On August 15th, five teens—Xavier, Nicole, Clare, Jeremy and Lizabeth—didn’t return to high school. Edwina, on her second go at a GED also abandoned that route.
Dropout? Loser? Quitter?
Is that what they are? What we think they are?
And really why do I care?
When I first came across the Zed Omegas I was a spectator of sorts. Yes, I helped them and Alan here and there with getting this website up. However, it was listening to their daily posts (Alan collects them from the Zed Omegas’ Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, Youtube networks) and reading your conversations with them has been kindling my own dormant passion—the ‘spark’ as Peter Benson might say.
Zed Omegas ask: WHY IS IT THAT WAY?
I heard some folks refer to Zed Omegas (and kids like them) as “disaffected” youth. This is what disaffected means:
dis·af·fect·ed (d s -f k t d). adj. Resentful and rebellious, especially against authority.
I guess sometimes if you ask too many questions, that’s the label you’re affixed with. Although, in my world, maybe that is precisely the gift young people bring to the world—they shake our complacency up a little by their uncompromising nature and stretch us by asking “Why is it this way?” “Is there a better way?”
Yesterday, a docent at University of California Berkeley Botanical Garden led a tour that was full of curiosity and wonder and why’s. He recounted stories of the scientists that conduct research there who always are asking Why—“why is this flower purple?” and “why does this tree have seeds, and not that nearly identical tree?” Although his college degree was in theater arts, his enthusiasm for nature was contagious. As a volunteer “propagator” he had self-taught himself much about botany. Even though he was a spry eighty years young, he epitomized for me the spirit of the Zed Omegas.
A Seed of an Idea Rising Out
The Zed Omegas are on the quest to reimagine education—and it’s far from over. Yet there is a seed of an idea that’s been emerging so far, let’s see if I can tease it out here for you.
Their unique frustrations with traditional public secondary education come across loud and clear from the beginning. Instantly they were challenged by adults to question deeply what they were doing and why.
Beyond Frustration—Tell Us Your Dream School?
Valeria tipped the scale when she took the quest in a creative direction by writing in, “What would your dream school look like?”
Lizabeth responded first looking for a more kinesthetic learning by doing. Sure you can read about China, or you can see for yourself:
"I’m very passionate about traveling, I feel like I’ve been here in Minnesota for too long with no room to breathe. I’d like to explore and see places I’ve never seen, experience new things, and meet good people. If there were a program in school where we could travel abroad and just see things and learn the history I’d go in a heart beat."
After she wrote that, Lizabeth hit the open road and is still basking from the glow of her glorious trip to California.
Yep, that’s Lizzie surfing in the photo.
Jeremy wants experience and fodder for stories to write. Jeremy outlined in his essay why the high school isn’t for him. “I am willing to bet that I’m good enough that I can do it, that I can succeed in writing as a career. I know that’s what I want to do, so why wait around for another year to start?”
“If I do leave high school, it is not out of laziness or boredom. I’m not lazy, I just want to get the most I can out of life rather than reading about specific parts of life from a text book.”
Nicole too spends her time writing—songwriting that is. Her music program was cut from school curriculum. So she’s singing her own tune in her own sound studio.
Edwina says: “In the most general of terms, I am looking for an education that provides students with the ability to study on a more personal basis. Each of us learns differently, each of us has different interests.”
Unschoolers First Offer Zed Omegas Hope
Besides their local comrade, Nora Rose—a lifelong unschooler herself, Deven and Elizabeth offered their own example. Lisa and Leah also provided a role model for taking charge of your own education. Lisa calls it “opting out.” Clare was grateful to find someone who understood:
“After reading about Leah, I feel like I am very similar to her in a lot of ways. She’s an actress too and the slideshow on the website explaining her decision to drop out struck so many chords with me! She says she left school because “[her] inner light was being slowly dimmed”. It’s like she’s reading my mind!”
Other Rising Out Resources Pour Forth
Support and resources for an personal alternative to the standardization of high school started pouring in from all of you: inquiry hubs, unschooling, education as adventure, skillshare, after-school labs, schools as makerspaces, free schools, self-directed learning in groups and teenage liberation.
Xavier’s grateful the Internet provides “free learning as it should be." Xavier took his own learning initiative (no homework assigned) to ask others how to improve education with his series of video interviews (here’s the first in the series).
Fear and Loathing Won’t Work with Riseouts
Xavier and Edwina watched the PBS documentary, “Dropout Nation,” and declare that it was fear-mongering about the fate of all dropouts.
We learn the platform we’re using here for our website, Tumblr, was started by high-school dropout—or maybe it’s truer that David Karp is a riseout?
"So am I really doing such a bad thing, just because I’m not pursuing my education or a job in the "traditional" manner? The world is changing and evolving every day. My generation is actively working on making this world our own. Our own educational experiences, for example. Forging our own paths in the professional world, for another."
Then, we stumble across a non-profit that supports teens in Boston who leave high school to pursue their own education. It’s called Rise Out. I’ve heard the term used here and there to refer to a young adult charting their own path out of high school.
Rise out, sort of has a nice ring to it….
The Story Continues With Mentors and Allies—You!
We’re not sure if riseout or any single moniker is what the Zed Omegas are or aren’t. (Sure better than disaffected, though!) The one thing that’s sure is that they forging forward with their own lives, which may or may not involving dropping out from high school and forgoing a coveted diploma.
In most quest stories—Hollywood, fairy tale, real-life—the hero or heroine can’t do it all solo.
Along the journey vital information and inspiration comes in the form of mysterious mentors and allies appearing in the nick of time. As educator Deven Black, who left formal schooling at 14 says,
“I had guides, mentors, interlocutors and others who would steer me, challenge me, and teach me. I relied on those around me, but today those people can be anywhere in the world.”
— as told by Zephyr