By Tammy Drennan

I talked with a young lady the other day – 14-years-old – who loves horses and aims to own stables and teach riding, among other things. She’s been working with horses since she was five. She’s good enough now that she “breaks” new ones and retrains ones facing changes in the use they’re being put to. She knows her stuff.

Next year she’ll be taking a test to qualify her to run a stable. Among other things, she’ll have to be able to identify every plant native to her state that can harm a horse. She spends every spare minute on a horse farm near her home and has four horses of her own.

Then there’s her other life – public school. She failed her end-of-year math exam by three points, so she’s going to summer school. She’ll have to pass the test to move on to the next grade. I’ve talked with her. She’s smart and highly competent – just not especially interested in algebra. She’s more accomplished than many adults (even ones who did pass algebra). But she has four more years of school to go, during which time she’ll have to pass endless tests and divert her efforts from what she knows she’ll devote her life to.

I knew a young man some years ago who was earning $25,000 a year working part time at his own business. He was in 10th grade. He felt silly, he said, sitting in a room full of kids who spent their lives studying for tests and playing video games. He succeeded in quitting in the 11th grade and is now a highly successful businessman.

Two years ago, I got a call from a 16-year-old girl who was miserable in school. She had a family situation that evoked daily mockery from her classmates. On her own, she collected motivational quotations and had mapped out plans to become a hair stylist and open her own shop, but of course, the system wouldn’t let her go.

I get many calls a month from parents of teens who simply haven’t managed to fit into the school mold. They’re smart kids, often kids with serious interests they’re prevented from pursuing because so many adults in their lives are running them through the testing/counseling/therapy wringer.

Escaping the artificial construct

These are just a few examples that demonstrate why it will not be enough for us to simply start our own schools and walk away from state schools. That won’t solve the problem.

We must be willing to redefine education. What education looks like now is an artificial construct. It was not created by people who knew or understood children or teens. It was created by bureaucrats and special interests who wanted to control children and teens.

To redefine education, we will have to engage in some self-liberation, for most of us have a very hard time letting go (I mean really letting go) of the idea that the state knows some secret about education that we don’t and that if we defy their model we just might be sorry.

If we don’t defy their model, we will definitely be sorry.

Tammy Drennan’s essays on education appear at and other venues. She lives in Rossville, Ga.

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