Family Money Work

Alice Cooper Was Right (School Sucks)

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I wrote a poem today. It goes like this:

School sucks,

seven-plus hours stuck in a classroom is a waste of time,

grades don’t matter,

a degree doesn’t equal a job, and

I hope my kids don’t go to college.

The end.

There’s nothing quite like a soft, even-keeled set of opinions to really get the people going.

I mean it, though. Our education system is broken, and with over one trillion dollars in U.S. College debt, I think it’s a waste of time and money.

Of course, God decided it’d be fun to give me a daughter who is a Number One on the Enneagram — the Perfectionist — who wants to go to college because it’s the right thing to do.

She’s a black-and-white-thinking rule-follower, and I’m a black-and-white-blending rule-breaker.

We’ll see. I guess I’ve got my work cut out for me. Maybe this will become an argumentative essay that I can stack atop her diploma and gift her on graduation day (not that it’ll work — Ones can’t be reasoned with.)

Five years ago, I published a blog titled, “Don’t Give a Sh*t About Grades.” It went over about as well as one might expect with an audience who gives tons of shits about grades. Still, I stand by it.

Straight A’s don’t equal smart kids.

That’s not to say that you should raise stupid kids. I mean they’re already stupid, right? LOL OMG. Kids just pop out of their moms and don’t know anything! Kids are dumb as rocks!

I’m joking. And I digress.

The point is: the game has changed.

Well, most of the game. Education seems to be the only thing stubbornly clinging to the past while the rest of the world — especially given the rapid advancement of technology — progresses.

I went to grade-school and maintained a solid B throughout. I worked just hard enough to pass, but couldn’t be bothered to strive for perfection, especially come high-school, when mindless homework and standardized testing paled in comparison to the profitable business I’d already begun selling baseball cards on the weekends, and the work I did with my dad (I wrote all about both of those jobs already, here).

When I went to college (yes, I went), my whole mentality revolved around a single question:

“How can I get that stupid piece of paper in the shortest amount of time?”

The system didn’t make it easy (which is both the problem and the point).

I went to Hope International University in Fullerton, California — not because it was a great school, but because they were a Southern California school offering a degree in Church Ministry (without the annoyance of a curfew that most Christian universities impose…after all, the devil is a night owl).

Still, they put me on academic probation, limiting me to four classes per semester, which meant that I didn’t stand a chance at graduating within four years (but they sure stood to make more money).

Most people don’t.

The average student — whether due to taking the wrong classes, or switching majors, or too many hungover mornings — takes about four-and-a-half years to finish college. Only fifty-six percent of the students who enter America’s colleges and universities graduate within six years, and only twenty-nine percent of students who enter two-year programs complete their degrees within three years.

And these are old stats.

I remember writing briefly about this for the first time shortly after Obama was sworn into office. Clinton endorsed his new student loan policy by saying that “it will change the course for all Americans.”

If what he meant by that was, “This plan is crap, it will keep you in debt, but you’ll get to avoid adulthood and responsibility while you do it!” then…sure…it changed the course for all Americans.

Here’s the deal: if my daughter wants to go to college, I’ll help her do it. But she won’t come out of it with the debt that most people do.

You’ll never believe it, but I’ve got a few thoughts for both parents and students about how to avoid a lifetime spent paying back college loans, as well…

  1. Start saving money for your kids. Right now. Start a 529 Plan and put whatever extra you can afford into it. Pennies, even. Whatever. Just start.
  2. Teach your kids about money by encouraging them to participate in the investment. My wife paid for everything. She worked at Burger King, Costco, a pizza place, a preschool, and the school library before and during college. The whole, “you can’t work while you’re in school” mentality is garbage.
  3. Four-year universities are expensive, and so is moving away to go to one. Out of state tuition is outrageous. Enroll in a local junior college. If you have to move away, enroll at whatever the “cheap” college is, there, and start knocking out your general-ed classes. Do you want to spend $30 or $3,000 for your guitar lessons? Pick and choose or take online, transferable courses.
  4. Full-time tuition costs the same whether you’re taking 12 credit hours or 18, so take 18. That’s six classes per semester. I remember sitting in my dorm room following the news about my probation and realizing that I needed 124 credit hours to graduate and was only given twelve to start. That’s when basic math matters. I sat there, on my bed, until I had a plan that’d put my degree in-hand in three years after being on probation for the first year.

I enrolled for “J Sessions” — week-long classes between semesters that’d help me knock out three credit hours in seven days. Perfect. I also enrolled in summer school. It sucked, but it was cheap. I had to average eighteen credit hours, take J Sessions, spend two summers in class, and cram my last semester full of twenty-two units.

It worked.

Yes, the extra classes cost money, but not nearly as much as an additional school year. Maybe I sound crazy, but I helped my friend plot out the same path, and he did it, too. You just have to stick to a plan.

  1. College degrees are growing both less and less critical and more and more expensive. A degree (as I wrote in my powerful, introductory poem) does not equal a job. If you can swing it, jump into an internship, or look for part-time work in your field of interest. Gain experience, create connections. Textbook knowledge isn’t enough.
  2. If you have no clue what you want to do, don’t go. Don’t spend the kind of money just because you think you have to. Take a year off, go on a mission, or figure yourself out first.

That’s if you go to college at all. Take it or leave it, I guess. All I have is experiences and opinions– and my feelings won’t be hurt if you don’t like either. I have used very little of my expensive degree, and I am putting my own kids through a customized and expedited school program. I am simultaneously giving them work-life experiences at a young age, as I don’t see traditional education churning out students who are anywhere near prepared for the real world (let alone focused on what actually matters in it).

I think, perhaps especially as parents, we have to ask why?

Why aren’t these systems evolving? Why are students still forced to take classes on subjects that they couldn’t possibly care less about? Why do we still treat bubbles correctly shaded in with №02 lead pencils on sheets like ballots as though they are any indication of a person’s actual intelligence or ability?

Levi recently shared with me that his wife, Brandi, has been struggling to pass a fitness-coach certification program she’s currently enrolled in. Brandi has dealt with learning disabilities throughout her scholastic life and — despite being one of the most qualified coaches regarding the actual hands-on implementation of her knowledge in a class setting — is now threatened with the loss of her credentials due to a circle wrongly blackened on a test intentionally designed to ask unclear questions.


You’ve got the thumbs up on expertise, but you can’t get the job (or the piece of paper) because you got confused about a question that has nothing to do with what you’re interested in?


Prereqs and standardizations make for machine-men with machine-minds (I know Charlie Chaplin’s Dictator speech wasn’t about the SATs, but I love that wording).

In an article published by The Guardian, George Monbiot comments,

“In the future, if you want a job, you must be as unlike a machine as possible: creative, critical, and socially skilled. So why are children being taught to behave like machines?”

The author goes on to say that children — when allowed to apply their natural creativity and curiosity — love to learn. I can attest, and so can my kids. My thoughts aren’t at all about whether or not we should be teaching the next generation (of course we should), but about how.

Ultimately, we send our kids to institutions that we don’t necessarily even believe in because it’s easier than spending time with them or working toward creating a solution.

I’m not blameless, here, but I have learned to move past my assumptions.

My daughter — for instance — always wanted to be homeschooled, but Jeanette and I didn’t think we’d be able to give her the kind of experience necessary to appropriately foster and fuel her interests. At the same time, “normal school” was driving her insane. She became obsessed with straight A’s, perfect attendance, and whatever other checklists her teachers used to judge her usefulness as a cog in the wheel. Anxiety dominated her education.

At the same time, my son was burnt out on the system (not to mention: well beyond it), so as a father who hates the “school rules” as much as anyone, I started to question all of them.

How do we know we can’t give Elise the experience she needs if we pull her out of the traditional public school system?

Is there a way for Nolan to be done with school completely?

And just what does school have to look like in the first place?

My wife and I decided to become the answer to our own questions.

We created the Gross Life Prep Academy. After all, if you’re not happy with the system, merely complaining about it isn’t going to make much of a difference. You’ve got to create your own system (or, at least, add to the one you’re dissatisfied with).

We said yes to Elise’s homeschool request. Education, for her, is no longer bogged down by whether or not she made it to her desk before the bell rang. Now, it looks like our last trip to Washington D.C. to see TU Dance and Bon Iver perform together. It seems like a life experience that is actually connected to her dreams and interests — much more like a trade school (and, therefore, much more beneficial for and applicable to her actual field of study).

Nolan, following his ninth-grade year, tested out of school altogether. He was done before he turned sixteen. The kid can stand up to any graduating senior with the knowledge and expertise he has acquired as a young man. He can’t speak Spanish, but he can speak Adobe. He has been learning how to write music and play the piano. He can speak Photoshop. He directed a commercial for Nike and he just directed his second video for Hillsong LA, and the jobs aren’t slowing down.

I want to be a good teacher, and if my kids don’t want to go sit in a room for seven-plus hours a day, my lesson will not be, “Well, you have to, because that’s just what people do.” I’d like to give them something more than an imprisoning mentality that’ll continue to rob them of their true potential at 35 when they’re still going through the motions because it’s still just what people do.

None of this should be read as though I consider education unimportant.

Neither am I communicating that the parent/child roles should be reversed, or that sometimes you just have to suck it up and learn things you’d rather not.

But I am saying that our traditional systems are absurd.

I’m still teaching my kids every day, and they’re both students now as much as they ever were in a traditional class setting.

As parents, we can’t not teach our kids. For that matter, we can’t help but be teachers. They’re going to learn from us either way and what kind of environment are we going to create that moves them in the direction of preparedness for life ahead?

Are we willing to be involved? Are we ready to be a part of helping create something better?


P.S. I know that this reflection won’t satisfy everyone, largely because that’s all it is — a reflection. Diagnostic in its own right, but necessarily reductionistic. I didn’t set out to write a thesis. Obviously, there is plenty more to discuss. I understand privilege and the lack thereof when it comes to this topic of education reform.

Nevertheless…in a world where all the information it holds is a click away, I wonder if it might be appropriate to ask what it means to be educated, qualified or ready for the life ahead. I’d argue that the majority of what our kids are taught as “important” doesn’t make the cut. To quote thirteen-year-old Logan LaPlante who, years ago, spoke at a TEDx conference in a presentation titled Hackschooling Makes Me Happy, “What if we were to base education on the study of being happy and healthy? Why is that not considered education?” With over ten million hits in the years since, I know I’m not the only parent asking how we can do better with the time allotted us, together with our children.

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