What do you do with a kid who wants to quit school? Let them. Of course. No matter what they want to do instead of going to school, we are always more successful in life if we are doing what we are self-motivated to do.

School is largely stifling to kids who are inherently self-directed learners. Also, fifty percent of the world probably should not be in a traditional school setting because they perform better learning in other ways, or doing other things. It’s driven by their personality, not intelligence.

For example, an ISTP is good with their hands and good with logic. They don’t need high-level, theoretical academic learning to excel. And ENTJs are good at leadership, but in school there is a teacher leading, and an administration leading, and all the leadership opportunities for kids in school are make-believe.

Research published in Psychology Today shows that dropping out of school indicated a child’s ability to specialize in something he or she is good at. Because specializing is also about knowing what you’re not good at.

If kids want to drop out of high school they likely already know what they want to do, so you don’t need any idea about how to homeschool them. They are, after all, not asking to leave high school so they can stare at the wall. They have some other idea of what they are going to do. Let that unfold. Let them learn in that way.

And don’t think that the kids who want to quit school need to know exactly what they want to. They only have to be brave enough to start discovering what they want to do. Because that, after all, is what adult life is, and the longer kids put off doing it, the harder it becomes to remember what you’re self-motivated to do.

If you can get your expectations out of the way about what education is, you will be you and your kid will be your kid and you will each do what makes you happy. So much of unschooling is having faith in your kids to be their particular, curious selves. And most of your own happiness in life comes from you having faith in yourself that you can make good choices, even when those choices are not the same as others around you.

You don’t need to know all the answers to let your kids leave school. It’s okay. Let them enjoy their youth. And then you can enjoy it with them.





10 replies
  1. Aquinas Heard
    Aquinas Heard says:

    Agree – mostly. I would suggest a parent change their mindset from thinking this is about having faith in their child to I want to honor my child’s right to their own life.

  2. YesMyKidsAreSocialized
    YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

    My parents honored my request to quit public high school and let me homeschool the remainder of my senior year. They also honored my brother’s request and let him test out of high school at 16 and get the equivalent to a high school diploma via CHSPE, he was working as a techie since age 14 for people all over the US. My other siblings enjoyed high school and stayed all four years. Having faith in our kids to trust their decisions is what unschooling is about.

    Some unschooling kids choose brick and mortar school for middle/high school. Trusting and honoring their decisions goes both ways. A lot of times I hear that homeschooling parents don’t trust their kids to make those kinds of decisions in the same way that some parents don’t trust their kids enough to quit school either.

    We tried a hybrid school for two weeks at my kids’ request and they are already back to fully unschooling. It wasn’t what they were expecting. If I had said no to their request it would be about me wanting control over the situation, and I’m trying to let go of that. But, they also wouldn’t have been able to know exactly why we are unschooling. It wasn’t a horrible experience, but it was inflexible and rote, and they didn’t end up liking that. Go figure!

    We have a huge opportunity to tour a private school that is trying to recruit my kids this weekend, but after their recent experience at the hybrid school, I doubt they will want to choose “awesome” school… because it is still school.

  3. Erin
    Erin says:

    It’s easy for me to say I want to unschool & homeschool because Phoebe (ISFP) is a lot like me (INFP): artsy, creative, introverted, unstructured.

    My nightmare would be having a kid who wants me to do a consistent structured curriculum. I was great at academics, but it felt like a cage.

    But if my kid needs the scaffolding in order to build a skyscraper, I’ll do it. I’ll climb a mountain of study if I have a kid who needs me to offer this kind of support.

    But in the meantime I’m going to enjoy our unschooling & make sure the art supplies are stocked & encourage Phoebe to write her books. That’s her new thing: writing & illustrating books.

    She just write one about butterflies.

    Then she presented it to the kids at our homeschool coop and explained how butterflies were made from caterpillars.

    And I didn’t teach her a thing.

    • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
      YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

      Adorable! Yes, it’s interesting to see what our children gravitate to as unschoolers with full freedom and support. Kids aren’t standard, and so their education shouldn’t be either. But, at traditional schools everything is taught to the middle/average in the same way.

  4. Joe
    Joe says:

    I love this article and agree. It is scary to think about the potential some children have and how it is wasted in school and how schooling changes their creative output. I often think about myself and what kind of interests and skills I could have acquired if it wasn’t for all the time spent in school. Childhood freedom is beautiful and scary.

  5. Cáit
    Cáit says:

    Sort of off topic: I just watched Ken Robinson’s Ted Talk and I couldn’t believe how un-radical it was. This is supposedly the most watched Ted talk of all time and he just seemed to spout platitudes and essentially be calling for the status quo with more art classes.
    I’m struck by how many education reformers point out that compulsory school was a 19th century innovation– so clearly they get that it’s not an Eternal Need of Man– but then never suggest abolishing it.

  6. Karmen Paterson
    Karmen Paterson says:

    This article scared the bejesus out of me. I’m not sure in a good way or and I’ll have to get back to you on that. I am interested though in the statistics of kids who drop out of high school and go on to do something they love. Of the kids I know that have dropped out, they are mostly working fast food and doing drugs. I’m not claiming by any means that these are representative, just my experience. I’m also curious how these students are affected without high school diplomas. I know there are equivalent diplomas (GED’ s) but if a student doesn’t go on to get one will they run into many dead ends, brick walls, and glass ceilings (in relation to their high school graduate equals)? This article is very interesting and will have me researching the waves of questions stirred in me. Thank you!

    • Anna Keller
      Anna Keller says:

      Karmen, Just a couple of things to help frame this more specifically. Unschooled children can have transcripts and can ‘graduate’ high school. My 11th grade unschooler will have both. Transcripts are created by me, based on the work he does, and we are part of a local organization that officially provides the high school diploma (based on the ‘curriculum’ he has designed for himself.

      I agree that we think of the stereotypical high school drop out as one who isn’t on a good path for life. I have often thought that if those kids got the right emotional and social support they could succeed in exploring their passions. Unfortunately, they don’t often have that support and go on to lower achievement than they are capable of.

      I think this article in particular though was really referring to kids who drop out of school to pursue their passions. Kids who want to throw themselves into their art, sport, of specific area of study.

      • Karmen Paterson
        Karmen Paterson says:

        Thank you Anna for responding to me with more food for thought. I shared this article on my blog’s website and had a response from an unschooling mom I know that also enlightened me more on this idea. I think you are right that the article is directed more towards kids who want to pursue a specific passion and to that end I can agree with this article wholly. It still scares me a little but a little less than before these questions were posed and answered. ;-)


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