03/12/2013 11:32 am ET Updated May 12, 2013

Thrive Right Now

I work with teens who prefer to leave school and continue their educations outside of traditional models. One of my students reflects on his experience in school, "I hated it and one of the main reasons was I thought they were teaching me things that were useless to me. Having to sit through it felt like a waste and doing the work was even worse. I tried -- I wanted to do good and all. But trying so hard on stuff I didn't want to do was awful."

Nationwide, there are thousands of teens who might echo these thoughts. There are also thousands of wonderful teachers trying to help them find ways to make school work, to get through it. There are tutors and therapists and support networks and parents who spend hours every night trying to help their kid to get through school

We put a colossal amount of energy into shepherding students through systems that don't quite fit for many individuals. For some, doesn't quite fit is an understatement. For some, real suffering and damage is taking place as they try to fit but don't.

School systems are stretched, doing the best they can by a vast number of students. Schools are supporting more and more Individual Education Plans (IEP's), working hard to support the array of needs of individual learners.

It's not for lack of trying that many young people are miserable in school. Students are trying to do well and to fit in, parents are trying to help them and teachers are doing their best to help as well. Still, misery persists for many.

As a culture, we believe that school is necessary for learning and that a diploma is necessary for success in life. Therefore, we continue to force pegs of all shapes through round roles.

Our cultural assumptions are wrong. School is not necessary for learning and diplomas are not necessary for success. Furthermore, suffering is not a necessity. Misery is not a requirement.

Living and learning without school isn't necessarily easy, but it is available, and full of possibility. Self-directed learning is like being self-employed; there are resources and guides, all optional. There is tremendous flexibility. Individual goals are paramount. It takes place in the context of real life, for better and for worse. Some will find it easier to stay in school where structure is provided and success and failure are clearer. For students who are miserable in school, the challenges of self-directed learning will be well worth it. Life doesn't have to wait until school is over. Young people can thrive right now.