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Advice On How To Survive Public School.

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Yes, find heroes and never let anything stop you believing in them. Once you have hero-worship in an inviolable and unassailable part of you, everything else (emphasis on reason, reality, integration of mind and body, healthy emotions, etc) will come. Use heroes as your citadel where you can fall back upon when everything else is besieged and falling.

For a selection of heroes to admire, you have a number of places to look. Ayn Rand's characters are excellent choices. Historical figures, such as Enlightenment men, and 19th century businessmen, are good too. What worked for me, though, almost as much as AR's characters, were Ancient Greek and Roman heroes - you can find their short (30page) biographies in Plutarch, a 1st AD Greek historian. I recommend Cato Younger, and Fabius, as good starting places. These are Roman men... I'll think of some Greek ones tomorrow.

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The dumbing down of the American school system is frightening. Do any of the adults have advice on how to survive it without going insane?  :D

I can tell you what I did: I slept through all my classes and stayed up all night reading. Not sure that's generally the best policy though. ;-)

(... but I don't regret it for a second.)

I'd recommend granting school just as much of your attention as it merits. If you plan to go to college, you should try to get the best grades possible. Given how dumbed down high schools tend to be, that shouldn't take up a whole lot of time. If you have some good teachers or interesting classes, spend more time on those and get what you can out of them. Then spend the rest of your time pursuing your own values, whether they're intellectual, artistic, personal -- whatever.

It's a tough situation, because you're forced to be in a building all day with a bunch of strange people who have a lot of power over you. There's no way to make it a great experience, I think, but you can still pursue worthwhile goals in what time you manage to keep for yourself. It won't be *that* long until you're out of there, so just try to think of it this way. What sort of position do you want to be in when you graduate? What kind of grades would you like to have, what kind of skills, what kind of plans? Then work to get yourself in that position so that when you're free, you'll be able to live the life you want.

Also, as I think Betsy Speicher has mentioned on here in another context, it's helpful to have friends who dislike school for the same reasons you do. Then you can make fun of the teachers and bitch about the stupid homework assignments. It's really a necessary psychological relief. ;-)

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Take the classes get the easy A. Make your own homework and challenge yourself to acheive a higher standard of knowledge and efficacy of thought than the disparagingly low standards set by the public schools.

Seek to learn how to think. It is a skill that has to be learned. The schools will not help you, but actually cripple you if you do not teach yourself.

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My advice would be to do all of the suggested and optional homework.

I'm in grade 12 this year, and regularly have a few hours of homework per night, even with a study block. In order to pull of a great mark in math (while being linguistically capable and numerically inept) I have to put in time with the textbook, an optional study book I purchased, and a cumulative review. There is nothing I recieve 100% in (except social studies) so I could spend hours per night reviewing physics or studying chemistry if I had the motivation to pursue that great of a mark. If working to score top of your class and earning all of the scholorships you need dosn't remedy your thirst for education, try advanced placement courses.

On the other hand, if you're interested in learning outside the curriculum, there are plenty of places to study. I'd start at your library. Strong Brains provides excellent recommendations on self-study and homeschooling for Objectivists. Pick up an interest too; I like to study male endocrinology and nutritional chemistry to supplement my athletic endeavours. I got started because it was related to my hobbies, so try to think of an intellectual field that would aid your hobbies.

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I hope that this has not been mentioned because it’s obvious: you should be in as many honors/AP/GT classes as you can. I had the misfortunate of being in two “regular” academic classes during high school, and spent the entire time studying for my other classes, since no learning of any kind went on there. In a good neighborhood, the advanced classes within a public school tend to from their own pseudo-private school, which has (or did for me) a curriculum good enough to actually provide a decent education.

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The dumbing down of the American school system is frightening. Do any of the adults have advice on how to survive it without going insane?  :dough:

Although I am only a high school student, I hope I can help

If you can study school subjects on your own without any help, then I would suggest sitting at the back of the class with the school book on your desk. Read whatever you love keeping it under the desk. Time will fly. It worked for me.

Don't forget to take the AP Exams either. They help immensely.

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I would reiterate what Free Capitalist said: find your heros and let them (mentally) stand beside you.

It brings to mind a lyric from The Shins' Young Pligrims:

I was raised to gather courage from those

Lofty tales so tried and true and

If you're able I'd suggest it 'cause this

Modern thought can get the best of you.

This rather simple epitaph can save your hide, your falling mind

Fate isn't what we're up against there's no design, no flaws to find

There's no design, no flaws to find.

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The dumbing down of the American school system is frightening. Do any of the adults have advice on how to survive it without going insane?  :dough:

It depends on what your goals are for continuing your education, and on how close you are to graduating. If you're more than 1 year away from graduating, consider taking the GED exams and enrolling in community college. Get an AA at your own pace. Pick the best classes and continue your own reading on the side. If you maintain an excellent GPA, the road to further academic achievement will be open. And you will have spent your time productively, as opposed to just defending your sanity.

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I got to a Catholic school and am at present in only 2 honor classes. The other classes are so amazingly easy/boring (since we learn so little in them) that I end up not having to study for them. Next year I plan on taking 2 AP classes and the rest Honors. So I can only hope that I will actually learn something.

Beyond taking honors/AP classes, just read a lot at home;)

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To complement what I said above, if you intend to give Plutarch a shot, here are three very admirable Greek men:

Themistocles, Aristides, Pelopidas.

Three very admirable Roman men to read about would be:

Cato the Younger, Fabius, and Coriolanus (or Flamininus).

Not only are these biographies filled with adventure and exciting events, their main characters are exemplars of a very strong adherence to virtue and moral action, desire for personal excellence, and great success in their lives resulting from both their virtue and from their pursuit of excellence.

As Plutarch himself wrote,

"The mere outward senses, being passive in responding to the impression of the objects that come in their way and strike upon them, perhaps cannot help entertaining and taking notice of everything that addresses them, be it what it will, useful or unuseful; but, in the exercise of his mental perception, every man, if he chooses, has a natural power to turn himself upon all occasions, and to change and shift with the greatest ease to what he shall himself judge desirable. So that it becomes a man's duty to pursue and make after the best and choicest of everything, that he may not only employ his contemplation, but may also be improved by it. For as that colour is more suitable to the eye whose freshness and pleasantness stimulates and strengthens the sight, so a man ought to apply his intellectual perception to such objects as, with the sense of delight, are apt to call it forth, and allure it to its own proper good and advantage.

Such objects we find in the acts of virtue, which also produce in the minds of mere readers about them an emulation and eagerness that may lead them on to imitation."

Elsewhere, he writes,

"It was for the sake of [teaching] others that I first commenced writing biographies; but I find myself proceeding and attaching myself to it for my own [pleasure]; the virtues of these great men serving me as a sort of looking-glass, in which I may see how to adjust and adorn my own life. Indeed, it can be compared to nothing but daily living and associating together; we receive, as it were, in our inquiry, and entertain each successive guest, view-

"Their stature and their qualities," and select from their actions all that is noblest and worthiest to know.

"Ah, and what greater pleasure can one have?" or what more effective means to one's moral improvement? Democritus tells us we ought to pray that of the phantasms appearing in the circumambient air, such may present themselves to us as are propitious, and that we may rather meet with those that are agreeable to our natures and are good than the evil and unfortunate; which is simply introducing into philosophy a doctrine untrue in itself, and leading to endless superstitions. My method, on the contrary, is, by the study of history, and by the familiarity acquired in writing, to habituate my memory to receive and retain images of the best and worthiest characters. I thus am enabled to free myself from any ignoble, base, or vicious impressions, contracted from the contagion of ill company that I may be unavoidably engaged in; by the remedy of turning my thoughts in a happy and calm temper to view these noble examples."

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Is the state of the school system in the US so bad that you literally have no homework in non-AP classes? I am studying in Canada, and I'd assumed that our systems are somewhat alike.

Yes, there is pretty much no homework in regular public schools. I was in all honors classes last year and rarely had more than fifteen minutes. I transferred to a new school at the end of last year. My new school is public but its very strange. All the classes are college level. Some classes are hard and some are pathetic. It was worse at my old school. It was a complete waste of time. Hehe, I read most of We the Living and all of Anthem in my classes. The math classes in particular were ridiculous. I knew Algebra in elementary school, but couldn't take Pre-Algebra until 7th grade. I took sixth grade math in 5th and 6th grade and not because I failed it. The history classes and the science classes are memorization, plain and simple.

Now its better, I only have one terrible teacher. The problem is, he happens to teach science and is supposed to to be *teaching* us the basics of physics. The good part is, my friend and I get to leave early almost every day, because we finish our labs before anyone else.


If you can study school subjects on your own without any help, then I would suggest sitting at the back of the class with the school book on your desk. Read whatever you love keeping it under the desk.

haha, tried that. I got caugt reading The Return of the Primitive in science. My teacher ironically said "Ayn Rand can wait," before informing me that even if I already understood what he was talking about, I should listen anyway in case he happened to cover something new. (he never does) Then he said that if I did it again he would mark me absent. (at my school, if you have three unexcused abscenses you are withdrawn from the class with a failing grade, and are unlikely to be invited back the next year.) So, rather than risk having to go back to my old and much more boring old school, I proceeded to draw pictures of him which were not all that flattering. :D My friend and I are making a collage of the stupid things he says entitled: "I of an S.I." meaning- "Investigations of a Scientific Idiot" :)

Anyways, thanks for the tips everyone.

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Hmm ... Everyone else's advice is on how to make it through the long haul in high school. But it seems a lot longer if you don't have a day-by-day plan to feel happy on a good day and cheer you up on a bad day. It is true that one needs to find inspiration in heroes and take the classes that will challenge you most. I've also found that on a day-by-day basis, it helps to have good music and friends. For school, have a portable hobby or study you won't get in trouble for doing in spare class time. :)

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How to survive public school.....

First of all, your being familiar with Objectivism already will greatly help you survive. For instance:

- You'll be able to see through many of the bad ideas that are taught. If a teacher tells you there are no absolutes, you already know that you don't have to take that idea seriously, so it won't have much effect on your learning. You won't have to later in your life "unlearn" wrong ideas very much.

- Knowing something about epistemology will help you think more clearly. (For myself, I've noticed this most strongly in mathematics.) When I'm learning a new subject, I'm always asking myself questions like: "What facts of reality give rise to this concept?", "How do I know this is true?", "How does this new knowledge fit in with what I already know?". I think that familiarity with Objectivism makes it more natural to ask these questions, which means knowledge will be more solidly grounded. And, knowing what Objectivism has to say about concepts, I'm always trying to think of examples of the referents of a new concept. If I didn't do that, I'd end up with lots of "floating abstractions".

- Objectivism gives one a vision of the possibilities of life. So if at a particular time in school you find yourself surrounded by people and ideas that are uninspiring, dull, or wrong, you'll know that, in effect, none of this has to matter. In this regard, I think of it as a kind of protection against cynicism.

I say all this as somebody who went through public high school never having heard of Ayn Rand or Objectivism. Had I known that such a philosophy existed, my time in the public schools would have been much more tolerable.

That said, I think the best general strategy to get through school is the same as one would use later in life, and that is: focus on the good, on the pursuit of your values, on furthering your knowledge, on making yourself into the kind of person you want to be. One specific way to do this in school is to find the best classes and try to arrange so that you can spend more time focused on them.

On the subject of education, I highly recommend Leonard Peikoff's audio tape series titled Philosophy of Education. It's a 6-tape set recorded in 1985, probably at an Objectivist conference; I don't know if it's still available. The main points I remember from it are 1) what subjects are necessary for a good education and why; 2) the proper method of teaching, using both concretes and abstractions. The other Objectivist literature specifically on education that you might find helpful is Ed Locke's A Guide to Effective Study.

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