Write Lightning is a blog from writer Deb Thompson.
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Tue, Mar 29 2005

The High School Dropout Who Saved A President

A man who helped save the life of President George H.W. Bush died earlier this month. Although he dropped out of high school, Andrew Toti went back and got his diploma and kept on learning and inventing useful things for the rest of his nearly 90 years of life. Last year Mr. Toti opened the Andrew Toti Museum of Inventions near Modesto, California. I hope someone will keep the museum going.

I would be interested to know why he ever quit school in the first place. I have a feeling a lot of young people who have left school have been some of our brightest and best, but have not had their needs met by traditional classroom teaching. Mr. Toti's success sits alongside that of others who left school early and either completed their education later or used life experience to make an impact on society. Others among that group:

17th president Andrew Johnson
Civil rights activist Rosa Parks
Harvard professor Daniel Gilbert
Newspaper publisher Horace Greeley
Mystery author Agatha Christie
Photographer Ansel Adams
Entertainer Jerry Lewis
Musician Buddy Rich
Actress Sophia Loren
Film director Luc Besson
Author Jane Austen

I don't advocate dropping out of school. I hated sitting in classrooms. But I knew if I could just get that diploma in my hand it would be a stepping stone to other things. I also acquired most of my positive learning experiences outside any classroom. I stayed in school, but I knew I couldn't rely on the local educators to build my world. I haunted our community library, watched TV, roamed in nature, viewed films, listened to adults talk, observed adults at their work, and also corresponded with people in other parts of the world. I had a hunger for knowledge but I really hated school. If you're reading this and you're in school and you hate it, please don't just drop out unless you have a plan and a vision that can't be furthered at all by books and can't be furthered at all by being in your current geographical location. If you can possibly stick it out, stay in school, but keep learning about things on your own. Don't wait for a classroom lecture to turn you on to life. It probably won't happen. It's up to you to make your life what you want it to be. Find an adult somewhere who does what you want to do and ask them to be your mentor. Go to the library, get on the computer, read, ask, observe. If you can't find a mentor locally, write to one. You can find people easily on the internet now.

I don't care what the politicians or the educational experts tell you. Adults have been drawn into so much bureaucracy (read: bureau-crazy) in our society that most teachers have very little time to actually help you with your education. It's up to you now. You can whine about school or you can show them how smart you really are by learning what they don't have time to teach you.

The most important thing for us to remember in any formal education is that we don't teach groups of children anything. We adults may gather children into groups for our convenience, but someone still has to reach into that group to spark learning in the mind of one child at a time. Any other approach wastes their time and ours and is an insult to their intelligence. And when we tell kids that the only way they can ever be successful in life is by sitting through twelve (or more) years of formal classroom procedures we are liars.

posted at: 08:21 | category: /Miscellaneous | link to this entry

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