by Wes Beach
Young people are inundated with similar, prescriptive, one-size- fits-all messages that come at them from many directions: The surest route to a successful life is to build an exceptional record in K-12 schools, especially in high school, proceed directly to a prestigious college or university, earn a degree, and sincerely consider graduate or professional school. This prescription, if taken seriously and followed, leads many people away from paths on which they would much more readily find their authentic calling. My books, Self-Directed Learning: Documentation and Life Stories and Forging Paths: Beyond Traditional Schooling, share more than two dozen stories of people who have ignored the ubiquitous cultural message about traditional education and have been very successful in a wide variety of ways. Here’s a small sampling, brief summaries, of stories told more fully in my books.
Laura never attended any K-12 school. At age 12 she joined a research team at the University of California, San Francisco, a professional and graduate-level health sciences campus. At 14 she was accepted at MIT, where she enrolled; she had been accepted at several other schools. After two years, Laura left MIT upon winning a Thiel Fellowship. She is now a partner in a venture capital firm that funds anti-aging research, and is also affiliated with a biotech company.
Torrey left high school early and spent a short time at a community college. She then took two and half years off to travel and work. She returned to the community college, built a solid record, and on the basis of that alone transferred to the University of California, Santa Cruz, where she earned a BA and an MS in chemistry. She is currently a chemistry instructor at the City College of San Francisco.
Richard earned a traditional high school diploma and spent a semester at a community college. An instructor there suggested that he would gain more from self-education. He learned from other people in various fields and found a spot as a crew member on a research vessel operated by Stanford University’s Hopkins Marine Station. While at sea he sat in on classes on the boat, and when on shore took advantage of Stanford’s library. One thing led to another, and Richard co-founded what has become the world’s longest-enduring skateboard manufacturing company.
Selene tested out of high school during her 10th grade year. She attended a community college and earned an AA in Spanish. Her real interest, however, was in food preparation. In pursuing this interest, she worked in restaurants and with caterers. She is now an executive chef, preparing meals at events, sometimes for thousands of people.
Charlie’s “high school” experience consisted mostly of community college classes, supplemented by distance learning courses and work with tutors. These studies were documented on a high school transcript that supported his admission as a freshman to the Tisch School of the Arts at NYU, where he earned a degree. At present, Charlie is a managing partner at an entertainment design firm in New York.
These five stories, and the many others I can tell, show clearly that there is no single, narrow, rigid, and appropriate educational path for everyone. There are as many possibilities as there are people. Some of the people mentioned above attended, at least for a short time, a traditional high school, but their secondary school records have had little to do with their subsequent successes. On the other hand, homeschooling provided rich opportunities for Laura and Charlie to learn and grow. Homeschooling provides one way to support fitting education and enriched lives for young people before they set out on their early-adult paths.
Wes Beach worked in public schools for 32 years, mostly in high schools, and in a private school for one year. He taught science, math, and English, and directed programs for gifted and “at-risk” kids. He wised up in 1993, left the system, and has since then directed Beach High School, which consists of a home office and an attitude—the attitude expressed in his books Forging Paths: Beyond Traditional Schooling and Self-Directed Learning: Documentation and Life Stories. He is at present the GHF Teen Adviser and a GHF Ambassador. For more articles by Wes, please check out the GHF Articles page on Teens and College.
This post is part of the GHF blog hop, Gifted Children: Academic and Career Planning Beyond K-12. To see more great posts, click here!