Confessions of an Over Educated High School Dropout

April 25, 2015

“We’re focusing so much on academics that we’ve taken out things like art, sewing, cooking, woodworking, music, and other things that introduce kids to careers.” – Dr. Temple Grandin



I am a high school drop out. It’s a fact that I normally do not share with many of my colleagues and peers in graduate school. It is an aspect about my history that I usually keep hidden. I was a little less than half way through my junior year before dropping out and enrolling in the GED program. Less than six months later, I moved to New York to go to acting school and honestly, I never looked back.


The idea of being a traditional student was something that never appealed to me. In fact, it was something I rebelled very strongly against. I resented being force fed curriculum designed by an educational system that more closely resembled industrial mass production than an earnest learning environment. So my answer was to walk away and explore the world through my own curiosity, my own passions, and by identifying my own needs.


My educational path would be one of my own devising. A combination of professional experience, conservatory training, certificate programs, community college courses, a bachelor degree, and a terminal masters of fine arts with not one, but two graduate certificates. I charted this path on my own time, identifying my own learning objectives almost every step of the way. I went to acting conservatory because I wanted to be a better actor. I got my bar-tending license and my life-guarding certificate because I needed to diversify my sources of income, I took English and literature courses at a Los Angeles Community College because I wanted to be a better writer and communicator, I studied music business and management at Berklee I wanted to be a better musician, and I entered the MFA arts leadership program because I recognized an opportunity to further my career and strengthen my understanding about the role of the arts in higher education. The point is, it was always my decision. What to learn and why to learn it.


As we have explored several times over the course of the semester in Contemporary Pedagogy, the current form of primary and secondary education exists as a result of the industrial revolution which required a specialized skill set necessary to read, write, and perform basic arithmetic. By 1833, the British government would pass the Factory Act requiring children working in factories to receive two hours of education per day. Education was necessary to meet the needs of a rapidly evolving workforce. However, as society has continued to advance, the methods of knowledge creation and knowledge transfer have remained strikingly similar to the early 1800’s.


What is the purpose of education? What is the reasoning behind it? Some would argue it is to prepare students to get a job, some would argue it’s about creating engaged citizens, some would argue it isn’t about what we learn, it’s about how we learn. Still others would focus on the importance of a well rounded education while some would highlight the importance and necessity of trade schools and specialized workers. As we learned throughout the semester, there is no right answer. There shouldn’t be a right answer because these arguments are not mutually exclusive. Education exists as both a public and private good meant to advance the individual and the common good simultaneously. Why then do we allow education to define our success by assigning value to specific disciplines?


Somewhere along the way disciplines became fractured, separated into individualized class periods devoted to one type of specificity. This fracturing created an environment where specific disciplines are valued differently. Science, engineering, and math carry more significance than liberal arts and humanities. This system perpetuates an educational environment where disciplines operate out of the scarcity mindset, hoarding and guarding physical and financial resources as precious commodities. This fractured system leads to increased levels of departmental competition and often marginalizes the fine arts, liberal arts, and social sciences. But who assigns these values? Who determines the significance and importance of one discipline over another? And what about students, like me, who don’t fit well into this specific definition of education?


At their core, all disciplines are intrinsic to one another. Music and math are the same language just as engineering cannot exist without design and the arts and sciences share the same iterative process. Science exists for us to explore and discover the world around us just as engineering exists to invent ways in which we engage with the world around us. The liberal arts and humanities create meaning and provide historical context and ways of communicating our shared and individual experiences. One cannot exist without the others. One SHOULD NOT exist without the others. Yet these disciplines are fractured. Separated and expected to operate independently.


The current paradigm of education is one that will perpetuate fractional disciplines. As longs as disciplines remain fractured, differential values will be used to identify what is important and what is superfluous. This paradigm treats all students as if they are identical carbon copies. It is this paradigm that is in desperate need of revolution and reform.


I say this because I am a living example of both the failures and the successes of our current educational system. A high school drop out who went on to pursue bachelors and masters level education on my own terms, in my own time, and in my own way. Instead of adhering to a prescriptive model, I decided what was important, when it was important, and why it was important to my educational growth. Imagine if everyone was allowed the same opportunity.

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