And I Regret Nothing.
Why I Left School and Never Looked Back.
By Cade Summers
I left school.
When I say I left school, I left traditional education; education by the arbitrary. That is, education by arbitrary tests, by arbitrary classrooms, by arbitrary lectures and lessons, and by arbitrary evaluations. However, amongst all of the arbitrary definitions, arbitrary purpose is the most accurate.
When many students of high school graduate, they are forced to experience the existentialism which is the “real world”, and are usually alarmed by their lack of direction, or the thought that the whole of their lives up until the point of graduation has been a series of the aforementioned: a series of the arbitrary. Most, however, experience both.
In hindsight, many students can accurately look back and notice that 9 months out of each year have been wasted on what has been called education, but most closely resembles herding cattle into and out of storage houses. The 3 which have not, often hold the most joy and pleasant experiences, and within a month of entering the controlled and restricted environment of education, many are already looking forward to the next time the summer will come.
Each week is lived on the promise that the week will end. Each assignment is a promise that the assignment will be due. Each day woken up to school, had the implied hope that eventually the day would be over. Each suffering undone by what was called education was reinforced and redeemed because eventually, that suffering would end.
If you extend that philosophy to life, you can get a view which is increasingly common. That life is the implied promise of death. That the burden of joy is a promise that joy will end. That “to live” is the state which exists, and is limited to, the preparation of “to die”.
If you asked me what the saddest thing about the generation of people graduating and going to college or the workforce today is, I would say, because it contained everything else which was disheartening, that the phrase “life is meaningless” has become so popular amongst their displays of apathy. I hear that echoed and recited amongst the young like it is a triumphant evaluation. I hear that in pop culture, and even in ads. I hear it like it is an unquestionable, and certain conclusion.
Want to know where this view came from? A cynical view where existence is arbitrary and limited to the period before one’s end? Look at what the world has taught them. Education teaches kids that their work is arbitrary and only exists to have an eventual conclusion. That the reason you go to school, is so you don’t have to go to school, eventually. That the reason you live, is so you don’t have to live... eventually.
This is the heart of why I have left education. This is why I disagree. This is why I’ve walked away, twice.
When I was no younger than 6, my school tried to have me diagnosed with ADHD, not because I had problems in the classroom, but because I succeeded. Indeed, I was better at math than most, and finished my work quicker than others. With no work to offer a young, 6 year old boy, I chose to play, like millennia of young, 6 year old boys had chosen to do with free and spare time. This, was the source of why I was deemed “disordered”. For choosing to behave as a child and play in a classroom instead of sit quiet and still for the remainder of my classes, I was considered by that school to be unnatural.
The diagnosis would have put me into a special education classroom, conveniently away from an impatient teacher, and branded me for any and all future academic options. So, my family decided to walk. Instead of being taught in a classroom, I was then taught at home. Instead of punished for finishing my work faster, I was rewarded. Instead of being administered and herded like cattle, I was raised as a free, human, child with love from my family and attention from my mother. Most disturbingly, however, I was a child in the minority.
The way in which children have been raised for centuries, with close and present family for assistance, guidance and example, is today no longer the case. Dozens of children are crammed into a single room, forced to sit still and listen for hours on end, and one adult (who is usually a stranger) is given the responsibility of managing them. When children no longer have the freedom to be children, and families are together for not the majority of time but the minority, why is it the few and not the many who point out this is a problem?
The choices my family and I made were regarded as backwards, and strange. Some claim that I wouldn’t get a proper education. I wouldn’t have gotten one anyway had I remained where I was. Some claimed that school was necessary to gain skills for future participation in the workforce. I gained the most important skill of my life, the valuing of my own well-being. Some argue that I would be alone if I chose to leave. I claim I have never been as alone as when I was in school. Some say that those who leave school are religious fanatics. I say, if it is regarded fanatical that I should not have to suffer each day of my life, or wake each morning looking forward to the moment my day ends, than I am a fanatic. I am fanatic for happiness, for joy, for taking salvation in the fact I have a purpose, and that the only thing arbitrary in my life is what I demand that purpose becomes in order to serve my existence. I am a fanatic for my life being my own, and the freedom to live by these principles is my religion.
But I did not only leave once, but twice. Why then, did I return? Because the school I ultimately went to promised it was different. I would not try traditional education again, and for a long time the school I chose was distinct. I went now to a charter school, who in my middle school years was wholly different than traditional education, and where the freedom to pursue my own education was given.
The keyword is “was”. Ultimately, the alternative nature of charter schools which once had the freedom to not force one, singular policy on all of it’s students, came under the same umbrella of old rules. Each year, fewer and fewer freedoms were allowed, and fewer and fewer happy days were left. More tests, fewer conversations, more grades, fewer freedoms, more rules, fewer happy memories.
A beloved teacher I had had, always played music during an advisory period. He gave his heart and soul to his students. One day, the guitar he’d practice with in class was no longer there, and I’ve never seen it since. It came soon after some arbitrary rule by some arbitrary policy came to fruition, and extended it’s grotesque hand outside of public schools, and into their charter cousins. That was the day, quite literally, the “music died”.
Each day then, became a march of meaninglessness. Each day became reasonless, joyless, and as though you were trapped in limbo. Do this. “Why?” Because I said so. “Why?” Don’t ask questions. “Why?” Because you have a test in March. A meaningless march.
Life became confined once more to the arbitrary. All around me, the joy of friends, the joy of my life, the joy of what I believed I would receive by making the choices I did, slipped away from me. Rules were rules, and tests were tests, and neither could be questioned.
My friend told me a few months later each day he’d wake up and curse as profanely as he could. There was a time when people woke up in this nation because they were free and had rights, and kings and dictators would not come to storm their lives or tell them that their reason for existence was at their discretion. To return to that place, where the worst moment of your day is waking up, because then you’d know what you must endure, how is that education? How is that justified? How is that teaching anyone, anything but that they should hate life itself?
The workload was never from point a to b, but from point arbitrary to point bureaucratic, generally with points c, d, e, f in between. The points being; confusion, disdain, exhaustion and frustration, though who knows how many unnecessary stops were truly visited. The capacity to think, to envision, to learn and to achieve were amputated from young minds, and replaced with the ability to follow illogical, useless rules to a degree so absolute it was as though they were the laws of physics.
Liberties were lost. Rules without reason were enforced. The sounds of empty instructions were accompanied with the common “don’t talk back”, and learning... learning became a process of not thinking. The process of “gaining knowledge” was the process of selling your soul to time you could not get back.
No more phones and no more music for anyone. No talking for the duration of the class, you need focus. Students should go to the internet and pull up the assignment. If you can’t pull up the assignment get the book. If you can’t get the book use someone else's. If you don’t get the material, go back to the resources. If you can’t find the resources use someone else's. No you can’t use your phone, we don’t allow that here. You need to focus, so no talking and no phones, and no music. It’s so you can focus. “I’d know what makes you focus”.
It was then the cyclone starts, from one lack of resources, to the denial at implementing a solution, to the insistence that it is the student who is wrong and the teacher who is right, to the reluctance to do any and all work for a class, because why solve the assigned problems when those present in reality are not being solved?
When the environment you are present in has immediate and constant problems, but the problems designated to be solved are the arbitrary and the obscure, what then are you teaching for the future?
This was what I saw. That school stole the most necessary freedom of life from children, the freedom to solve even the most basic and most relevant of real problems: the freedom to exist in a world that is real. Then, after stealing away the capacity where students can be free to implement solutions for a present and relevant reality, schools asked them to solve the problems of obscure fantasy, all the while claiming to prepare them for the future.
The reason for being was that the obscure fantasy was on the test of the arbitrary. The test asked the questions of “what was x?”, or “what did Voltaire think of freedom?” but the most important question was never answered. The question of “what will make you happy?”
Students were asked to suspend their happiness and well-being such that teachers and administrators could go on living a fantasy. “Happiness was not a guarantee in life, mathematics is”, is a well-used argument. It’s well used, for a people paid to administer unhappiness to tormented children.
This was the world of that school, which I had left at 6 to forget, and was promised to never again return. This was the process of so-called education.
During my Sophomore year, I cried each day for months. I cried and I could not explain why. I cried and I couldn’t tell anyone what was wrong because I had not known what was wrong. I cried and only thought one thing, “why?”
Why did I cry? Why was I so unhappy? If happiness is not a guarantee in life, but mathematics is, isn’t this natural? Am I then, doomed to be depressed? Am I doomed to feel alone in this world? Am I doomed to suffer under the tyranny of numbers?
After I could not answer the question for many months I decided I knew what was wrong. I decided I knew why I could not answer what was making me feel so miserable and what kept me ostracized from joy itself. The “Why?” itself was unanswerable, because I had been taught not to answer.
Don’t “give me any lip” was the reason I was given for each assignment. “Don’t question it just do it”. The explanation for why I was commanded to do something was because the task was inexplicable. Under each of these whips I was bearing the knowledge and the weight that my life was day by day being robbed from me, and that my happiness was expendable at the price that apathetic and crude teachers had a responsibility to “educate me” I suffered. Educate? I asked, on what principles?
The principle I was educated on was that I was expendable. The principle I was educated on was that I was negligible. The principle I was educated on, was that this world is numbers. The validity of this did not come, however, from a deep and refined look at mathematics, but because to anyone who took the responsibility of “educating” me did not see “me”. They saw the number of the test, and the number of their salary, guaranteed to them by the cost of their degree, which in turn was guaranteed by their tests, in turn, guaranteed by another “educator”, who in turn also only saw the numbers on the grade and the number on their salary.
And for years this cycle had been going, for decades, where children would be taught on the principles that it was not their existence which mattered, but their grade. It was not their emotions which mattered, but their math. It was not how you were treated that mattered, it was the score on the test.
“If happiness is not a guarantee in life, but mathematics is”, is this not a natural conclusion in life? If happiness is expendable, but math is absolute, isn’t this the way of the world? I had cried for 3 months each day, and when I was done, I had one answer blazing in my mind.
They say that when The Angel Gabriel spoke to Muhammad, the words of the Qu’ran were burning in his mind, clearer than any light. These words were mine.
The words began with “Is my happiness expendable?” and ended, on fire, with “No”. I do not question math, I question the values of those who would seek to place their mathematics above my existence. I do not question that 2 + 2 is 4 I question whether or not the salary of a teacher is worth my own existence.
I exist not to do math, but to do it if and so long as it makes me happy. I exist to be free and to be wonderful; to dream and by virtue of dreaming to achieve. I do not exist to be educated on principles which I do not believe, nor to bear the torture of being taught someone else's curriculum for what they claim I should think, but to teach myself how to live and what it is that makes me happy.
That is education. To learn to be. It is the path which no man nor woman, no child nor adult, no religion nor science may teach. The genre of learning which is exclusively for you, the learning to be happy, is the form of learning to exist on the principles which you create and which you decide. The genre of learning that preaches life is not lived because eventually the living will cease, but for, and with the purpose of, your happiness being real, achievable, desirable and worth every single day that this life may offer it to you.
Life must be lived with the knowledge that life belongs to the living, yet today we sell our lives to those who make each day a burden only made worthwhile by knowing that eventually the pain will end. Life must be lived knowing that education belongs to the one who discovers, not the one who endures the suffrage of tests and lectures, that knowledge does not belong to those who have been evaluated by the slave-drivers who claim to be “teachers”, but to those who are certain, those who have questioned, and those who have dared to think. Life must be lived knowing that joy belongs to those who choose to live their lives to the extent and purpose which they find happiness, and that happiness is and has always been yours to pursue, to find, to chase, and to hold.
I am reminded only of the question I asked after months of crying under the burden of knowing that those who claim to be “educating” me were actually pushing me through some unnatural torture of the mind. The question remains, because I have only answered it for myself. The question should ring in your mind every day, and for every day yet that you have been burdened under the weight of a so-called “teacher” who forces not knowledge, but unprocessable data into your mind and onto the page of a test. That question is “why?”.
“Why” do you suffer under this burden? “Why” do you let your childhood, let alone your life, be sucked away by people who steal it from you and give you nothing in return? “Why?” do you let your friends, your family, the people you respect, do it as well?
“Why? Why? Why?” Why would you spend one second of your life, one moment of your existence, letting people whip you into a form which was not yours to choose in the first place? Why have you let the people who cause you the most suffering, who maintain the system which burdens your soul, who rob you of joy, and who teach you how to think by someone else’s standard, take even one breath of your life? Your life is your own. It is yours to enjoy, yours to live, and yours for the purpose which you and you alone decide.
I will leave you with one last story of education. The story, or better put, legend of Socrates.
It is said that he was the greatest teacher and mentor this world had ever seen, not because he taught men what to think, but how. He taught them to ask questions for themselves. He taught them, not by telling them the truths of the world, but by asking them what they believed they already were.
The Kings of Greece began to notice disorder whence people questioned the rules which they imposed, and so in a crude and tyrannical fashion sentenced him to death by drinking poisoned wine. However, the Kings gave him one choice, that he might live if he could no longer teach men to question the world around them. Legend then has it, that Socrates took one look at the poison, and then the world he loved, the world he cherished, and the world where he did not command men on what to think but asked them how they did so, and with one motion drank the poison without hesitation.
Socrates would rather die, than live in a world where men were told what to think, rather than discovering it for themselves. Does this world today avenge him? Moreover, will this world today avenge you?