Books: Dropouts Talk About Experiences With Schools

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The new book When I Was Young I Loved School: Dropping Out and Hanging In collects interviews with young people who have quit school, returned to give it a second chance, or struggled to stay in.

In the following excerpts from four of these interviews--conducted by teenage editors of the news service Children's Express and edited by Anne Sheffield and Bruce Frankel--teenagers who dropped out describe their experiences with schools:

Sheila, 17:

When I was young, I loved school. I was so good in school that my mom trusted my judgment. If I said I didn't want to go, she said, "O.K. You know." I've been through so many different schools. There were a couple of times where I'd switch schools three times in one year, even in the 1st grade. ...

In 8th grade, I started cutting school. It was kind of fun, you know. I got in a lot of trouble. I wasn't there enough. When I fell behind, I got frustrated. But I did all right. I got straight A's.

In the 9th grade, I really started f---ing up. They were threatening my mom. If I didn't go to school, they were going to fine her 50 days in jail or something like that. She got all freaked out. That's why she finally said, "Well, why don't you go to your dad. I don't want to go to jail."

My dad used to beat me up pretty bad. I had bruises. I wouldn't go to school because I was afraid. What could I say? "Oh, I got in a fight." Five fights a day? ...

I finally went and told the school nurse what happened. They got me a social worker. I told them, "Don't say anything to him. Don't confront him until you get me out of the house." They said, "O.K., O.K., don't worry."

The motherf-----s told him, called him and let him know. He came home and beat the s--- out of me. ...

I moved to California at the end of August, two Augusts ago. I went to Berkeley High. I liked it. I was really impressed by all the opportunities you had there and all the different choices you had. It was stimulating.

But after I met people and I started having a social life and everything, I'd miss my morning classes a lot. I wasn't really living at home. I was living wherever. And I was taking lots of acid. My boyfriend at the time wasn't really doing anything for himself. He wasn't going to school. And I just kind of stopped going. ...

Education is really important to me. My mother has stressed that my whole life. I think from the time I was born, she said, "You're going to get an education." That's just been pounded into me, right? That's probably the only thing that I listened to. The only thing.

I just didn't want to be in a classroom. There's a lot to learn, but you can't learn in the classroom.

I started taking drugs when I was so young. The first time I ever smoked a cigarette, I was 10. The first time I smoked pot, I was 10. The first time I took acid, I was 12. I've done just about everything, I think.

I remember a time when I said I'll never stick a needle in my arm. I truly believed that. I don't know what it was, I got into this--it sounds so sappy to say--live-for-the-moment thing. Yeah, just take everything as it comes. I was just spontaneous. I loved it. ...

I got down to 96 pounds. I was so unhealthy, I looked like s---. And then I knew that I had to quit--I had to. I really want to have kids some day. I really do. I just started thinking in terms of the future. Because I didn't think about the future ever. I just thought about now.

Now that I keep the future in mind, it makes a big difference. A big difference. I'm going back to school. I don't want to quit school. Even when I quit school before, I knew that I would never be a dropout. I want to be educated. And I still want to go to college. I still want to be a veterinarian.

You know, sometimes it scares me, because I think, God, could I do it? Can I do it? I can't even get up in the morning. How are you going to go to f------ school when you can't even get up in the morning? They're not going to go for that. But I'm going to try.

Brent, 18:

I was 18 and a senior when I dropped out three weeks ago. I used to get harassed by the teachers and the whole student body because I was different. People couldn't deal with that. Most people look at me and call me a punk, which I don't mind. But I don't totally like it.

What would I call myself? Myself. Just being me.

Mom was kind of expecting it. All this year I was getting harassed by the vice principals and the principal. Everybody treated me like a criminal. I think they eventually started getting a little bugged by the fact that they couldn't get me, you know, suspend me or anything. ...

At first, I thought that the system was out to get me. And then I thought it over again. I said, "No, maybe it's just me and I'm making everything up."

I was in all the average classes. I was lazy. I didn't like doing school work, even though I had the brain power to do it. School was boring. And the school work I was learning was boring. Boring, boring, boring. That's it. I feel right now like I know more than I was going to learn this year in my classes. So, you know, I think I have the intelligence.

It's not really what they're teaching. Some people like me, they're intelligent on their own. They don't buy their education. They just have it. You're sort of born with intelligence. Some people are, some aren't. ...

It was like a prison. I couldn't be who I wanted to be. Prisoner of thought, prisoner of conscience. I quit school because of the way I thought, the way I dressed, the way I was, the way that was easiest for me to be. I'd graduate this year and do my music, but now I have a chance to start it earlier. I'm trying to look on the bright side. ...

If you think that dropping out of school is best for you, then that's what you should do because you'll feel more happy about it. I admire anybody that does what they want. People who are being what they want to be, we can relate to them.

The problem is the dropouts who don't know why they dropped out. I know why I dropped out, so I'm not a problem. I think dropouts are problems, like my older brother, a druggie getting in trouble with the law.

I'm an exception. I know why I did it.

I don't think I'll ever look back. I've moved around a lot. Since I was a little kid, I've been to about 10 different schools. Every school has its own method of teaching, and after 6 or 7 schools, I had to form my own thought process. Most teachers are stuck in their own beliefs. They preach, they don't teach.

And I eventually taught myself. I took the book home and I taught myself. That's why I don't think I'll ever look back and wish I didn't drop out of school.

Sara, 15:

I'm a dropout, yeah. I'm only 15, so I haven't actually dropped out yet, but I don't go to school.

I quit school before I even started it. I'm just doing it technically now, but when I was in grammar school, it was the same thing. I wasn't really going to school. I was there in body, but I wasn't paying attention. I wasn't doing the work, nothing.

Now, I'm just doing the same thing, just technically and really and finally. I don't think about school. I just don't go to it. It wasn't a decision. The decision would be to go to it.

It doesn't make sense. That's what everybody says. Of course it doesn't make sense. How could it possibly make sense? I mean, if you're looking for why we're dropping out to make sense, forget it. It doesn't make sense.

The young, gifted, middle-class, and bored. Fits me well.

So why do we do it? I don't know why we do it, we just do. Because we're not going to go to class! There's different reasons for every time that I don't go to every class. I mean, there's one day I won't go because of what we'll be discussing, or the book we're reading in English, I'll have already finished. ...

It's boring but that's not the only reason. I mean, 'cause sometimes when you're cutting, you're bored. But at least you're not stuck there being bored. You can go somewhere else and be not bored. ...

It's weird, but I don't know what's going to happen to me. And I don't know whether I'm going to be some old, decrepit, disgusting bum on the streets, but I know I have enough of a handle on myself that I know that I can make myself happy no matter what. And I will enjoy, or at least be interested in whatever goes on. ...

I don't gloat about the fact that I'm a dropout, I gloat about the fact that I'm me. I like Sara. I think Sara's a great person and so whatever it is that I do, I condone. ...

What is my opinion of education? Do you mean education as Plato saw it or as I see it? I see it as learning and it doesn't matter how you do it as long as you learn something.

Carrie, 17:

I think that in all schools I'd like to see some better teacher/student communication. The enthusiasm to learn is not really there when you get into the high school.

It's the fault of both teachers and students. Because you might have an excellent teacher who's willing to give it her best and some student comes in all wasted, doesn't want to do anything, tells her to f--- off or something. She bums out and loses her desire to teach.

On the other hand, the student can go in there with a great desire to learn, but the teacher is not the best or something. And they bum out the kid, and the kid doesn't learn anything.

We need something like Dropouts Anonymous, where teachers, students, parents, administrators, family members all get to talk about it. Because when you think about it, kids don't really drop out because of the school. They drop out because there's some other personal problem that is affecting the way they came to school.

You know, if you can get at the source of the problem, then the kid can still deal with school. But a lot of times, you blow it off and say, "The problem is the school. I'm not right for this place."

Any parent who reads this, please keep an open mind to [alternative schools such as the one to which Carrie returned]. Because nobody is perfect and we all do have problems and we all need support. That's what this school's about--supporting.

From When I Was Young I Loved School: Dropping Out and Hanging In by Children's Express, edited by Anne Sheffield and Bruce Frankel. Copyright 1989 by Children's Express Foundation Inc. With permission of the publisher, Children's Express Foundation Inc., New York.

Vol. 09, Issue 19

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