In my old school days the term or association to a school drop out was like a virus, everyone wanted to fend off. Dropping out of school warranted “shame” – a wrongful act or sin that would brandish you a looser for life. Rather you would be labeled as someone never to succeed — doomed for imprisonment or a lifetime position at the local Mc. Duck’s. Faced with the fear of family abandonment and of being something of a social outcast, one was left to stay on track, steadfast to the world of academia.
The term school “drop out” comes with a completely different twist after reading The Teenage Liberation Handbook by Grace Llewellyn. In the book, a school drop out is the antithesis of this social stereotypical label. Grace Llewellyn opposes conventional ‘school’ wisdom and instead encourages students to drop out in order to get a “real life and education.”
Glancing over the title of the book now, I imagine inserting the words, “and Adult” after “Teenage,” or perhaps substituting it out with “Human.” For example, a comprehensive book such as this could also read – ‘The Human Liberation Handbook, for those who would rather take control of their education.’ Regardless, this book should be available in every library or in the hands of all teenagers, to push the envelope on mainstream education, and as a preparatory way for youth and adults to have a trusted reference book, before setting foot in another school. I certainly wish it fell off a shelf and onto my head during my junior high years of aimlessly walking library aisles. Perhaps it would have awakened me earlier from my academic stupor and would have provided me some earlier cues to life’s calling.
Before even flipping to the first page, the cover (review) heeds the warning, “a very dangerous book, ” a sign that would surely cause the librarian to re-adjust her glasses and take a second look. Having the flare of an underground book, which barely made it onto store shelves with some 2,ooo copies, it certainly has gained attention and popularity among potential homeschoolers and from the two million kids already being homeschooled in the U.S.
Llewellyn encourages not to bring home the destructive methods of regimental curriculums provided at schools, but to free oneself from the constraints of schools order. Instead, she recommends quitting this academic rubric entirely, and taking a vacation. She provides insightful and supportive ways to regain your natural love for learning that have been drained by school’s incessant rules, intimidation, compartmentalizing, labeling and strenuous testing. According to Llewellyn “school is not for learning.” Rather, she states that schools “destroy one’s love of learning.” Schools control your time, behavior, and ability to think independently.
There is a chapter within this book that provides effective ways to introduce the idea of unschooling to unfamiliar parents. Unschooling is essentially about learning through ones intrinsically self-directed interests, rather then curriculums. To paraphrase Llewellyn, “unschooling generally seems to make parents into allies and friends, rather than disciplinarians and authority figures.” She encourages teenagers to use a gentle art of persuasion and some pre-planning when introducing parents to the idea of unschooling. She provides sound advice for youth contemplating approaching parents for the first time, on such an unconventional and fragile subject. There is also a section with a note from Maria Holt, the wife of John Holt, who commonly referred to as the ‘father figure’ in the “unschooling movement.” In fact, Llewellyn offers multiple short excerpts from a magazine called Growing without Schools, founded by John Holt. To quote Maria Holt, “The most important thing I want to impress upon people about our family school is this: WE NEVER TAUGHT ANYTHING.”
In The Teenage Liberation Handbook young adults and adults can learn responsible ways to critically face authority, to pursue political advocacy, journalism, internships, volunteerism, start a business, and any other means to improve the welfare of others and community. The stories from youth and adults are empowering to read, and provide insightful ways to make a difference in the world we live in. I’ve come to realize that what makes this book so darn hard to put down are the 1,000’s pragmatic examples to put learning back into the hands of each unique individual. Need I say more…to what just sounds like an endorsement. On a last note: Parents turn off any television, video games, computers, cell phones, or i-pods and round up the teenagers and read this book out loud while standing on the dining room table. On second-thought, just diligently place it by their bedside when they’re not looking, and tell them it must have been a fairy godmother that placed it there. And after catching them reading a fair portion, be sure to ask them what they think.