How Getting Rid of High School Could Save America’s Schools

by ALISTAIR BOMPHRAY

What ever happened to “education is the key to success” and all that hopeful American bootstrapping? The state of California–proud owner of the 8th largest economy in the WORLD–is proposing a three billion dollar cut to public education. Nearly 27,000 California teachers received pink slips this school year alone (Why pink, btw? Pink is Cheer Bear and breast cancer awareness and a wickedly subversive pop singer from the early 2000’s. If we’ve let them have pink, haven’t we lost already?). School districts statewide are scrambling to adjust their annual budgets, asking difficult questions like, “Does every student really need their own desk?” and “How ’bout cutting music? Oh, right, we already did.”

And lest you think this is just a California issue—New York, Michigan, Nebraska, and a gaggle of other states are doing their own spot-on impressions of a Civil War surgeon. That terrible sawing sound? The sound of the sky falling down. Or is it?

As Richard Gere probably said when that story about the gerbil broke,  “From great crisis arises great opportunity,” or something like that. It’s in this spirit that I propose to you, fellow taxpayers, that we do something entirely unprecedented in the history of education in America. We get rid of it… completely.

This “cut a little here, cut a little there” approach simply is not working. I’ve seen band-aids on bullet wounds have better results (um, when I was in a gang, okay?).

So why not get rid of the whole damn thing? Ok, you’re right—maybe that’s a little rash. Elementary school is pretty important actually. That’s where you learn how to read and write and make fun of the fat, slow kid.  And middle school—that’s basically glorified juvie, and Lord knows I don’t want those maniacs running around. So let’s keep middle school, too.

Which leaves us with high school. Did any of you really learn anything in high school that you couldn’t have learned more efficiently from the school of hard knocks? Besides, what’s more important (and potentially very lucrative), learning how to use supporting evidence, or learning how to hide the evidence?

This is my modest proposal: No high school for five years. We save all the money we would’ve spent, distribute a percentage of it to our elementary and middle schools (so they don’t have to make any cuts), and in five years, we bring it all back. Five years—that’s all. If America can’t survive that, how great are we really?

Sure, those kids’ll miss out on some stuff—I wouldn’t trade those memories of skipping school to joyride my friend’s dad’s Ferrari for the world (oh wait—those aren’t my memories). But it’s not a lose-lose either—there’s a silver lining to this worst-case scenario.

Like maybe they could get a job. Not a good job, probably. But an old-fashioned salt of the earth character building job. The kind of job where on the first day the leathery foreman says to you, “A little wet behind the ears, ain’t ya, sonny?”  And then over time you prove yourself to him, by God. And along the way—no less of a miracle—you prove yourself to yourself. That, or you get your hand lopped off by a bandsaw.

The informed amongst you might say, “Hey, wait a minute, isn’t there already a high unemployment rate? You wanna add to that?” That’s easy. Get rid of illegal immigrants, duh. People are always complaining about how those no-good, banda-blasting illegal immigrants are taking our jobs. Yeah, well, who else is gonna pick your freakin’ strawberries, man? And clean the vomit out of your motel sheets? And pimp out your truck so it can barely clear a soda can? Oh, I know, fifteen-year olds.

Of course, I’m not so naive as to think every honorably discharged high schooler is going to run out and find themselves an honest job. As much as it pains me to say this, some may turn to a life of crime. Fortunately, here in California at least, one thing we do pride ourselves on is our state of the art prison system. Hell, we already spend more on prisons than public universities. And when those babies fill up with pimply-faced shoplifters, I’m sure we can spring for a couple more, right? If Schwarzenegger has to close a state park or two to make that happen, so be it.

And what a boon this would be for the private school industry. Any family with some money to their name is going to want to send their kid to a private school. I foresee a vanguard of pretentious, new private schools springing up all over this fair land, from sea to shining to sea. And who better to serve as custodians and lunch staff to our future statesmen and CEOs than our brave, young lambs who have so generously sacrificed their own education for the greater good of the country? It’s kind of beautiful, isn’t it?

Now don’t worry your pretty heads even a minute over the predicament of all of those laid-off high school teachers. This is their second chance, their fresh start, their Michael Vick moment. After so many years of enduring unspeakable nicknames (Mr. Shitty Breath, for example), they are now free to do whatever it is they really wanted to do in the first place, which, let’s face it, was probably a lot cooler than dragging thirty-five cranky, hormonal teenagers through The Old Man and the Sea.

And, then, in five short years—a blip really—it all goes back to the way it was. And we can gaze upon this messed-up American experiment with fresh eyes. Like back in college when you would set aside that hard-to-write paper just long enough to get really drunk and have sex with a stranger, and then come back to it the next day with renewed vigor and a bunch of great ideas. Think of it as a vacation. God knows we could use one.

Alistair teaches English and Journalism (at a high school) in Hayward, CA.

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15 responses to “How Getting Rid of High School Could Save America’s Schools

  1. J.

    Alistair, brilliant work. Thanks for the great laugh today!

    Mother of a high school senior

  2. I’ve been teaching about satire. You just earned yourself a spot alongside “A Modest Proposal.”

  3. Andrea

    Alistair, that’s a great rant. Feel better now?

  4. Alistair,

    Perhaps the Department of Corrections could just take over responsibility for public secondary education. Many young people now get their GED while incarcerated in state institutions. Think of it as boot camp boarding school.

    Since prisons seem to appeal to tax payers and politicians, I think we could have a first-rate educational system by just keeping the mantra, “Tough on Crime” blaring from the capitol.

    Teachers might have to join the prison guards union. Could be a strategic move. Instead of justifying a living wage by arguing for the welfare of our children, teacher/guards could take up the cry of “Keeping us safe!” There’s public gold in irrational fear.

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  6. Isn’t there something to be said for the idea that maybe not every child needs to be in school from ages 5-18? I’d be willing to wager that the top 1/4, maybe even top 1/3 of kids could get through the entire K-12 curriculum in fewer than 13 years. Why not offer a compacted curriculum that will allow them to graduate at 15 or 16? That would free up resources for the other students.

  7. Nate

    Send ‘em to the Grand Canyon!

  8. “This is my modest proposal: No high school for five years. We save all the money we would’ve spent, distribute a percentage of it to our elementary and middle schools (so they don’t have to make any cuts), and in five years, we bring it all back. Five years—that’s all. If America can’t survive that, how great are we really?”

    Assuming you’re readers are intelligent enough to make it that far in you’re article I say that is a good start as we won’t see immediate results but over a year or two we will see elementary schools and middle schools improve.

    In fact why just five years? 10 years is more logical so two generations of students can see the results.
    It’s better to have at least a good quality elementary school then to have the results of all schools be poor.

    It’s not about the amount of hours students spend learning but WHAT they learn. Do we really need to feed environmentalism fear propaganda to 5 year olds or is the money better spent on having better math material and money skills so they will know what $0.25c + $0.50c equals?

  9. Then by the time students reach middle school age they will know twice the amount then most high school students today and be able to apply that knowledge!

    A huge emphasis should be on study halls for one on one help in areas students struggle as that’s how I learned things as I cannot handle a class room environment where everybody has to be at the same speed.

  10. I believe seriously that high school should be done away with. There is exactly zero point to it. The GED is at a level of a 7-8th grade standardized test anyway, and is supposed to be legally as good as a high school diploma. So why do we have kids in high school when the actual benchmark is 7-8th grade knowledge level?

    So my solution is simple. 8th grade, you get the option with parental sign-off to take the GED. No guidance counselors/etc saying you have to be “gifted” or whatever. Just get your parents to sign off and you’re good to test. Then after you pass the GED, that’s it for compulsory education for you.

    Then you have two types of high schools after, one for kids to prep to pass the GED, and one that’s more or less equivalent to community college today. Or just get rid of it entirely and shuffle the kids to community college instead of high school. Most community college kids have to spend their first year or two in remedial classes anyway because the teachers/they didn’t do their job in high school. This reinforces that high school is a waste. Under my proposed system, it’d be possible for a smart/motivated student to earn their bachelors when they’d otherwise be getting the same high school diploma as everyone else.

    All we managed to do in this country is make education inflation happen. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/education/v/tests.pdf That’s a test for 8th grade from the 1930s. That’s easily harder than most high school tests today, and definitely harder than the GED. So high school replaced 8th grade, and then college replaced high school. This is great for making money, but bad for the students. So yeah, get rid of high school, cut a level of inflation down.

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