A Better School?
A Commentary By John Stossel
There must be a better way to keep kids interested in school than drugging them.
Today, 1 in 5 school-age boys is diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Many are given drugs that are supposed to help them pay attention.
"I was the rowdy kid, the bad kid," says Cade Summers in my latest video. "They really pressured my parents to put me on ADHD medication... Adderall, Ritalin. It was like I had been lobotomized. My parents said, 'This is not our son.'"
They sent him to different schools; he hated them all.
Then he heard about the Academy of Thought and Industry, a private school in Austin, Texas, that has a different way of teaching.
To raise the $20,000 tuition, Summers got a job at a coffee shop. He had to get up at 3 a.m. every day to open the shop. "I would get the bacon frying, get the breakfast items ready."
That's a lot of work for a kid who hated school, but his drive doesn't surprise the man who started Thought and Industry, Michael Strong. He tells parents that kids learn better by doing actual work.
"Teens need responsibility. Ben Franklin, Andrew Carnegie, Thomas Edison started their careers at the age of 12 or 13," he says.
I pointed out that today people would call that "abusive child labor." Strong answered: "I worked as a teen. I loved it. Teens very often want to work."
At his school, students get Fridays off to work on their own projects. There are no lectures. Instead students read things and then discuss them.
It's different from schools Strong attended -- and hated.
Too often, says Strong, "school is 13 years of how to be passive, dependent. ... Sit still, read, listen to your elders, repeat... aim, aim, aim, and never get stuff done."
By contrast, at Strong's schools (there are now two, with more on the way) teachers tell students, "Try to start a business in one day."
Most of those businesses fail, of course, but Strong says: "I want students to go out there and get stuff done, fail, get up, try again. That's how we become creators, entrepreneurs. We want them to do what they love, now."
Cade Summers says the possibility of making money made him much more interested in school. He tried to start a marketing business. "We got to create a project and immediately start feeling the rewards of it," says Summers.
Other students we interviewed were into things like music festivals, costume design and computer programming. They got to study the fields they were passionate about.
A few of the student businesses succeed. Dorian Domi started a music business at the Academy. Today, his music festival, Austin Terror Fest, brings in tens of thousands of dollars.
Other students launched a website for an "American Idol" finalist. The finalist used the students' work "for about nine months," says Strong. "Then he fired the team -- a high school team -- and got a better team. That was a great experience for my students -- to get fired by a client... Do that several times and that's how you get better at getting stuff done."
So companies are eager to hire Strong's students. Summers got a marketing job right after he graduated.
Strong is proud of students like Summers who flourish at Thought and Industry after struggling at regular schools. He described one who, in New Jersey's public schools, "needed a full-time aide. He was costing the state an enormous amount of money. He came to our school, he did not need an aide."
It's true. We interviewed that student. He told us: "In middle school, elementary school, I was incredibly socially isolated... Coming here is just healing."
The key for him, and many, was following his own interests, rather than following orders.
That's what motivated Cade Summers to get up at 3 a.m. to work in that coffee shop.
"It was me choosing my life," he says.
John Stossel is author of "No They Can't! Why Government Fails -- But Individuals Succeed." For other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit www.creators.com.
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