This high-school dropout looks to be doing very well. He drives a much nicer car than mine, for sure.

I offer the following hypothesis. Up to the age of 12, all kids need to be in school, learning to read, write, and calculate, and hearing about basic civics. Beyond that point there is a large subgroup of adolescents—I’d estimate it at about thirty percent overall, though it cuts differently by race—for whom schooling is a complete waste of time. They gain nothing from it, and the money and effort spent on teaching them is all wasted.

Furthermore, in their boredom and irritation at being in an environment uncongenial to them and being given tasks that don’t interest them, they hinder other kids’ learning. Different schools have different proportions of these ineducables. Where the proportion is very high, smart bookish kids are having their lives destroyed.

An acquaintance of mine, a skillful and dedicated professional biology teacher, moved from the West Coast to New York and took up substitute teaching while he continued looking for the house and the permanent job he wanted. One of his gigs was at a school upstate in Syracuse, NY. The place was awful: students running wild, deafening noise, teachers intimidated and insulted. After a week my friend told the school he’d be quitting at the end of the following week. Midway through that second week a parent showed up, begging my friend to stay on. “My daughter loves biology. She says you’re the best teacher she’s ever had. Please don’t let her down….” My friend quit anyway but says the recollection of that parent still haunts him.

There are smart, studious kids like that in even the worst schools—probably even in this one. Obliging them to share classrooms with uninterested, disruptive, ineducable peers is criminal.

The fundamental problem here is that we don’t know what to do with adolescents. Well, we know what to do with the ones who are bookish and willing to be educated: Sit them in rows of desks and have trained teachers instruct them. We simply have no idea what to do with the others. All we have come up with is to subject them to the same environment as the bookish kids. This (see above) leads to massive waste and destroys some subset of studious, educable youngsters’ chances.

Is there an alternative? The education of the educable would be improved if the ineducable were to be sent home—in fact, barred from school premises. But then, of course, they’d be in the streets making mischief. We could corral them in some kind of camps I suppose, but at least two problems would arise: (1) even under adult supervision, the meek kids would be preyed on by the un-meek, and (2) some portion of the adult supervisors would misbehave with their charges.

A lot of what high-school teachers do is just child-minding; for a lot of youngsters, high schools are just holding pens. Surely there’s a better way. How about we repeal the child-labor laws?



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