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Stossel: A Better School

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Kids do real work at a new kind of school.

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3 million kids (mostly boys) are given medication that’s supposed to make them sit still and focus.

But what if schools, not kids, are the problem?

One former public school student, Cade Summers, tells John Stossel that he hated the effect of the drugs–that it was like he had been “lobotomized.”

Cade’s parents took him off the “attention deficit” drugs and sent him to other schools. But Cade hated them all. “I would come home and I would sometimes just cry,” Cade tells Stossel.

Then he heard of a new type of school in Austin, Texas. It promised to let kids discuss ideas, and to do real-world work.

But the school, the Academy of Thought and Industry, is a private school that charges tuition.

So Cade started getting up at 3 a.m. to work in a coffee shop to help pay the tuition.

What kind of school could possibly be worth that to a kid?

The school’s founder, Michael Strong, says kids learn best when they are given actual responsibility, real life work. “Teens need responsibility…Ben Franklin, Andrew Carnegie, Thomas Edison, started their careers at the age of 12 or 13,” he points out.

Nowadays people consider that abusive child labor, Stossel notes.

“I worked as a teen,” Strong replies. “I loved it. Teens very often want to work.”

Strong’s schools do many things differently. Students get Fridays off to work on their own projects. School starts at 10 a.m. There are no lectures–instead students read, and then discuss what they read.

That’s different from schools Strong once attended–and hated.

“School is 13 years of how to be passive, how to be dependent,” Strong tells Stossel.

“School is about aim, aim, aim, aim, aim, and never get stuff done. So I want students who just 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.”

For Cade, that meant doing a marketing internship Fridays, where he did actual work.

When he completed Strong’s school, he got a job right away–at a tech startup that normally requires a college degree.

Another Academy graduate runs a successful metal music festival called “Austin Terror Fest.”

All kids at Strong’s schools work on some kind of project.

“I’m currently working on making a web-based chat application,” one boy told us. “I wanna be a programmer. I love programming”.

A girl at the school works at a paintball range on weekends. “If they love paintball, then they should do a business in that,” says Strong.

Most of his students also end up going to college. Strong points out, “We’ve had students admitted to top liberal arts colleges. Bard, Bennington …”

“Of course they do well,” Stossel interrupts. “You’re charging fat tuition. Only rich kids can afford to go there and they’re going to do well.”

“The kind of kids that we get come from all walks of life,” Strong responds. “We had a student from New Jersey…he was incapable of functioning in the highly structured public school systems…in the 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.”

“Coming here is just healing. It’s incredible,” that student, Josh, told us.

Strong hopes his schools will be a model for other schools that let kids learn through real world work.

That approach works so much better for some kid that they willingly wake up at 3 a.m. to go to work to help pay tuition.

“It was me choosing my life,” Cade says.

The views expressed in this video are solely those of John Stossel; his independent production company, Stossel Productions; and the people he interviews. The claims and opinions set forth in the video and accompanying text are not necessarily those of Reason.

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