"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 7 July 1998. Updated every WEEKDAY.
Class Struggle



The "biographical sketch" in the

Cambridge Library's edition of

Byron's Complete Poetical Works

contains an early hint at the

greatness the poet showed while

still a problematic Trinity

College student: "Like many a

better man and worse poet, he

left without taking a degree."

The 1,000 or so densely printed

pages of poetry that follow

demonstrate how productive you

can be if you drop out of school

early enough, but the defiant

nature of Lord Byron (not to be

confused with "Screaming Lord

Byron," the sometime nom de

guerre of leveraged 10th-grade

non-finisher David Bowie) went

beyond fiery verse. His real

triumph came in realizing that

if you can find your own ass,

you don't necessarily need to

know how to spell it.


These days the dropping-out bar

is lower than it seems.

Everybody knows the world's

richest man and the world's

richest dropout are one and the

same; so what are the rest of us

- still trying to figure out

where to put that underwhelming

"Education" paragraph on our

résumés - supposed

to do to as a followup? It's not

so much that we lack the US$60

billion and fifth-Beatle looks

that might put us in league with

Chairman Bill, but that we'd be

hard pressed to match even the

modest achievements of marvelous

boy and Harvard dropout Matt



But these part-time Harvard men

are merely a distraction. While

his hagiographers cite Gates'

money in portraying him as a

modern John D. Rockefeller (who

edges out Gates not only in

inflation-adjusted dollars but

in the fact that he skipped

college and most of high

school), the mogul's

legendary potty-mouth behavior

around the office puts him more

in line with media trash talker

Quentin Tarantino, whose

academic career came to an end

sometime in the ninth grade.


[box of jelly donuts]

And you really hit the mother

lode when you trace the degrees

of dropout separation to

Hollywood, where the

noncollegiate Spielberg

presides over a multifarious K

through 12 of C-minus achievers

(all covered by a self-declared

"Academy"). Sure, even a

figurative dyslexic like

Tarantino (as opposed to actual

dyslexic Tom Cruise) tried to

fudge matters by dating a

Chinese-intoning Harvard woman,

and the Ivy League continues to

burden us with sleep-walking

thespians like David Duchovny,

Brooke Shields, and Jodie

Foster. But who are we kidding

here? Readin', writin', and

'rithmatic are to Hollywood what

rifles, whiskey, and smallpox

were to the Mohicans. The

mismatch of cinema and academia

sometimes edges into outright

hostility, with Tinseltown's

efforts to pass off chattering

bagatelles like Jeff Goldblum

(whose only encounter with a

college seems to have been at a

Carnegie Mellon summer drama

program) and Matthew Broderick

(who did time at something

called the "Walden School") as

brainy types. This contempt for

the mortarboard reached its

apotheosis (we hope) in the Good

Will Hunting script

co-perpetrated by Damon. With

its babbling savant, People's

Histories, blackboard "math

jazz," and some ideas on self

and intellect that are deeper

than Springer's Final Thought,

Good Will Hunting is that

ultimate Hollywood stealth

project - a movie about

intellect that could only leave

audiences disgusted and

horrified by the very concept of

having a brain. And that's just

the tip of the iceberg; frame

for frame, the movie industry's

notion of smarts has always

begun and ended with Doogie



"A real-life Doogie Howser" is

about the only epithet that

hasn't been applied to Michael

Laudor, the Yale graduate (in

three years) and brilliant

schizophrenic who last month

blew his movie deal with an

ill-timed homicide. Up to that

point, the Laudor story played

so neatly into the troubled

genius meme that Laudor had

already sold the movie rights,

and Brad Pitt was nipping at the

lead role in the biopic (Pitt

himself narrowly escaped career

disaster when he came within two

credits of graduating from the

University of Missouri).


[olivia mitchell-froelich, 8lbs]

But while Laudor understood that

the key to an Ivy League

education is to commit murder

only after you graduate, he

missed the more crucial lesson

of education's total

dispensability. As the threshold

for successful dropping out

moves down through the high

school grades toward nursery

school, it's become abundantly

clear how your options open up

once you exit ass-first through

the academy's backdoor. Dropouts

get to turn their lives around, become

poet/astrologers, bore people

with their life stories, and

watch themselves on TV. For the

actual apple-bearing student,

there is only self-love and the

long wait to begin working for

some foul-mouthed 12th-grade



And again, it's the

entertainment industry - where

newer, younger visionaries like

Beck, Fairuza Balk, and pouty

poetess Jewel are moving the

school cutoff down into the

single-digit grades - that is

leading the way. When the

high-school kids on Dawson's

Creek sound more intelligent

than the 29-year-old

screenwriters who made them up,

the message is clear: Who needs

school? The standard for dropout

success is no longer whether

school is a waste of your time,

but how fast you can catch on to

that fact. And despite the best

efforts of misguided

do-goodniks, kids are getting

smarter earlier. It really

doesn't matter who will be the

cultural arbiter of the next

century; what's important is

that this person will be writing

with a crayon.


[bob seeger's legacy]

So it's telling that the

trendiest pedagogic tool these

days isn't school vouchers or

French for Tots, but home

schooling - a practice that

delivers all the educational

benefits of dropping out, with

only part of the archaic social

stigma. There's more at stake

here than just the stay-at-home

schoolmarm's conviction that

it's less important to

understand astronomy or anatomy than

to know how to scare off

potential boyfriends and protect

yourself from homosexuality.

"Perhaps school's greatest

danger is that it may convince

you life is nothing more than an

institutionalized rat race,"

writes home-school advocate

Grace Llewellyn in The Teenage

Liberation Handbook. It seems

not to have occurred to

Llewellyn that convincing us

life is a rat race is precisely

the purpose of school, and that

the real "A" students aren't the

ones who figure out how to press

the switch and get a pebble of

crack, but those who figure out

how to leave the maze



"Do ABC'S/ and 123'S/ Mean that

much to me?" Dee Snider sings in

the classic Be Chrool to Your

Scuel. With America's schools

offering fewer and fewer

opportunities for wild sex,

palace revolution, or both, and

with advocates for a longer

school year keeping some

unfortunate kids sweating at

their desks through July, what

incentive is there to stay in

school? Tomorrow's successes

already know they won't have to

solve for "X"; they'll just have

to sign their names with it.

courtesy of Vicki Lester