Getting Out is Not Enough

by Tammy Drennan


I talked with a young lady the other day – 14-years-old – who loves horses and aims to own stables and teach riding, among other things. She’s been working with horses since she was five. She’s good enough now that she “breaks” new ones and retrains ones facing changes in the use they’re being put to. She knows her stuff.


Next year she’ll be taking a test to qualify her to run a stable. Among other things, she’ll have to be able to identify every plant native to her state that can harm a horse. She spends every spare minute on a horse farm near her home and has four horses of her own.


Then there’s her other life – public school. She failed her end-of-year math exam by three points, so she’s going to summer school. She’ll have to pass the test to move on to the next grade. I’ve talked with her. She’s smart and highly competent – just not especially interested in algebra. She’s more accomplished than many adults (even ones who did pass algebra). But she has four more years of school to go, during which time she’ll have to pass endless tests and divert her efforts from what she knows she’ll devote her life to.


I knew a young man some years ago who was earning $25,000 a year working part time at his own business. He was in 10th grade. He felt silly, he said, sitting in a room full of kids who spent their lives studying for tests and playing video games. He succeeded in quitting in the 11th grade and is now a highly successful businessman.


Two years ago, I got a call from a 16-year-old girl who was miserable in school. She had a family situation that evoked daily mockery from her classmates. On her own, she collected motivational quotations and had mapped out plans to become a hair stylist and open her own shop, but of course, the system wouldn’t let her go.


I get many calls a month from parents of teens who simply haven’t managed to fit into the school mold. They’re smart kids, often kids with serious interests they’re prevented from pursuing because so many adults in their lives are running them through the testing/counseling/therapy wringer.


These are just a few examples that demonstrate why it will not be enough for us to simply start our own schools and walk away from state schools. That won’t solve the problem.


We must be willing to redefine education. What education looks like now is an artificial construct. It was not created by people who knew or understood children or teens. It was created by bureaucrats and special interests who wanted to control children and teens.


In order to redefine education, we will have to engage in some self-liberation, for most of us have a very hard time letting go (I mean really letting go) of the idea that the state knows some secret about education that we don’t and that if we defy their model we just might be sorry.


If we don’t defy their model, we will definitely be sorry.


8 Responses to Getting Out is Not Enough

  1. NMH says:

    As a recent high school graduate from a public high school, I have mixed feelings about your article. While I do agree that there are many reforms needed in public education and that the state does not have a “magic education wand” that fulfills all needs, your article runs the risk of taking exceptions to the rule and generalizing them to the whole. At 16, I was not ready to leave high school. I had no interest in running a business, nor in prematurely ending my education. I understood that for me, my path would continue for many more years in college and beyond.

    In the case of every child you mentioned, I do not understand why their families made the choice to keep them in a public school. Home schooling is easy in the majority of states and is quite frankly a much better match for those that are not successful in the public school environment.

    I have friends visiting from overseas, from a third world country, and they are shocked at how many opportunities are given to children here in the form of free education and other social programs. Thanks to the established educational systems, America and other world powers have eliminated much of the social gap that appears in non-developed countries where education is not free.

    The availability of free education gives opportunity to all children in America, whether or not they need or want it. There are many more who need it than don’t, but for those who feel that the system does not serve their needs, they should leave.

    As far as the young lady who can run a horse farm, but can’t pass algebra, she needs to learn some discipline when faced with something she doesn’t like. It is easy to pursue a passion, but it takes discipline to work through the tough times and the tough assignments.

    Public education needs reforming, but throwing away the entire model based on the small percentage that profess frustration is fool-hardy. We all have times where we are frustrated, but that is part of being an adult and doing jobs that need to be done.

  2. tdbwd says:

    Dear NMH,

    Thank you for your thought-provoking comments. I think we can never hear from too many people or hear too many points of view regarding this most important topic.

    Maybe I wasn’t quite clear enough in my post. I wasn’t suggesting that the young people in my examples abandon studies and start businesses (unless they wanted to) — only that the standardized schooling offered by public schools was not only ill-serving them, it was harming them. Yes, homeschooling is an option. Is it easy? Well, many parents are intimidated by the prospect — as a matter of fact, many public schools (not to mention the NEA) work very hard to initmidate parents considering homeschooling.

    Now, about the girl and her potential horse farm and her supposed lack of effort in algebra… I wonder, have you ever applied yourself to the rigors of horsemanship? It’s no task for the weak-willed if you want to be good at it (or “pass it” as would be said in school). If you haven’t applied yourself, why not? Not interested? Not willing to work hard at something that doesn’t come so easy to you?

    Of course, the big answer is that it’s not a school subject, making it only a hobby — nice but unimportant. The same could be said of many demanding skills that fall outside the curriculum list.

    What about Beethoven’s compulsive focus on music to the neglect of other important subjects that didn’t come so easily to him? Was he lazy? Would he have been a better person had he worked harder at his calculus and hadn’t spent so much time at the piano?

    Why did Bill Gates drop out of college? Too lazy to apply himself to subjects that didn’t interest him as much as computers?

    The list of lazies who rejected the government’s definition of education in order to pursue and excel at their own interests and offer the world better stuff and better ways is very long indeed.

    The list of subjects the state thinks students should master in order to be acceptable citizens is pathetically short. Worse yet, the attitude we have that those who master subjects not on the approved list and fail to master the approved subjects are somehow inferior is helping to destroy our country.

    I don’t mean to come down hard on you, but I must air what I passionately believe (based on considerable experience — I’ve helped at least 4000 families break free, not to mention the tons of reading and listening and observing I’ve done) — public school is constantly reformed. For 160 years folks have been fine-tuning public schools — and look what we have — exactly what you’d expect from government, social activists, society planners, control-freaks, et al. How much more reform can children and families and society bear?

    By the way, the horse girl told me all about the new high school she’ll be attending if she nabs her three extra points in algebra. Its most talked-about feature is new state-of-the-art surveillance cameras.

    May I close with one more thought? Few people excel at things they don’t like — and why on earth should they? Why on earth do we want them to? On the other hand, dabbling at what you love is easy; excelling at it takes hard, hard work. Ask Mr. Gates. Ask Tiger Woods. Ask anyone who excels. Ask Mozart:

    “People make a great mistake who think that my art has come easily to me. Nobody has devoted so much time and thought to composition as I. There is not a famous master whose music I have not studied over and over.” — Amadeus Mozart in a letter to his father

    But how was he at algebra?

    Please don’t be put off by my passion. Let’s keep talking.

    Tammy Drennan

  3. NMH says:

    Thank you for your response and I am not put off by people that believe in differing philosophies.

    While your response is obviously well-thought out, you may have missed my point. Public education is the great leveler and everyone has an opportunity to be more than their parents. The 4000 children you have helped did not need public education to be successful, but many more do need the public schools. I needed public education. My parents could not have taught me the algebra, geometry, trig, and calculus, the advanced sciences, history, and English. My friends and I learned these in the public school setting.

    I’ve never chosen an easy path, when the hard way was more beneficial. No, I’ve never studied horsemanship, but I have mastered a sport and an musical instrument. Both of which took a great deal of time and dedication. Again, my instruction in these areas came from the public schools

  4. NMH says:

    (I hit submit too early)

    A teacher once told me that will stay will me a long time. You work at something, which makes it easy, which makes it fun, which makes you want to work more. If you don’t work at something, it’s not easy, therefore it’s not fun, therefore you work less.

    My overriding point in writing back is to point out that the public school is the only positive for some kids and to abandon or condemn the whole system because of the few who do not need it or ill-served by it harms more than it helps.

  5. Frances C says:

    I think that NMH is right to a certain extent. There are some things that you need to be good at to be functional even if you are not good at them. My son dislikes reading, but that doesn’t mean that I am going to stop working with him on reading. Now will I be disappointed if he is never a voracious reader? No. Sometimes a basic competency is all you actually need.

    I also agree with Tammy. Excellence (as opposed to basic competency) usually only comes when you enjoy the subject (or at least want to learn it). I would say that many people never excel at anything because their passions have been squelched early in life.

    I would also say that many “smart” people in school just excell at test taking. I feel I can say this as a person who graduated from public high school with higher than a 4.0 GPA. My cousin (who graduated with a 4.0 in college) said that the key to good grades was being able to nicely stack your balogna. Excelling in test taking might get you far in school, but it does not necessarily get you far in life. I read somewhere that most successful business owners were C students.

  6. tdbwd says:

    Thank you NMH for your further comments and Frances for yours.

    Almost needless to say, this is a complex issue. I’d like to make a few things clear.

    I agree that certain basic skills are essential, that they often require hard work, and that children should be encouraged to work hard at something before deciding it’s not for them (unfortunately, a child is likely to be labeled “lazy” for such a decision).

    I also agree that public school has provided an adequate education for many children. The ways in which that education is inadequate many will never understand. But many others will, and they will compensate as adults.

    Whatever good the public school system has done, though, has been largely due to individual teachers — and the harm it has done — to children, families, society and the cause of liberty — far outweighs the good. I won’t go into detail here — other entries on this blog address many of these issues.

    Here’s where we stand now: Many people and groups are throwing massive amounts of energy into trying to make the system something it never was intended to be and does not intend to become, something it really can’t become, being of the govrnment, for the government and by the government (and those special interests who use the government to access school children with their various agendas).

    These reform efforts are not new. The massiveness of them is not new. It’s been going on almost since the first year the state took over education. We do it not because we really think it will work but because we cannot get the PR out of our heads that says (sorry NMH) that “public school is a great leveler and everyone has an opportunity to be more than their parents.” We keep after the reform efforts because we’ve been led to believe the lie that public school made America great, that poor children were left without education or opportunity before public school came along, that America was one big depressing place for the common man — all the opposite of the truth. To be sure, things weren’t perfect, but Americans were doing what they’ve always done best — innovating, improving, creating opportunity, all without the government telling
    them how to do it then forcing that how on them.

    The other option to trying to reform an unreformable insitution that is comdemning millions of children to mediocrity or worse and to enslavement to the state is to ignore the system that we are not reforming with all our efforts and start doing what our forbears did — innovating and creating opportunity, embracing our lives and minds and children and future, defining ourselves and giving our children the same option.

    The bottom line is that reform always results in further enslavement, because with every reform effort we empower the state a little more. Reform never results in significant or lasting improvement. Even a good reform couldn’t last, because new reformers come along with the police power of the state to back them up. Then other new ones come along, everyone with his own idea of what’s best, which then gets imposed on all children.

    Freedom does work. It was working before the state takeover and it can work now. It doesn’t mean a sudden closure of the public schools we can’t imagine living without — it means a gradual weaning from those schools, from the state, from being children of the state. It means learning to define ourselves, the future and the endless ways we’ll get there and get our children there. It means reaching out to those who need help and offering opportunities that respect them as competent human beings, instead of viewing them as public schools do.

    I can’t emphasize it enough — freedom works; bondage does not. Some people will do okay in bondage. Some may even thrive. Some people will emerge only mildly scathed. Many people will recover quickly. Many, many more will not recover. Society as a whole cannot remain healthy in bondage.

    The good news is that more opportunities for freedom are created every year. On the other hand, too many of them mimic the public school model and there is not nearly enough variety to meet the needs (largely because only a very small handful of people are engaged in self-definition).

    NMH, I wish you all the success in the world. And I wish you a future lived in a free country where you can define yourself in whatever new and creative ways you choose and where your children will not grow up as creations of the state.

    Frances, thank you for helping to fuel our thinking (and thank you, NMH) and keep everyone on their toes.

    Tammy Drennan

  7. wintertime says:


    There is a **lot** of activity over on Free concerning your essay. ( More than 1,600 views, and 247 posts)

  8. wintertime says:

    At the age of 13, 12, and 13, my three homeschoolers entered community college. By the age of 15, these children had finished all college general requirements and Calculus III.

    Now here’s the point:

    After community college the oldest decided to matriculate in a local college to study accounting. During his first semester, he attended a jobs fair at the college. The next day, a bank in our nearest city called him and offered him a beginning management posistion in their bank. He laughed and told them, “No, I am 15, and my mom can’t drive me to work!”

    Guess what? At the age of 15, my son could have done that job perfectly well and stood shoulder to shoulder with any other man or woman in the program!

    NMH, appears to be a very bright and imaginative young person. He/she states that at 16 he/she was not ready to leave high school? I ask why? Why not?

    If my husband’s grandmother could walk out of the Ukraine, ( alone!) and travel to America ( alone) when only 17 years old, in a successful effort to escape the armies of WW I, then I think my three children , and NMH, could be just as brave and resourceful at the ages of 16 or even by the ages of 13, 12, and 13.

    If my children can be ready for college level course work at the ages of 13, 12, and 13, it seems evident to me that NMH is more than bright enough to do this as well. Is it because NMH’s government school has not given him/her an adequate and appropriate education?

    Personally, I beleive that government schooling infantilizes children, and artificially retards their social and **academic** development.

    Also…..It is poor policy to literally imprison 45 **MILLION ** normal children every year in government high schools because some families are dysfunctional.

    By the way, my two younger children graduated from university at the age of 18 with B.S. degrees in mathematics. The older of these two was teaching university math courses to students older than she when she was a mere 18. She earned a masters in math by the age of 20.

    The oldest boy, is a high ly ranked athlete. ( His real love in life.) At 19 he moved to Eastern Europe and spent some years working for our church. He is now totally fluent in Russian. He will soon finish his masters in business administration at the same age as his contemporaries. He continues to train and compete on the national and international levels in his sport.

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