Listen to high-schoolers who want to drop out

Several years ago, I allowed my son to drop out of high school.

This was not an easy decision. Education had always been a high priority in our family. Chris is my only child and I had put him in Waldorf School on a $500-a-month salary plus child support by working off half his tuition — supervising recesses, cleaning the kindergartens and school.

My first instinct was to say, "No way." I consulted a very intelligent young person about the matter. He said, "Talk to your son. But more importantly: Listen to him." So, during a quiet time I asked my son why he wished to quit school. He first described the typical teen take — the school was made of bricks, dimly lit and with cold classrooms, and a loud bell summoned the students to and fro, like a prison. Waldorf had emphasized beauty in its approach, so there was quite a contrast. But he had attended public middle school for a time and seemed pretty happy, though his grades were so terrible that I fabricated a report card on the computer to send to his dad to keep him from flipping out, to keep happy harmoniousness between father and son of the more important things of family love and relationship.

So, I encouraged my son to talk more about why he didn't like high school, keeping in mind the very intelligent young person's recommendation to listen to him. I let my son know I really wanted to know what he wanted to say.

So then, he quietly talked about his personal experiences. I was shocked — he had never mentioned these events at the time. But boys tend to be like that; it's built into the social construction of gender.

He said there was a kid in one of his classes — a cool kid who kept asking him to go smoke marijuana with him after school. Chris said he kept having to make excuses, because if he went to smoke marijuana with the kid, the kid would know he'd never even tried it before. You see, he had told the kid he smoked it, so as to be considered "cool."

Also, my son told me that one day when he was in the high school bathroom, some jerk put a pen through the attachment outside the door and its housing. My son couldn't get out, had to bang on that stall door till a janitor heard him and let him out.

I already knew I was going to let my child quit high school, then. But I still had those lifelong instilled values to contend with. So, I asked an older boy who'd also gone to Waldorf, who'd recently graduated from Ashland High School, about what my son wanted to do. That brilliant boy said that he hated high school, too, and if he'd had a choice, he would have dropped out. Interestingly, months later I saw that boy's mom at the grocery store and mentioned I'd spoken with her son about his high school experience. She happily chirped, "Oh yes, he loved high school!" She didn't have a clue.

My son spent a year playing computer games at home, then decided he wanted to earn his GED. That was completely his choice, not mine. I never pressured him. Ashland High School has a great program with mini-courses to prepare teens for the test, plus they cover the test's cost. My son's GED scores were so high, he was admitted straight into Southern Oregon University. He loved the college, the freedom to study what he was interested in — computer science — and the beauty of the school. Each term he grew more diligent. Both his last terms, he took 20 units and earned straight A's. He made the dean's list numerous times and graduated on the president's list.

High school isn't for everybody. Dropping out isn't for everybody. To parents whose kids wish to drop out of school: Talk to them. But more importantly, listen to them.

Patti Morey lives in Ashland.

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