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The Teenage Liberation Handbook


Cynthia Peters

“Almost

all education has a political motive: it aims at strengthening some group,

national or religious or even social, in the competititon with other groups. It

is this motive, in the main, which determines the subjects taught, the knowledge

offered and the knowledge withheld, and also decides what mental habits the

pupils are expected to acquire. Hardly anything is done to foster the inward

growth of mind and spirit; in fact, those who have had the most education are

very often atrophied in their mental and spiritual life.” — Bertrand Russell

Grace

Llewellyn, author of “The Teenage Liberation Handbook: How to Quit School and

Get a Real Life and Education,” thinks that compulsory education may have

originally included some lofty goals about educating people for democracy. But

there were other “less charming” purposes as well. One was to create new

generations of factory workers, trained to respond to the rhythms and cadences

of industry rather than agriculture, and acclimated to the “grouping,

periodizing, and objective impersonality” of factory life. Another was to

stamp out diversity, eliminating customs and languages particular to different

immigrant and indigenous groups. Yet another was to provide a parking place for

kids while their parents worked, and keeping teens from competing for jobs.

Llewellyn

thinks schools are not in kids’ best interest. She thinks they rob kids of

their own inner drive to learn, that they making learning irrelevant by linking

it to grades, that they treat children with inherent distrust, and manage them

like cogs in a wheel. She suspects that these injustices and humilities will

resonate with most kids when they read her book. But she doesn’t just want to

touch a chord in alienated and bored schoolkids. She wants to coax all the

discordant notes to the surface. She wants kids to examine what adults and

institutions require of them, and decide if it’s what they also want for

themselves. If it’s not, Grace Llewellyn wants teens to be able to say NO.

“The

Teenage Liberation Handbook” is a friendly, almost chatty, support book and

how-to manual for dropping out of school. Llewellyn talks directly to teens,

offering advice on legal issues, how to talk to your parents, how to work with

the school system and use school resources even if you’re not in school, how

to shift your time and energies to other institutions or aspects of the

community that will better meet your needs and fill your desire to learn.

If

you think high school credentials will play an important role in your life,

that’s still no reason to waste four years in high school. Llewellyn suggests

getting a General Equivalency Diploma (GED) which can be adequately prepared for

in a four to six week tutoring program or course of home-study lasting between

30-90 hours.

With

all the time you save not being in school, Llewellyn wants to see you getting in

touch with what really interests you. This might be hard for those whose

learning has always taken place within an authoritarian framework that dictates

what should be learned, when and how – always according to externally derived

standards. But Llewellyn believes you can do it. You have to re-teach yourself

(you knew when you were young) how to identify your passions. It might take a

while. You might have to drift at first. Sleep a lot, she suggests. Take a

vacation. Visit friends, relatives. Read books – anything at all. Immerse

yourself in your community. Talk to neighbors, elders, like-minded teens.

Volunteer. Pursue hobbies in the way you may have always wanted to (but didn’t

have time for) – passionately, uninterruptedly. Get a job; get a mentor; use

the library; get help from people and resources around you.

Llewellyn

is scathingly critical of a culture that wants us to contribute to the economy

by submitting to menial labor and then consuming its pitiful rewards. And she

believes that schools primarily endeavor to ready us for these dubious life

tasks. But she does not bring her analytical powers to bear on how teens’

experience of oppression will vary according to their access to resources. For

example, she doesn’t address the powerful ways race and class might affect a

teen’s ability to “drop out and get a real life.” Black youth are

considered a threat in their mere existence, and literally risk their lives by

being in the wrong place at the wrong time. The happy adventure of “getting a

real life” is probably more easily undertaken by those who can use race and

class privilege as an entrée into the world outside of school. Llewellyn sums

up her short chapter on “money…and other technical difficulties” by

saying, “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.” Here, the author sounds

like she wants teens to grope for those proverbial bootstraps, and PULL. But

dropping out will have drastically different meaning for those who are

marginalized, pathologized, and criminalized by society, than it will for the

card-carrying middle class. It would have been useful for Llewellyn to spend

some more time examining the way race and class shape institutions, and close

doors to the underprivileged, making “getting a real life” not just a matter

of “will” for certain sectors of the teen population.

Still,

this book makes a powerful contribution to the ideas and goals of teenage

liberation. “Bloomsbury Review” called it a “very dangerous book.” True

enough. It gives kids practical tools for self-determination, which could

empower them to think for themselves.

 

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