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Is dropping out of school as bad as society says it is?

Since I started watching TED Talks and educating myself in my free time, I've started to favor the idea of leaving high school to live my life independently from school authority. It seems to me that school is a place where you are taught what "box" to think in, and it is very obvious that it doesn't work for the majority of students. Everyday I hear teachers telling students that there is only one way to solve problems, but I know that isn't true. Due to severe social stigma however, I'm terrified of the consequences I would have from my peers and parents especially.

One of the many lessons I've learned from TED is that intuition is the best map for your life, and somehow the way you feel is usually the best plan of action no matter how hard you suppress the feelings. I have been overcome with the feeling that school isn't necessary for me, and I also feel that educating myself on what I want to know about reality would be much more enjoyable than the current routine I practice each day. Not only would it be more enjoyable, but I think with resources like the Internet I can get an education that is vastly superior than what I can get from one school.

How do my fellow TEDsters feel about dropping out of school? What are you reasons against/for it? What advice would you give to someone who wants to take the path of complete intellectual independence? Will college still be an option farther down the road if my ideas fall through?

I greatly appreciate the collaboration on this question. Ive kept these feelings a secret until now, and I'm glad I can finally talk about it.

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    Mar 22 2012: I'd say: start learning all you need to know for your exams for the next 2 years on the internet in one year (in your spare time), then go do the exams of those two years. As such, you have a whole year gained to self-school yourself in any topic you might be interested in.

    You can get superior education ànd go to school...

    Or you could try and change your school?
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    Mar 23 2012: My question would be "How old are you?" My brother and his best friend hated school, dropped out, went to the local college instead before going on to get first class degrees. Are you intending on going on to further Eduaction? If not, what are your ideas? Do you have financial backing? What will happen if your plan fails? Will you be able to afford to pay your schooling? Are you damn good at what you do? Don't throw away your education to become a pop star, not unless you're offered something damn good and can get back into education later...Brian May may be one of the best guitarists in the world, but he also has a PHD in astrophysics and is a university dean.
  • Mar 22 2012: Hi Hunter,

    I don't think tha t dropping out isas bad as societyprojects, it's actually much worse.

    I have two reasons for sayin g this. 1) While it's possible to learn a great deal from the internet, neither I, nor anyone that I know, would be willing to walk across a bridge designed by someone who has never taken a calculus class. And 2) You will have a very hard time creating the new world that you desire if you aren't an expert in the old. Copernicus, Newton, Einstein and Picasso were all masters of the existing methods and practices.

    Don't fool yourself. The people who can teach themselves advanced concepts and techniques are few and far between. The ones that can do it, and prove it to someone who depends on their skills, are almost noneexistant.

    In answer to your last question, college is in fact, out of the question for anyone without a HS diploma or GED. You can do wonderful things. Don't sell yourself short.

    Best wishes,
    Doug Bell
    • Mar 28 2012: More thoughts from someone who lives outside of the box:

      1) In all likelihood, Hunter doesn't want to build bridges. (And if he does, I'm sure he'll find a way to get the schooling he needs.)

      2) Schools (at any level) don't currently turn out experts in the old world. People to study the masters you cited are called "History" or "Humanities" majors, and are regularly scoffed and ridiculed for studying things that have no modern application. I personally LOVE studying those masters, and (interestingly enough) a university education was originally to teach the languages those masters wrote in (first two years), and then study classic works as originally written (second two years).

      3) Define "advanced concepts". Every day I consult niche experts for advanced concepts in things that matter to me and my family . . . experts who hold no diplomas or accolades from industry, but who have shown me over time and experience to know what they're talking about, and have earned my trust. That's called community.

      4) College is definitely not out of the question for those without a HS diploma. You just don't apply for entrance in the fall, full time. You apply part time, in the off term/session, when attendance is light, and get in that way. (Speaking from experience here.)
      • Mar 28 2012: Hi Annalea,

        I doubt that Hunter knows what he wants to do. I'm thrilled that he wants to learn and has sought out our advice.

        I don't see any disdain for History or Humanities majors. My education was at a small liberal arts school and had a healthy dose of the classics (and I don't mean the "80's, 90's and today!" version). It also had a healthy dose of the mathematics and computer science that formed my career.

        Here's where I'm at with the "advanced concepts". Let's take the renewable energy economy that this forum often seems to think will just sprout out of the ground. Who is going to build it? Will Hunter be a part of it? We'll need:

        Mechanical engineers to design the structures
        Electrical engineers to design the power systems
        Machinists to build them
        Railroaders to bring material
        Construction management people to assemble them
        Surveyors and civil engineers to put them in the right place
        Lawyers to make the agreements
        Financiers to get people to invest in them
        Accountants to make sure the assets are used appropriately
        Truckers to move equipment
        Crane operators to assemble the plants
        Transmission engineers to build the power lines
        Chemists to create the materials
        Physicists to create cheaper solar panels
        Farmers to feed everyone
        Doctors, nurses and EMTs to keep everyone healthy
        Teachers to educate their kids

        And on and on....

        The point isn't that you can't have a fulfilling life without a formal education. Unquestionably one can. The point is that by declining the education that's offered you are cutting off so many options. All of these skills need some kind of education or training. Many require a license to prove that you can do the work and that you're not a hazard. If these skills look interesting, then pulling the plug on HS is a mistake.

        And, don't forget, historians to put it all in context.

        Best wishes,
        • Mar 29 2012: The college I attended seemed to have a running joke about history majors . . . I'm glad that it's not universal. To top it off, I got the "modern" classics at my HS--still working on catching up on those. I seemed to get all of the odd-ball and backward angles of the usual educative route on my way through. lol

          I completely agree that all of the things you listed need thorough education, and that those disciplines are necessary for so many of the amazing things we see beginning and growing now.

          But here's where we diverge: I don't think Hunter would be declining all of formal education by choosing to, essentially, homeschool himself through the rest of high school. There's a wide, wide middle ground between being a classic "high school drop out" and a high-octane self-directed learner. College is the absolute BEST when it's part of self-directed learning. But he's got to figure out where he wants to start . . . where he wants to go from where he is. That's what I was aiming at, at least. Soak up all you can, and make the best choice you can about where you want to go. It took me so long to figure out that I just wanted to write . . . and "English Major" seemed so mundane. But, I'll never regret that choice. (Even though it took me more semesters than I care to admit to come to it!)

          I'm always grateful for continued dialogue, because that's often when all parties really gain from the effort. :o)
  • Mar 28 2012: I personally think that dropping out of school is too risky. If I were you I would attempt to make school the way you want it, join clubs and committees, talk to teachers about possible ways to introduce new approaches to learning in the classroom. If my suggestion does not work, try investigating other schools, joining more communities like TED or grinning and bearing high school, it is only a short period of time, and more employer's will consider someone who has completed high school, however unsatisfying your education was to you.

    I hope you make the right decision,
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    Mar 22 2012: To add to my first post, we are talking high school which I believe is Hunter's question. By his question, I would NOT assume he intends to be a surgeon or an architect etc. but may find his path as an artist or musician or minister. Maybe he wants to be a waiter. Who said you have to gross 300k a year or better to be a productive member of society? AND there are plenty of people in their 50s going back to school. When I was 16 I worked at a ski resort snack bar along side of two highly educated college graduates who found that they had jumped into fields that turned out to not suit them. Who knows the "real" answer for any one person? Is every person who makes tons of money really happy? Is it money that encourages social bonding, generosity, compassion, the desire to serve? Sometimes it is only self serving and creates greed, fear and loathing. I personally love that The Millennium Generation is asking questions rather than following like sheep. How can a society truly evolve when refusing to open the mind to the immenseness of human possibility?
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    Mar 22 2012: I did not do well in school. I was bored and or confused most of the time. The reasons for that were always "my fault". I must not have applied myself, or the popular I was adhd (which of course was seldom used back then) There are so many comments that can be made and blame to be placed. I think it is an archaic system that loses it's students.I did not Graduate from high school, I did get my GED for what ever that is worth. I believe I would have done so much better being home schooled. Once I got the GED I did attend and really enjoy college classes, and I excelled in them. I think it depends on the individual. Education is completely necessary but Elementary/middle/High schools could use a big make over! Stop preaching individuality then expecting each individual to learn exactly the same! Who knows though, maybe if people stopped spending all their energy trying to make more and more money and stayed home to nurture and educate their own children we may be a more loving nurturing society that did not see a need to stuff our children in boxes so we would be free to buy fancy cars and a huge home! As long as material gain is the main reasoning behind "a good education" the emotional state of a person may be deemed as unimportant damaging a person's ability to fully embrace compassion. I ALSO FEEL THE STIGMA PLACED ON HIGHER EDUCATION HAS TAKEN THE DIGNITY OUT OF COMMON LABOR.
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    Apr 21 2012: In our society the skills that will be needed to compete in the marketplace after college are not taught in college classrooms. I majored in E-Commerce [Marketing] and felt like the information being taught was written in the days of "Mad Men". After college unsurprisingly; I had to learn 100% different methods of marketing due to rapid technology innovations. 10 years ago, broadband video wasn't even in our vocabulary at college. Nor was 'Trending' or 'Highly Targeted Advertising'. VAST & VPAID Broadband Video Ad Standards are only a little over a year old.
    This is not an anomaly its a accelerating trend. With Open Technologies & Collaboration and the rapid spreading of ideas and knowledge thru services like: TED, YouTube and SocialMedia. Expect a more rapidly changing job market than we can imagine.
  • Apr 17 2012: I agree with thinking about dropping out of school? Just wouldn´t encourage it to others.The internet is full of information that is really useful.Plus,there will be more students informed and that will lead to a better education in general. I don´t agree with dropping out of school. TED.COM makes schools better.
  • Apr 16 2012: I haven't read everyone else's comments and I don't plan to. I just want to say I've always been very against the way our school system works, but at the same time love that it provides you with a way to meet people that share your same interests and motivations. I did what I had to to get through high school and qualify for the college I wanted to go to; when I got to college I met some of the best friends I've ever had, had MANY new experiences, and with those people in a new environment, we learned many things on our own. Some classes are GREAT for stimulating thought, others are terrible. But it gives you tons of new experiences, and a forum for meeting many new and differing people; which really is the best way to learn.

    p.s. I see you're from Lexington, SC. I'm from Burnsville, MN, and I went to the University of South Carolina - Columbia. I say stick it out through freshman year of college. After that if you don't learn anything VALUABLE, don't go.
  • Mar 29 2012: There is a lot to trying things to find out what you like.

    we do think a lot alike.

    Bob Galway
    former Cubmaster
    former Scoutmaster
  • Mar 28 2012: It ended up being too long. lol So, you can read it on my blog:

    Enjoy, and feel free to email me if you have any more questions! :o)
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  • Mar 26 2012: Hunter I am a 19 year old student in Canada who is dropping out of University, for many of the same reasons you have expressed. That being said, university costs thousands of dollars per year, much, much more than high school costs. I barely got into university because I coasted by in high school, and as a result I was limited by my average to a smaller number of programs and classes I was eligible for. As a result I have been spending a lot of money and incurring debt on loans for classes that have no real direction, and are not teaching me the things I wish to learn. So I plan to drop out and join the working force so I can make money while simultaneously learning about things I am interested so I have the knowledge to pursue my interests and make my own opportunities. My advice to you: DO NOT DROP OUT OF HIGH SCHOOL. High school is easy if you put just a little effort in. If you don't like it, put up with it anyway and get the best grades you possibly can, and after you're done, you can do whatever you want. If you do want to attend college in the future, you will be able to, and not have to jump through hoops just to be accepted. I myself plan to return to school when I can more easily afford it and have a better plan of my own. If you drop out of high school now, even saving money for your future enterprises will be sabotaged because at best you will find a minimum wage job, and then you will be competing for possible employment against people who do have a high school diploma. High school does not limit you to the point where you cannot develop other skills on the side. So complete high school, it doesnt have to be your priority. If you are feeling that you can accomplish much more, start doing so on the side. Start a small business, make a website, write, compose, invest in stocks, whatever it is you want to do. Don't drop out if you think it will start you in a new direction. That direction has to begin now, and you have loads of time. Finish high school
    • Mar 28 2012: Blake, university in the US is different than in Canada, I believe. Your experience doesn't necessarily port to Hunter's.
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    Mar 24 2012: Hunter,

    Dropping out of school is rarely as good as those who promote it say it is.

    • Mar 28 2012: It depends on how you define "good". ;o) To me, staying in school isn't as good as those who promote it say it is. For me, it was a net negative, and I'm still undoing the damage it did to my life. So, YMMV.
  • Mar 23 2012: I would say this... go through with school man, just don't pay them much atention... I mean, you can pull through with minimal efforts can't you??? so what's the big deal about it anyways.

    Yeah they aint gonna teach you anything super important but at least you can go on and study something that seems important to you after that. I thought of school as just a ticket, and since it's not that hard "what the fuck"
  • Mar 23 2012: Hunter,

    You are right to think that personal motivation and interest can be very powerful learning factors. It appears from your thought on the subject and your ability to express yourself that you have a keen intellect and a high capacity to learn. There are a some questions you should mix into your thoughts on the subject of dropping out. Here are a few;

    1) What do you not know already that you will need to know to be successful in life?
    2) What subjects do need to learn and how deeply should you delve into them to optimize time spent to provide a future employer exactly what he needs his employees to know to make his business successful?
    3) How do you prove to others that you have these skills and are the best qualified candidate for a position that requires a certain amount of intellectual capability?
    4) If you were a potential employer looking for someone with great ideas, innovative thought, worked well with other people and a great potential for leadership, how would you find this person? Where would you look?
    5) Success in life is largely dependent on an individual's ability to overcome adversity, their work ethic, and work within an employer's structure. How do you demonstrate these qualities to an employer?

    A bright, innovative, and free thinking person bound by an education system that is developed to deliver just enough education for survival, in manner and at a rate that targeted the most students is frustrating. However, unless you have a cadre of private tutors catering to just your needs, it is the best the country has to offer. As some of the prior posts have mentioned, the trick is to take what you can get from what is offered, and then look for opportunities supplement you education with your own ideas, investigations, experiments, research, and field study. Intellectual independence is coupled to personal independence and survival. College is always an option.

    High school is pretty much needed for survival. Use the time wisely!
    • Mar 28 2012: Thoughts and questions on your questions, from an entrepreneurial mind:

      1) I don't think ANY teenager is equipped to answer that question. I was a lot like Hunter, bright and motivated, highly educated for my age, curious, frustrated with school, and ready to take on the world . . . but there's no way that I could have answered that question. That's what youth is for--to figure out what you need to learn to do what you want to do, isn't it? ;o)

      2) In my experience, and the experience of numberless entrepreneurs, employers are entirely optional . . . and to an entrepreneurial spirit, life built around them can be a recipe for disaster and dependence.

      3) "Positions" aren't necessary. Entrepreneurship takes no such requirements up front. Your market shows you if you've got what it takes or not. There are hundreds of books and people showing how it is done every day, from a Sober House run by the daughter of an acquaintance of mine (highly successful, to boot), to Etsy artisans who feed their families with the work of their hands (family member of a good friend of mine). It's all about picking a market that can pay--and when you're young is the best time to figure out which one you want to play in.

      4) Ummmm . . . not sure how that question can inform a decision to leave school or not. Not all employers care about high school grads, as evidenced by the wild success of homeschooled children. (Fwiw, colleges are showing a marked preference for homeschooled kids, as well.) Blogs are taking the place of resumes and diplomas. Experience and skill for references.

      5) Success in life is largely dependent on an individual's ability to overcome adversity, the strength of their ethics (work or otherwise), and their belief in themselves and those around them. Employers aren't part of that equation for a rapidly-growing groundswell in our country, and the world.
      • Mar 28 2012: 1)Agreed, but your answer is half way there. You are right, coming out of HS you do not know what you do not know. The other half of the question is to realize that post HS curriculums attempt to answer this question, in general, based on however many years of academic evolution they have endured for whatever field is selected. This training is not required, but often a good option for certain fields and in general in most cases/

        2) Agreed again, if you have skills that permit immediate employment that will last a lifetime, jump in and be an entrepreneur, take risks, reap benefits of hard work directly, and hope your efforts are rewarded. However, for every on person choosing this route instead of more education right out of HS that have success, there are thousands that fail. Most of the successful entrepreneurs I know have worked for someone in some field before starting on their own.

        3) Agreed in part, but I am not sure how you would decide which market to select unless you have worked in it or somehow otherwise know it (like dad's business, etc.). Again, there are many more kids working for someone out of HS than there are instant entrepreneurs. If you have this knowledge or make a good guess, it can be done.

        4) Question was designed to get Hunter to consider viewpoint of employer. It is less important if you intend to use other skills (strength, beauty, athletic skills, etc.) but there was no mention of these in Hunter's post. You are identifying that there are exceptions, I was speaking more to the general rule.

        5) Agree with first part (and there are other factors), but disagree with last statement. Employers are the largest part of the equation right now and will be for the many years.
        • Mar 29 2012: Thanks for your responses. I think that you and I have similar ideas, but due to lack of familiarity, what you mean when you say "employer" and what I think when I read the same word varies quite a bit. ;o) I think I read too much of the big-corporate-employment gig in your questions, likely far more than you had intended.

          The essence of my position is that Hunter has a golden opportunity to go out and find out how much he doesn't know about a craft/industry/skill (or many!) that he loves. So often (myself included, those years ago) students are led to study so many, many things so they can choose from the smorgasboard of the entire world's industries/markets . . . when really, looking at your own hometown and its needs can be a wonderful and meaningful way to direct your life.

          Case in point: tonight I went with my son's cub scout troop to the community food bank. We learned so much about its work, how many people it helps, how one of the latest programs sends food home each Friday with children who previously weren't being fed over the weekend. Right now there are two paid positions open at the food bank, perfect for a high school student wanting some life experience. There are also service-oriented projects that really need help . . . our community has over 200 volunteer organizations (not bad for a town of 6,000). Yes, learning is still essential . . . but sometimes I think that instead of insisting that all teens first move on to what "we" see as bigger and better things, they should have much more latitude to learn about their own communities, their own local food systems (or lack thereof), the service needs (volunteer or paid) in their own towns, and then learn what they need to (whether near home or far off), and come back to give back to the community that raised them. Taking your life's direction from a local need you can pour your heart into, and make a difference.
  • Mar 22 2012: I can't recommend enough to stay in school. the numbers of opportunities you automatically close by not having that degree is not worth the time you might gain. instead I would suggest you spend your time more effectively with self guided study. learning more about what your interests (or what you think interests you which is not the same thing) should be something you take advantage of in your youth.

    Secondly, school is far far more then just academics. you are really learning how to work with other people, how to work in groups. you are being socialized so you can work in modern society. the Internet with its own culture is not what your future employers are likely to require.

    A final thought, to appeal to your more practical side: school costs a lot post secondary and should you decide at a later date to go to university or college, upgrading some of those old classes can be prohibitingly expensive and time consuming. use the time you are in school to maximize your education in as many facets as you can, academically and socially.
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    Mar 22 2012: Dropping out of learning is the real problem. If you are not learning you are stagnating. School is the best method we have found for teaching young people how to read, write and do arithmetic. Granted these basics are all but unrecognizable in many schools today, but that does not justify dropping out. Get the diploma! It is very important now, and even more important in the future. Dropping out of school is at least as bad as society says it is, and probably worse.
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    Mar 21 2012: It depends entirely on you. Since I don't know you I can not truly say. I can say the majority of individuals drop out of school for the wrong reasons. I can say in MOST cases but certainly not all the amount of education you receive and how well you do ties in with future employment and future finances....and Money is if nothing else freedom to experience the world around you in a broader way. So are you prepared for your future, To provide for yourself and perhaps a family someday? Do you have a skill and the work ethic to turn that skill into way of life that will benefit not only you, but your community, your country, maybe even the world. If not I would say finish up at least high school and "don't let your schooling get in the way of your education"...(Twain). Learn in school what is there. Take what you can from it. Change what you can, make friends, open doors. Talk to a teacher who is passionate about their subject and see what makes them tick. Schools have a lot to offer truly intelligent people. It's only a waste of time if you waste your time...
  • Mar 21 2012: Hello Hunter,
    It seems you have rationalized your position; you probably are not alone as others are tempted to leave formal education. I suggest you consider the Internet as augmenting your education and not a replacement for school. You might be bored, but you didn't say so, but being dissatisfied seems like justifiable reason to leave.

    I suggest you honestly discuss this will all or most of your teachers plus your school guidance counselor. You would get different perspectives, although they would promote education. Also, do you really want to totally scrap the idea of a college education with several degrees in the hopes the Internet will teach you all you need to know? You should also discuss this honestly with all your best friends and extended family to get their honest opinion.

    Also, has the Internet totally convinced you all you find there is accurate? Do you trust all sites and all companies and organizations posting information there? Is there total assurance all the information is vetted and certified true? Who can you trust if you cannot trust the education system?

    I suggest you talk to people 10-15 years older than you who completed secondary and college levels with degrees and ask them to give their honest opinion of whether they are better prepared for life. If they are not better prepared having had a formal extended education, then indeed, something is wrong. It would be either them and their expectations or they system failed them. But, find out the truth, as it will influence you, I assume from what you say.

    You did not say if you were solely arriving at this possible decision to quit school or if you have friends influencing you to do so.

    In short, do your research with folks you really trust. If you have a religion, then would the Person you worship really want you to throw out a formal education?

    I wish you well.