School Choice

This Private School Has a Better Way to Keep Kids Interested

"It was me choosing my life."

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There must be a better way to keep kids interested in school than drugging them.

Today, one in five 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.

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21 responses to “This Private School Has a Better Way to Keep Kids Interested

  1. There *used* to be comments.

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  3. What if the student’s interest is playing video games? Presumably there is some advice and oversight to steer kids to useful pursuits.

    1. “What if the student’s interest is playing video games?”

      Well, after I graduated college (way back in the 80’s), I got a job playing videogames for a living. Then I went on to a career in IT.

  4. 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.”

    Does this mean no basic education fundamentals are taught? The kids pick things that they want to discuss?

    While I applaud the boundaries set for young people with chores or work, school is designed to teach you the basics so you retain them long enough to build upon those fundamentals.

    Otherwise, why have school? Save taxpayers trillions and let kids get together and talk about shit that they want to talk about. That is what my peers and I did after school and on weekends, but whatever.

    Teaching kids as a fundamental process is not broken. Not teaching kids and costing taxpayers trillions is the broken part.

    1. As Stossel has pointed out before, some kids probably need to go to vocational schools and other kids attend more academic schools.

      Some kids just like hands on education while other kids like ‘book learning’.

      Kids need fundamentals of education like basic math, basic English, and basic government/history. Without these things, kids are dumb. They are lost in the complexities of life and forever playing catch up to stuff that they should have learned in school.

      Another example of why basic education is important is that many Millennials went through 4 years of undergraduate college and still are stupid. They don’t have basic education fundamentals. They cannot count on the fly. They cannot adapt without Mommy. They cannot work through why things work the way that they do.

      This is a generality of Millennials but the Generation joke has some truth to it.

    2. school is designed to teach you the basics so you retain them long enough to build upon those fundamentals. Otherwise, why have school?

      Well said. OTOH, in a few(?) years we’ll be implanting needed knowledge a la THX 1138.

  5. I thought public schools were drug free zones?

    1. They are also supposed to be gun free zones except for mass shooters.

      1. Somebody’s never heard of JROTC.

        1. Pretty sure they don’t let those guys have guns anymore… My dad got to take his guns to school, but IIRC ROTC at my school in Cali used fakes for drills and such.

  6. In case anybody at Reason reads this, why do you guys keep splitting up into 2 “articles” the page for the video on a subject, and the slightly more full length written article?

    Just consolidate them onto a single page. It always splits the comments, and the views, between multiple pages… Which is kind of annoying sometimes.

  7. Can we stop these endless education experiments on kids?

    We have a record of what works–and this stupidity isn’t it.

    There was a point at which SAT scores were rising. Then they began to fall.

    We need to teach kids in the manner of the students whose SAT scores were still rising–and abandon all the nonsense methods that came after.

    Very simple.

    So why don’t we do it?

    Because the last few crops of teachers learned from those nonsense methods. They CAN’T teach the old way because they don’t know the basic knowledge set and the methods for HOW to think that were taught then.

    They only know, and can only teach WHAT to think.

    1. If your measure of what “works” is SAT scores, then you have no idea of what works.

      Education is a funny subject. Everybody who went to school thinks they’re an expert.

      1. It depends on what you think “education” is supposed to do.

        Personally, I think of basic education as teaching people to read, write, and do basic math. I think we should also try to teach history, civics, and maybe a few basic “life” lessons type things, like personal finance.

        We don’t do a great job on that last set anymore, mostly because they’re just trying to brainwash people to be leftist idiots… But we do OKAY on the first set. Not good for the money, but okay overall.

        I don’t think school should be trying to turn out Bill Gates’ or anything like that. School can never achieve that, for one. People have to CHOOSE what they want to do with themselves. Most people are simply destined to be mediocre cogs in the machine no matter what you do. People need to accept that.

        If we simply had vouchers everywhere to allow people to do what they want, that’s probably all I would suggest. The rest will sort itself out. In lieu of that, we could probably use more vocational/shop type classes back in schools, and stop pushing people who aren’t cut out for college to go to college. But vouchers would probably be far better.


  8. There must be a better way to keep kids interested in school than drugging them.”
    No, there isn’t.
    How else are you going to kids to listen to their teachers’ socialist indoctrination?

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