Thursday, February 26, 2009

The Teenage Liberation Handbook: How to Quit School and get a Real Life and Education

Book Review by Tracy Million Simmons

The Teenage Liberation Handbook:
How to Quit School and get a Real Life and Education
By Grace Llewellyn

I’m not typically the kind of person who spends a lot of time wishing I had made different choices in the past but this book really makes me wonder: How would my life be different if I had gotten my hands on this book as a teenager? Would I have actually had the courage to quit school?

This is a book where you must start by reading the introductory chapters. The “Nice Little Story” is a bit hokey but it certainly illustrates the point – that teaching kills not only the desire to learn but makes children doubt what they have already discovered for themselves. Grace Llewellyn talks about her own history in the introduction. She had a fairly short-lived career as an English teacher. She came to the profession young – fresh out of college and quickly became dissatisfied with, not only the job, but schooling in general. She quickly came to the conclusion that the system itself is flawed beyond redemption. She had discovered the writings of John Holt and soon became determined to write a book specifically for teenagers – to encourage them to forget school and jump right into life.

The book is definitely geared toward teenagers. I must admit that I found myself wincing a couple of times at the style of presentation, but I know that as a teenager I would have loved her bold style and approach.

The first part of the book, “Making the Decision,” makes many thorough arguments against the necessity of school. She talks about the fact that the primary focus of school is completely contrary to the basic tenants of democracy. Democracy is about freedom and even the most basic things, like when you are allowed to go to the bathroom are controlled in a school setting. Never mind issues like what you like to spend your time doing or what you are interested in learning about.Schools are based on the assumption that teenagers don’t know what they need to learn, they don’t know how best to learn it and that schooling itself squashes the love and desire to learn right out of you. Her points resounded loudly with my memories of being a teenager, and I was a “model” student in school. I was fairly involved in school activities and was pretty much a straight-A student. I probably even claimed to enjoy school through most of my teenage years though I remember feeling often frustrated with many, many aspects of my education.

Part two of the book is titled, “The First Steps.” It covers everything from approaching and convincing your parents to dealing with the potential legal issues of not being in school. She discusses the importance of a self-imposed vacation, also known as time to “deschool” in other homeschooling handbooks.

I found part three to be especially interesting. Titled, “The Tailor-made Educational Extravaganza,” it is basically a how-to guide for unschooling the various subjects you would be exposed to in school. What was interesting to me is that the suggestions in this section are precisely the types of things I began doing on my own once I got out of school. They are things I have started doing in my own life as I have rediscovered the joy of learning and my own personal passions in life.

The last section of the book is titled, “Touching the World – Finding Good Work”. This covers job opportunities, volunteering, apprenticeships… It’s basically an extension of the previous chapter – only focusing on turning your passions and interests into something more.

I know that for many the idea of dropping out of school seems completely against all sense. We are so indoctrinated to the idea that school equals success. One chapter in Llewellyn’s book focuses on the many successful people in history who either didn’t attend school or were complete failures as far as school was concerned. She makes a good point that, so much of the time, it is the people who never conform who become truly successful. People who follow their passions, either by default or defiance, often end up making the next great discovery or running the most successful businesses. Among the most well known that she mentions, Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain), Thomas Edison, Frank Lloyd Wright, and Orville and Wilbur Wright.

I finished this book having fantasies of giving it as a gift to every teenager I know. I imagine that many of them would not be able to take even the title, seriously. I’m sure that many of their parents would want to see me hung after giving such a gift, especially if it did have any influence. But I wonder what a difference it might make if even one teenager got the message and left school to take charge of their own life and education. It would be a journey I would definitely want to be a part of – if only as an observer. I know that I won’t hesitate to recommend this as reading to the next teenager I come across who expresses any kind of frustration with school.

first published on the original KS Homeschool website, January 2006

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