• Welcome to Tux Reports: Where Penguins Fly. We hope you find the topics varied, interesting, and worthy of your time. Please become a member and join in the discussions.

When to Drop Out of School

Robert Heiny

Research Scientist of Learning and Education
Flight Instructor
Perhaps you have heard this question: "When is the best time to drop out of school?" Or, said another way, "I want to, so why shouldn't I drop out whenever I want?"

I've heard it repeatedly. Teachers and some parents tell me they see the question in the way their children and students attend school.

I also remember asking my dad that question when I was 16. He left school at 16, why shouldn't I do the same? His answer was persuasive. I stayed in school to graduate several times.

Dad's words were direct: Whatever you learn in a year in school took me seven years of hard trial-and-error to learn out of school. I had to read and work harder than the others all the time to try to catch up with those guys who finished school. (For the record, Dad went back to school as an adult to become the first graduate and the first graduate hired from the Boeing School Aeronatic Engineering, Hanger 4, Oakland Airfield, Oakland, CA. That made him employee #42 in what became United Airlines.)

Later I learned this story that parallels my dads and probably millions of other people in the first half of the 20th century. About 65 percent of entering freshman graduated from high school through the 1960s. Even more left school before high school.

Louis L'Amour dropped out of school at age 15. He lived in Jamestown, ND with a home library of about 300 books that he grew up reading at least once.

Robert Phillips, author of the 1987 unauthorized biography Louis L'Amour: His Life and Trails, said L'Amour had an answer to the dropout question others asked him to answer: It's ok to consider dropping out of school after you have read 3 (non-fiction) books a week or 300 books a year for 3 years in a row.

In today's world, those books do not include most K20 school textbooks, because they are secondary or more remote sources.

Until he died, L'Amour read about 300 books and scanned about 400 more a year. He also subscribed to and read about 30 magazines/journals in various sciences.

His library exceeded 10,000 books (some estimated as many as 20,000) nonfiction volumns, including classic literature, maps, geography, geology, history, biology, botany, physiology, astronomy, astrophysics, and physics. Visitors to L'Amour's home noted that they saw stacks of books and magazines in every room.

One of his favorites was reading diaries of people describing their lives, such as those in Marlin Heckman's book that lists diaries and their archieved locations written by women traveling over the Oregon Trail. L'Amour wrote the Foreward to Heckman's book. It was then the only time he commented in another author's work.

Plus, L'Amour wrote and Bantam Books published at least 3 of his novels each year with stories that depict fictional people in actual Western history. He described what people did to survive the trials of their days in real locations in which he walked, smelled the air, bundled against seasonal storms, etc.

In addition, he saw 42 of these novels made into Hollywood movies, starting with Hondo (also his first published novel) starring John Wayne.

Together, these earned him the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Medal for having over 141,000,000 copies of his books published by the middle 1980s.

You can still find his novels in new and used bookstores, big box stores like Walmart and Target, and online.

L'Amour said in his autobiography, Education of a Wandering Man (1989), that he left school because it got in the way of his education, as has schooling for many others. He wanted to tell stories and knew he needed first to learn to do what people do to live.

He worked at meanial and hard physical labor (including winning 52 professional boxing matches) to feed himself, and like others with whom he worked, always carried and read books and swapped them with other drifters and workers for more reading. He worked with brilliant and dull, producers and slackers. In the process, he worked his way around the globe making enduring friends.

He turned their lives with him into stories that represent the efforts and risks of ordinary people surviving extraordinary hardships.

He dropped out of school, but not out of education. I met but didn't know him. What I remember more than anything else is that he was a consistent learner who wrapped what he learned into stories that honor the doers in history, not about the names commonly found in history books. He did so in order for others to know more about the legacy that has given meaning to our common history.

So, if you don't see yourself as one of the Doers and hard workers, such as my dad and L'Amour, you might want to consider staying in school. It may be the easiest and most comfortable part of life you will live.

If that's not an incentive to complete school, ask and answer this question for yourself: What do you want your life to be like in five years and what will you have to do now to make it come true for you then?

It's your choice.

Robert Heiny

Research Scientist of Learning and Education
Flight Instructor
An undergraduate reader who wants to remain anonymous suggested these points about dropping out of school. This student attended k12 in one of the poorest academic performing public school districts in the state.

1. Not everyone wants to learn in or out of school. They accept that when they do not graduate from high school, they will not get what others get, nor do they want to try.

2. Some people want to do other things than to learn.

I thank this student for contributing these comments to the discussion.


Flight Director
Flight Instructor
There are two types of people: TMI and NEI. The TMI is content with their knowledge and not interested in learning. The NEI personality is always asking questions and never has learned enough. An extension of this idea is that the wage earner is most likely the NEI whereas the consumer is most likely the TMI.

Robert Heiny

Research Scientist of Learning and Education
Flight Instructor
Interesting distinctions. I grew up among hard workers who distinguished people as what I call Makers, Breakers, and Takers according to what and how much they do to care for themselves and their families. At the same time, many of these Makers were considered Oddballs by their neighbors. They made their life on the edge of socially acceptable occupations before they succeeded, including in the arts, farming, and creating new industries that billions of people rely on today.

In that light, I wonder when the responding student's optimism that some people are late starters has merit and how can anyone know ahead of time?