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Dropping out with proficiency

Daedalus Howell/Index-Tribune

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In the beginning, there was the Word. And it was probably misspelled – if, like me, you attended a California public school circa the ’70s or ’80s. I didn’t make it far enough to gauge the quality of our state’s education for the ’90s, or subsequent decades, which I presume sucked as much as it did in 1988, when I split high school two years prior to graduation so I could write poetry and play guitar as a self-styled beatnik troubadour. This was a viable career option back in the ’80s, so long as one lived with one’s parents and subsisted on little more than donut shop coffee and clove cigarettes.
Sometime during my sophomore year, the other miscreants and I had learned about the California High School Proficiency Examination, which is a test you can (still) take to prove you’re proficient enough at high school to stop going. Some call it “early graduation” others call it “dropping out” but with class (or, technically without).
Passing the test affected the sheen of accomplishment and provided an odd sense of academic superiority, which was likely why most of my cohort drifted into community college and, later, state universities rather than becoming the hardened criminals the cultural afterbirth of the “Just Say No!” era surely thought we’d become. We just said “no” to high school, not all the other middle class suburban values – jeesh.
I took the test twice – once for myself and once for a dyslexic pal who had failed at his first attempt. The first time I took it, I discovered I was seated in front of Marcus G., my best friend from third grade, whom I had not seen since moving to Petaluma. We recognized each other but couldn’t speak since the test facilitators mandated silence. We pantomimed something to the effect that it was affirming we had shared the same educational trajectory, or we might have been merely shrugging our shoulders, one can never tell.
The second time I took the test, I had to get a fake ID with my picture and my learning-disabled friend’s name, which was easily achieved in Berkeley on University Avenue. These were more innocent times, when a couple of 15-year-olds could defraud the state with little more than $20 and some gumption. Not like today, when it’s 10 p.m. and you don’t know where your kids are – but the NSA does.
Getting the ID was the hard part, the test itself was a breeze. Especially all 84 questions of the language arts section and the subsequent essay portion, where I’m sure I rehearsed some version of this very column.
Q: Please reflect on your reasons for taking the CHSPE. How do you
justify taking the examination?
A: I justify taking the CHSPE because Marcus G. is sitting in back of me and in order for him to go on to become an educational entrepreneur (true story), I have to mirror his own frustrations as a student in public high school. Years later, this will inspire him to help make the world a better place for kids like us. It’s a space-time continuum thing that would take longer than the allotted time to explain. Suffice it to say, I’ve seen the future and it turns out high school is meaningless. Also, invest in Apple.
The CHSPE website (chspe.net) is awash in images of fresh-faced teens, like a raft of multi-culti-catalog models. It makes dropping out look like good clean fun, like a great American pastime, though it does little to answer the question, “Now what?” for those who pass the test.
“Are you looking for options? Do you want to find and pursue new opportunities? Ready to continue your education at a community college, university or technical school? Want to get into the work force [sic]?”
Um, no. None of the above. I want to be a beatnik troubadour. And have the last Word.
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  Daedalus Howell drops out at DHowell.com.

  • Jack Curley

    Oh, yea? You dropped out of high school? I don’t think I knew that even though it seems like you mention it in every article you write.