I have mucked around in boats for years, mainly motor boats, but some crewing on large and small sail boats. I was thinking of a motor sailer like this. The best part of this plan so far has been thinking about which boat to buy and where to go. Curiously, I had a similar plan for myself in high school but lacked the cash.

Anthony said...

What used to happen in this country was that many kids at 14 started working, hopefully learning a trade, and learning to deal with the adult world all around them. High school didn't really become universal until the Depression, when there was pressure to reserve jobs for men with families to support.

Those kids who were working were taking on adult responsiblities in a controlled way; mixing with people of all ages - all those things which Solnit complains don't happen in high school.

Laslo Spatula said...

The problem with the ex-high-school-cheerleader Costco cashier girl is that she has, by now, inevitably dated a lot of losers who wanted to do weird super-freaky sex things with her, and now she is wary when you -- out of a place of caring and support -- want to do weird super-freaky sex things with her, too. Baby, it's me: it's not bukkake if there is only one guy ejaculating all over you.

And I'll pay to have the cheerleader outfit dry-cleaned, good-as-new: I promise.

I am Laslo.

Simon said...

I wouldn't exclude a priori the notion of doing away with high school. At best, it's unnecessary: The state that provides a GED concedes as much. Perhaps high school is desirable, perhaps even optimal, but it is not necessary; it is a means to an end, viz. education, and there are other ways to do that. And there are reasons to doubt that it is the best means: I have never met someone who has a GED who seems less educated than a high-school grad, and I have met many homeschooleds who seem better prepared.

By what right, then, does high school claim even so much as a thumb on the scale in favor of its survival? I think its survival should be decided the same way we decide the continued existence of any other government program: By looking at its record and weighing alternatives.

Laslo Spatula said...

The ex-high-school-cheerleader Costco cashier girl has never gotten over giving a 'Pep Rally'.

In her ass.

I am Laslo.

Laslo Spatula said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Laslo Spatula said...

At the end of the evening the ex-high-school-cheerleader Costco cashier girl knows you are trying to sneak out of her apartment with her red cheerleader panties. Just stop.

I am Laslo.

Laslo Spatula said...

The ex-high-school-cheerleader Costco cashier girl has heard the "Give me a 'B', Give me a 'J'" cheer before: have some standards. Dude.

I am Laslo.

wildswan said...

Advantages of home schooling
Your wife (whatever her sex/ gender)
uses her education
can have a garden
saves on day care
can have pets
doesn't have to force seven-year-olds to race through breakfast in winter dark
can allow lots of recess
can prevent bullying
can exclude bad language

Simon said...

Joe said...
"A less drastic solution would be to end public schooling at the end of what is now the sophomore year. Kids would legally be allowed to be emancipated at 16."

That's what they do (or used to do) in England. High school ended at sixteen, concluding with exams in each subject, the "GCSEs," and that was it. If you wanted (i.e. if your parents insisted or if you intended to go to university), you could press on with two more years in the "Sixth Form," focused on three classes and concluding with exams called "A-levels."

So it's not inconceivable. The one thing that school reformers have to remember (and never do) is that the goal of the average student is to lark around to the greatest extent possible; it's not that kids are actively opposed to learning, they're just much less interested in it than having fun. And attempts to make learning fun are doomed. I tend to think that there is much to recommend the Vulcan education system depicted in "Star Trek"; forget this silliness about "socialization." Schools are no better at that than they are educating, and they're pretty bad at educating, these days. Some drastic rethinking is called for.

Alex said...

The usual fucking nonsense. The usual navel gazing by liberal arts majors who never had what it took to be in STEM.

Is it any wonder that those STEM geeks are ruling the world right now?

ken in tx said...

I support ARM's idea to boat-school his middle school aged daughter. It sounds like an excellent idea.

Retired middle school teacher.

richardsson said...

Much of high school, and junior high especially, was just a waste of time. Bells ringing and bullshit. Now, this was back in the 1960's. I was as an early cohort of the baby boom. In fairness, the teachers and the administrators were struggling. They were like bull riders in a rodeo contest---just hanging on for dear life. But, if you were not a varsity athlete, a straight A student, good looking, or cheerful suck up you simply didn't exist.
But, when I turned 16, I learned to make it work for me. The truancy laws no longer applied after you turned sixteen. I also knew that they need attendance to fund the schools. I had a P.E. teacher who was a sadist and a Spanish teacher who was crazy. The P.E. Teacher had given me an F in violation of state law. I went into the counselor and told her that if they didn't reverse the F and get me out of both classes, I would both file a complaint with the school board and drop out of school. Drop out of school was the magic word. I got rid of both teachers, and only one other teacher tried to screw around with me after that. At the end of that year, another teacher had asked me to read a poem to the class. It was written with a New England accent. I couldn't do it, and I told her. She dropped me from an A to a C in the class. In my senior year, they put me in dumbbell English with the spitball crowd. Again, I went to the counselor and told her that if she didn't get me out of the class, I would take the GED and enroll in community college. Bingo. Actually, looking at it long afterwards, the main lesson I learned in high school is that the world is full of chickenshit but you don't have to put up with it.

Drago said...

ken in tx: "I support ARM's idea to boat-school his middle school aged daughter. It sounds like an excellent idea"

A buddy way back when had parents who spent his middle school thru university years living on their boat and sailing about the Caribbean. They would have mail forwarded to locations where they were scheduled to visit at specific times. The buddy, when off from school, would simply fly and meet them wherever they would happen to be.

It struck me as "strange" and otherworldly that these people truly "lived" on this floating platform and didn't have to deal with so much of what we deal with. They loved it and wouldn't change it for the world.

Their boat looked to be about the size of what ARM linked to (assuming my memory hasn't faded and remains properly scaled).

Laslo Spatula said...

No, the ex-high-school-cheerleader Costco cashier girl isn't still in contact with any "old high-school cheerleader pals" who would want to join us for the night; sorry if the absence of a cheerleader threesome renders tonight's doggy-style sex-in-the-cheerleader-outfit a disappointment.

Bang away, I will use the time to put together a grocery list in my head. For example: I need more Monistat-7.

I am Laslo.

Laslo Spatula said...

The ex-high-school-cheerleader Costco cashier girl asks if you could be the ONE guy who doesn't try to film on your iPhone her on her knees in her high-school cheerleader outfit giving you a blow-job. Because that would be nice.

I am Laslo.

Beloved Commenter AReasonableMan said...

Middle school, high school and 4-year college drag on too long. On that there is broad agreement. in the US. The problem is that in many countries there is almost a mania for education and educational accomplishment. So we are stuck, our human capital will not be competitive if we don't keep them in the education system but the students aren't, as a general group, all that interested in being educated. So, we end up with both a wasteful system and an uncompetitive one.

Sebastian said...

"I don't think there should be financial aid except for STEM majors."

No. They can make it on their own. Their financial incentive is big enough without my subsidy.

jr565 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Michael K said...

"You might want to learn to (s)ail first.

I have mucked around in boats for years, "

I think taking kids on sailing trips is great. My older son went with me to Hawaii when he was 16. When he was applying to college, he was supposed to write an essay on his most significant accomplishment. He chose to write about the sailing trip, which was a race so we were sailing hard. The school counselor called him in and asked if he really wanted to go to college as his essay was obviously not serious.

Some video of that trip is here. Those kids are now over 50 and one is dead.

I also read of a girl who was raised aboard her parents sailboat and who now is a designer for large, very large, yachts in the mediterranean. A friend of mine sailed his 34 footer across the Atlantic to California when his son was 18 months old.

I'm all for it.

Alec Rawls said...

We just need to get rid of government run high schools. So long as parents can choose who will teach what to their children and how, adult control will be restored. The pathologies of large high schools will disappear because there won't be enough parents who favor this teaching environment for them to even exist as an option.

Conserve Liberty said...

School didn't matter. They get what they ask for and mine asked for what they needed.

My three children excelled - all in the top quintile, two in the top 5 in classes of 700+. They were leaders, reasonably cool but not the coolest, reasonably geeky but not the geekiest.

They had and still have a diverse circle of friends, including the cheerleaders, including a few professional athletes and including one or two abject social failures.

All we did differently from most other families was eat dinner together, every night, in the dining room, on plates, using flatware. From the day each could sit in a high chair.

We talked to them constantly. We made it m,ore fun to do things with us than go to the mall. We gave them space and time to themselves, but we treated them as if we had them on purpose.

We raised them intentionally.

Stop blaming and take responsibility. You are an active parent for twenty five years.

Beloved Commenter AReasonableMan said...

Michael K said...
Some video of that trip is here.


Glory days. My concept is a lot more sedate.

Larry J said...

My wife attended private school in the Philippines. The school days were 8 hours long and the school year lasted 11 months. Kids graduated after the 10th grade. Because my wife learned English at home (along with several other languages and dialects), she skipped a grade and graduated high school at age 15. She graduated college at 19. There was no incentive to needlessly prolong adolescence. Funny thing, if you do the math, you'll find that her classmates spend more hours in school in grades 1-10 than most American kids do in K-12 and on into college.

Gabriel said...

An institution that did not exist 100 years ago simply cannot be necessary for civilization.

100 years ago most teenagers were working or married.

Per student spending has tripled, after correcting for inflation, since 1970 with virtually no gain in proficiency. A much higher percentage of the population has high school diplomas and college degrees than in 1970, but the population is not better educated than it was.

High school and college educations are useful for some people, those who have the desire and aptitude to benefit from them.

STEM education is not the answer. There have been more STEM graduates than jobs for my entire lifetime.

We can't all be Alphas, and even if we could be there aren't enough jobs for all the Alphas.

Michael K said...

"Glory days. My concept is a lot more sedate."

I also have a bunch taken at Catalina Island when my kids were little. At one time, I was going to take 6 months off and take the kids cruising off Mexico but never got around to it.

If you have a chance, do it.

My favorite at Catalina was my older son, when he was 10 was buzzing around in an inflatable dingy when the outboard fell off into the water. The expression on his face was priceless.

Another kid dove in 50 feet of water and brought it up. I had it repaired. It just needed a new head gasket and the salt washed out of it.

Michael K said...

"STEM education is not the answer. There have been more STEM graduates than jobs for my entire lifetime."

Agreed. I was an engineer before medical school. But the thing that makes the difference is the discipline to get through that curriculum. Then you can get on with your life. The six medical students in my small group teaching are all engineers. I doubt there are any GPs in that group but they are all smart as whips.

My daughter, the youngest, majored in French which will do her little good (She loves France and would like to live there) but she did the work and I let her do it. One of my medical students about ten years ago had her degree in French. It's all about discipline and learning how to study.

I would disown a kid who insisted on a "studies" major.

Freeman Hunt said...

High school is the time period during which you find you can successfully skip class. I remember that revelation, that sudden comprehension that one could simply walk out the door and walk home.

Kirk Parker said...

ARM,

Good idea, but in some custom-commissioned thingie? Good grief, just get a J-133 or similar.

Mr Bob said...

My son has quit High School at 15 to go do a diploma in Game Programming at The Academy of Interactive Entertainment (Seattle, Sydney, Melbourne). He is a very high-IQ boy, and a cracker-jack coder.

He plans to have a Degree and a Masters before he is 21.

In his opinion High School is just a waste of time. He particularly resented the enormous amount of PC claptrap being shoved down his gullet, which he had to regurgitate to avoid failing.

RebeccaH said...

I hated high school, absolutely hated it, and yet I went on to college. It wasn't the schooling. It was because of those very same reasons cited.

JAORE said...

"I think its survival should be decided the same way we decide the continued existence of any other government program: By looking at its record and weighing alternatives."

Oh were it were so.

Malcolm Kirkpatrick said...

Becker, __Human Capital__, defines "school" as an institution whose primary product is education. For this definition to mean much, the term "education" needs a definition. What's wrong with compulsory schooling and tax support of school? The State cannot compel attendance at school without a definition of "school". The State cannot subsidize education without a definition of "education". Minimum wage laws, child labor laws, and compulsory attendance laws put on-the-job training off limits to many children.
Please read Ted Kolderie, Is It Time To Reconsider The Notion of "Adolescence"?

Think said...

"And unlike many clichés, it's not even true."

Except, it is in many cases. My cousin, a nice-looking-trim-popular quarterback, is now morbidly obese and out of work. He is a real nice guy, but he did have the mentality that it was all going to just come to him without much effort. I remember him asking my grandmother for gifts (in high school) and thinking, what a loser (though I was still in elementary school).

I have run into many similar people - one working at Office Depot and not understanding what RAM was in a computer.

David Foster said...

Surfed...could you comment further re your thoughts on high school physical plant?

Silent Sentinel said...

I think it would be great to do away with high school and let people start living their adult lives at 14. In the past, seven was the age of reason, 14 was the age of autonomy and 21 was the age of full citizenship. In today's world, we still have 21 for full citizenship, but no longer believe that seven-year-olds are capable of reason or that 14-year-olds are capable of autonomy. I think this infantilization is what leads to situations like Columbine, when teens get so frustrated with being held back from their adult life that they finally just snap and go on a murderous rampage. A teenager who murders gets treated more like an adult than a teenager who fulfills the stereotype of today's teenager and that is very sad to me.