Dropout Dilemmas; Paths Not Taken

Steve Russell
5 min readApr 28, 2019
Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

I confess the only reason I left school was the need to support a family. I had a fantasy of becoming a forensic pathologist, but I dropped my pre-med studies to devote full time to my law practice when school and work and being a single dad got to be too much and I had to choose. I know how odd that sounds coming from a ninth grade dropout who did not drop back in until the University of Texas was willing to take a chance on me. My life up to that point appeared to show hostility to education, but that was not true.

I was — and remain — hostile to schooling as practiced K-12 in the United States. What we’ve got is universal child care with graduated lesson plans aimed at theoretical students of a particular age without regard to their abilities or interests. With the learning component rendered too difficult to absorb or too easy to avoid boredom, the function of the public schools devolves to social sorting, mostly in a manner that replicates the status of parents.

There are many popularity contests that offer no trophies for participation. The winners win consistently and the losers likewise. Hence, the sport the losers find in class reunions when they have done better than the people who made them miserable back in the day.

If the problems are so damn obvious, and if I believe in the value of education, why didn’t I use what skills I have to do something about it? Here’s how this ninth grade dropout addressed the problem — or, at least, made the attempt.

In 1972, I was graduated from one of top five education colleges in the nation, the one at the University of Texas. I came within an ace of not graduating because no public school within a reasonable distance of the People’s Republic of Austin would allow me to do the mandatory student teaching course. I had cut my hair in anticipation, but the problem was that I had a beard.

I was reminded of the hilarious rendition of a story by a philosophy professor that became less funny the longer I thought about it. He had been traveling by automobile across the great state of Texas from the Left Coast, having been recruited from one of those crazy California schools to teach philosophy at UT.

Accompanied by his wife and small child, he stopped at a Dairy Queen just off the interstate in very rural West Texas, where…

Steve Russell

Enrolled Cherokee, 9th grade dropout, retired judge, associate professor emeritus, and (so far) cancer survivor. Memoir: Lighting the Fire (Miniver Press 2020)