Students for Unschooling Education

Who better to help people reform education than a recent high school student?

| March-April 2000

You can see Bill Wetzel’s pivotal moment coming in the journals he’s kept since he was 8. In the earliest ones, most entries include some variation of “I went to school and did all my work,” a disclosure that all but demands a pat on the head. But when he was around 15, signs of dissatisfaction began creeping into the green, college-ruled notebooks: “Went to chemistry, spent the whole period dreaming about fishing” and “English was boring.”

Apparently the boy who had framed his all-A report cards and hung them on his bedroom wall was getting sick of school. “It hit me that there were an incredible number of unhappy young people in this world, myself included, and that to put them in this school setting was very counterproductive,” recalls Wetzel, now a short, serious-looking man of 19 who runs Power to the Youth, a primarily web-based organization, from his temporary home in Little Silver, New Jersey.

Having identified school (which he sometimes refers to as jail) as the source of his frustration, Wetzel, as a high school junior, did what any budding activist would do: He started an underground newspaper. The Voice of Liberation, which included anonymous interviews with dissatisfied teachers and angry poems about the stupidity of school, got the attention of the principal at his public high school. Repeatedly called in for talkings-to about the paper, Wetzel would read from Supreme Court decisions supporting free speech in schools, no doubt scaring the bejeezus out of school administrators.

“Finally,” he recalls, “the board of ed passed this regulation full of little, picky stipulations that said we were disrupting the school’s learning activities by passing out the paper in the lunchroom. So we passed it out before school.”



It’s this kind of thoughtful confrontation with authority Wetzel now encourages as director of Power to the Youth, which he founded “to inspire young people to take charge of their schools.” On his website, through flyers, and in street-corner discussions, Wetzel advises young people (a term he prefers to kids) to organize their own classes, meet with or even join the local board of education, and generally claim the education system as their own.

Wetzel finds it absurd that “experts sit around and talk about how the schools should be run” without eliciting or paying attention to opinions from young people. “It’s like an architect building a house and the people who want the house built having no say in what’s going on. Maybe he’s building a geodesic dome and they want a Victorian,” he explains.

Occum
11/30/2010 2:55:02 PM

Until recently my daughter went to a traditional school where she did well but there was something missing. By shear happenstance a relativly new charter school had an opening and we were able to send her there. I find the difference interesting and refreshing. They have to wear a uniform and maintain grades yet it is run like a college campus. Classes are longer in duration and courses are split by half year increments. She loves it and it has made a significant difference in her attitude. All of her friends have a "want to learn" instead of "have to learn" attitude.


PATRICK MORRIS
11/29/2010 12:50:32 PM

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