By 10 years old, the Utah boy had bought and was running a 350-acre farmstead. This is what it looks like to be unafraid to try.
In another life I sat on a school board for several years - oddly enough in the very county where I had been a grade-school and high-school pupil.
It was the most demoralizing experience of my life. I'd always wondered what was the secret sauce that had allowed a pretty good school system to decay so severely in such a short amount of time, and the answer was surprising: the entire system had been transformed from an enterprise dedicated to the instruction of children to one whose entire operation was for the benefit of the adults.
A great many of the career educators of my youth were still in the system and I sought their counsel. Most telling was an assistant superintendent, Mr. H. "When you were a student here sixteen years ago, our entire administration consisted of four people: the superintendent, assistant superintendent, secretary, and truant officer. We rented space in the May Office Building in town. Now we have just moved nearly one-hundred employees into our own building, which cost over $5 million dollars to build at taxpayer expense. Of those hundred employees, at least half are engaged in making sure we are in "compliance" with federal, state, and county regulations. Another quarter are "supervisors," whose job is to make work for those under them, and of course it all dribbles down to the poor teachers. Our first-grade teachers, instead of teaching during the day and enjoying their families at night are producing lesson plans, which must be written, and which nobody ever reads. Lesson plans for first-graders. And by the way, when you were a student, this county had nearly thirty-thousand other students like you; now that the mines have shut down and people moved away, all this infrastructure goes to educate about nine-thousand students - about a third of the old total."
My grade school had one janitor. Now there were three. One principal. Now a principal and an assistant principal, a nurse, and a "guidance counselor." For eight-year olds. Right. The bus run in the "holler" where I lived had comprised one run in the morning and one after school - with the bus filled to the gills. Now three nearly-empty buses morning and evening, "so the big kids can be separated from the little kids." Yeah.
The greatest eye-opener was how the Board itself had been, like Gulliver, tied down by a thousand threads, each designed to maintain the system's stability. Grievances or problems had been handled previously by individual action; problem solved. Now any employee who got his/her panties in a twist invoked the "grievance" system, tying the system in knots - specifically the school board itself. That was us. We spent 80-90% of our time in grievance adjudication, and if the employee didn't like the outcome, they simply went over our heads, lawyer in tow. A local newspaperman phrased it perfectly: the school system is a giant school bus carrying a plethora of passengers: the students, the parents, the teachers' union, the service employees and their union, and of course the lawyers for all the above. The bus driver has an accelerator and brake. Everyone else has at his seat a giant brake pedal. Should anyone get annoyed, he simply stands on his brake with both feet and the system grinds to a halt. We were reduced to figureheads only; we could make NO substantive changes because whoever's ox was gored would immediately tie us up in a "grievance." We were reduced to lobbying the public to raise its own taxes so we could build new schools with our names on bronze plaques at the door. I became the first Board member in history to actively lobby in the local newspaper against a school bond. I wasn't popular in the Board office. When the head of the teachers' union railed in a public meeting that the buildings were too old to use for teaching, I simply asked her how old were the buildings at Oxford?
I can tell you from reading reports - and from personal experience - the products of this Government School System are for the most part innocent of the most basic facts needed for a successful life.
Tweaks, adjustments, "reforms," et al are not going to make our students in any way competitive in the global arena. Sometimes revolution is needed, and I believe this is the perfect example. The only way to "reform" the education system is with Universal School Choice. It will cause the Democrats and their union masters to shriek like broke-dick dogs, but the very best reform for any system is pure competition.
His biography should be added to the required reading list for middle schoolers. We need more kids like him. What a tragedy that he passed.
Compare Cole to Greta.
Or don't as it is an insult to the memory of Cole (Kevin).
Thanks for bringing this to our attention Bari. I'll put in an order for the book and make a donation.
It sounds like 'unschooling' is Montessori to the tenth power.
Cole was the only member of his family that wasn't disabled. Their target raise was $25K, and they're at $20K now. Hopefully they'll far exceed their target, and maybe Warren, Mark or Elon will notice this campaign and step up as well.
As I edit this at 6:40am Central time, over $6K has been raised in the last two hours (since Bari published this), and it had been 13 hours prior since the last donation. Safe to say that the folks here have been responding. I like starting the day feeling that some folks do care.
The loss of this amazing young man is tragic, and not merely for his family.
I'm astonished (and frankly disgusted) at the people expressing negativity about this article.
What an inspiration! RIP Kevin Cooper, you are gone too soon!
A truly remarkable boy in a very unremarkable world. He is what made America great- courageous, ambitious, creative and without any of today's silly ills. Who needs anxiety and stress, when you know exactly who you are and your life is an assured adventure. His short life will inspire many young people to say screw it to all the insanity that surrounds them, and go out to create new and novel solutions and just have fun with their inherited freedom. Actually it is the parents who need to be inspired by Cole, if they can understand his remarkable nature, they will raise more Coles and Collettes.
An incredible and inspirational story. My heart breaks for his family.
What an amazing kid. Condolences to his family.
After 40 years as an educator—26 in the California public school system and the last 14 in my own designed school—I will observe that until the teachers’ unions implode, nothing will change. Nothing.
It's an old trope shared by most self made people that public schools are great factories of mediocrity. This truly exceptional young man is certainly collaboration of that theory and his loss leaves us all a bit poorer. Thank you for sharing.
Thank you for this inspiration. This young man did more in 14 years than many ever get done. May God bless and comfort his family, and I will continue to spread his inspiration and determination by sharing his book with my high school students.
Thank you, Bari, for sharing this story. We are so bombarded with information these days that I often skip over news/stories. I always read your posts because I know it will be interesting and thought provoking. Yes, the story has a tragic ending for the young man, but how wonderful that he led such a purposeful, full life and lived exactly as he wanted.
We have to let Cole Summers' life serve as an example of the endless possibilities this country has to offer. Every morning he woke up, and had choices to make. He could have felt sorry for himself for having two parents who were physically disabled and an autistic brother. Instead he saw them as examples of love and he strived to serve and make them proud. In a perfect world, we would have been able to follow Cole's life through books he wrote, people he helped and his accomplishments by just living as a good man. We're living in an age when the word privilege has a negative connotation. I can only express how privileged I feel just to read this article about Cole Summers. God bless him and his family.
That kid was so lucky.
You try to raise your kid that way in CA or NY or MA and most other states and you would have CPS down on you like a ton of bricks.
What an amazing young man and what a loss for not just his family, but for all of us.
I just ordered the book for my 14 yr old son. Think I might order another for my 21 yr old daughter too.
It’s sad how many people in our society need to hear from a 14 year old what the real power of freedom is - it’s the power to create change, the power to be better, the absolute necessary ingredient to positive evolution. And yet, we do. And that was one incredibly powerful message on why freedom is more important than the vast majority of us realize! Thoughts and prayers are with that family, and that community, for their loss. Sounds like a truly special life was lost…