The following is an excerpt from our friend Zak Slayback’s chapter in Why Haven’t You Read This Book? titled “Why Haven’t You Dropped Out of School?” Zak and the Praxis team also believe that college isn't the only chance for you to find your calling and that self-directed learning is essential to success.
I had near-perfect grades through high school, attended my first-choice school -- an Ivy League university -- on a scholarship, worked on a prestigious summer research fellowship, and, had I chosen that route, had the stars aligning to attend a top-tier graduate school. I was far from struggling in my classes -- I had even designed the syllabus with a professor for a majors-only seminar I participated in and went on to take a graduate seminar as a sophomore. I was active on campus, participating in and leading several clubs.
In brief, I was an ideal college student.
Two years in and I dropped out. And this started with asking myself, “Why haven’t I dropped out of college?”
A quick disclaimer
Before getting into my personal story of leaving school, I want to note that I love learning. Most discussions over the relative value of staying in versus leaving school focus on whether somebody truly values learning. Advocates of the latter allow themselves to be painted as anti-intellectuals, people opposed to the liberal arts, hyper-practical handymen just concerned with what will be marketable in the future. Get rid of that idea right now. Learning and schooling are not the same thing. Sometimes the best learning takes place in school, but that’s increasingly not the case when opportunity costs are taken into account. Even more, classroom learning and schooling don’t have to be the same thing. You can drop out of college and still enjoy classroom learning. (In fact, you can get the learning for free by auditing classes.)
If you love learning but aren’t crazy about school, this chapter is for you.
College over high school
I enrolled in college, initially, because I wanted to build things. This didn’t necessarily mean pursuing a STEM (science-technology-engineering-math) track -- I just enjoyed the process of building, whether simple Legos as a child or organizations and idea-systems as a young adult. College was a step up from rigid high school and appeared to be a prerequisite for any kind of building I wanted to do.
Restless and anxious as a student of the No Child Left Behind-era in public schools, I wondered why we were spending so much time sitting in assemblies about the PSSA (Pennsylvania System of School Assessment) tests and how to properly answer multiple-choice questions when that had no bearing on what I wanted to learn about. Why were we focusing on some ridiculous state-enforced standards that the teachers themselves admitted were totally arbitrary? Why did we take several weeks per year to do these exams? Why were the classes I enjoyed getting cut back for the ones that were enforced through testing regimens? High school became little more than jumping through hoops for state administrators.
School took me away from the learning I wanted to engage in and made me focus on things I didn’t want. I loved learning; I just hated school.
I funneled this restlessness and anxiety into a drive to get into college. “I can focus on what I want to learn at college,” I told myself. “Once I’m there, I can really get into the weeds of everything I need to know to go out and build what I want to do.”
I was mostly wrong.
Once in college the anxiety moved from that which was enforced by anxious school administrators trying to please state education bureaucrats to something less-formally enforced but perhaps more oppressive.
Everybody says that your freshman year is supposed to be uncomfortable. You’re supposed to struggle a little trying to find your place at the university, trying to figure out what you really want to do (because, you are told, your major will change several times, so it’s silly to be sure of what you want) and who you really are. Your restless desire for definiteness of place and purpose at school will go away, you’re assured. (Though this isn’t said explicitly, many college students feel this -- that is why they join fraternities, sororities, and clubs at school, and study abroad.) The restlessness from high school wasn’t gone, but I just figured it would go away after the first year.
This is just an excerpt. Get your copy of Why Haven’t You Read This Book? for the full chapter, which runs over reasons to drop out, objections to staying in school when you don’t want to, and how to successfully drop into something better.