Top Ten Truths About High School

Ah… High school! You are revered and reviled, admired and despised. A veritable force of nature in modern society, you have somehow convinced the masses that they cannot survive without you. A co-dependent relationship that at first appears mutually beneficial. And yet the movement of those who question you is growing and burgeoning into a force that will not be reckoned with…..

“Politically Correct” Disclaimer: To the amazing people who teach high school because of a deep passion for their subject area, and a deep love for teens, THANK YOU!

Here’s my take on the top ten highs and lows of high school (well, there are mostly lows if the truth be told):

1. The Hokey Pokey: You’re either in…. or you’re out. There doesn’t seem to be much middle ground in high school. Either you fit in with one of the groups (sport, music, geeks, “beauty”) or you became part of the sea of leftovers nobody wanted. I love that unschooled teens can find their own interest-based tribe, rather than trying to fit into a particular group just to be accepted.

2. People aren’t always as they seem: In an effort to retain their group identity, some people will deny the part of themselves that isn’t acceptable to the group. I was ridiculed for my faith at high school. I found out years later that some of the guys doing the mocking, or standing silently by, were actually clandestine Christians! Church go-ers at least. I find that most unschooled teens, on the other hand, are authentic and true to themselves.

3.Will this be on the test? A word of warning: when you do your final school exams in the year 1984 (yes, I’m that old!) and one of your assigned texts is the book “1984,” you can be guaranteed it WILL be a compulsory question in your finals, even if your teacher assures you it won’t be! And this whole idea of “teaching to the test” … whose crazy idea was that? Which leads me to my next point…

4. Answers trump questions? It’s all about getting the answer right. Pleasing the teacher. Ticks surpassing crosses. And definitely not too many red comments in the margin. But I truly believe that we learn most when we are ASKING questions, rather than trying to answer them. Unschoolers are driven by their natural curiosity to ask questions and seek answers, because the process isn’t impeded by years of test taking and drill work. Speaking of getting the answers right……

5.Heads hurt, and hearts do too. I had a crazy science teacher (doesn’t everyone?) who had this terrible habit of hitting kids over the head with a textbook if they answered a question incorrectly when he put them on the spot. I still remember one time … he asked a child a question and the child said, “I don’t know.” Bop. “Why don’t you know?” “I don’t know!” Bop! (I actually thought the second answer was pretty valid. And funny.) My strategy to avoid being bopped on the head was to sit next to the brightest kid in the class, who looooved to answer questions, and to avert my eyes from the teacher every time I sensed a question on the horizon. It backfired one day. I was doing the usual eye aversion thing when suddenly I realized he was repeating the mantra: I’m talking to you! I’m talking to YOU! Oy! I’m. Talking. To. You! I glanced up, and he was totally eye balling me. My time had come…

6. Opportunity. Yes, high schools can be a place of opportunity. To join a sports team. To play in a band or perform in a play. But hang on a minute! What about weekend sport, theatre companies, community bands…

7. Loss of autonomy. There’s nothing quite like having to shelve your growing cravings for independence, in submission to years of “power over” tactics by teachers and the education department. Told what to study, produce, wear, eat, pee … none of these things equip teens for their growing independence. Unschooled teens, however, have a far greater sense of autonomy that helps build their confidence to navigate the beginnings of their independence without having to put all their energy into fighting for their freedom.

8. High school isn’t the real world. It might have real people in it but they are functioning in a surreal environment: a social construct that is only mirrored in one other institution (and it’s not a place you’d want to attend!). Unschoolers spend their lives living and learning in the real world, doing real things, for real reasons that are valid to real people … themselves!

9. Some people won’t make it.  They will be broken there. Some of them will leave school before it’s too late. Others will leave life.

10. I survived. Yep, it’s true. I was one of the teens that came out the other side with a piece of paper. I’m sure I must still have it here. Somewhere…


~ Karen

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