Thoughts on the dropout “problem.”
If dropping out was considered no less acceptable than staying in, graduating, and going on to college, the problem would disappear overnight.
And dropping out ought to be no less acceptable especially when by staying in kids have to continue to pretend that a college prep program interests them.
What is out there for those who do drop out, or who may want to drop out but don’t? That’s what should be on our minds. But it’s not, and instead we go on trying to motivate kids to acquire sufficient math and English language skills to pass a test and thereby earn a high school diploma.
Have we helped them by doing so?
Well, yes, if you go by the numbers demonstrating that those with a high school diploma will get a better paying job than those without.
But innumerable other things, such as being in possession of good work habits, may be more important than any diploma, and there’s no reason why those who drop out of school can’t be in possession of good work habits.
We know that dropouts are highest in urban schools where SAT and ACT scores are lowest. We know that dropouts are highest where poverty is greatest, that dropouts are highest among Latino and African American minority student populations.
The “liberal” approach to the problem is to improve the conditions of kids’ lives in these urban schools believing that kids will then stay in school. And this is probably true.
Isn’t that what has happened in our suburbs? By and large we have eliminated poverty in the suburbs (or rather those who now live in the suburbs left poverty behind them in the inner city) and higher percentages of suburban kids remain in school and graduate.
This is the route that some reformers would take, somehow place inner city kids in schools that do not have large majorities of poor kids, busing them to the suburbs, for example, as in the METCO program in Boston, or in similar programs such as the one in Wade County, NC.
But so far all of our reforms have done little or nothing to decrease the numbers of inner city kids who are dropping out of school, not finding a decent job, and in too many instances joining the growing population in our prisons.
Isn’t it time to question whether our policy of one academic, college prep education for all is worth pursuing? Whether vocational or other programs might be more appropriate for many young people, returning thereby to an earlier period in the country’s history when job and work preparation was no less reputable than preparation for college?
There have always been those who have held the position that college was not for everyone. Further education, some form of training, skill acquisition, yes, but not an academic program which at the present time we’re imposing on all of our students.
The most common reason giving for dropping out of school is math, although it could have been reading, writing, or history or foreign languages, if the latter had been given the importance that math now has in our society, if not in our culture.
It’s true that science, applied science and engineering, all of which are based on math literacy, have most of all accounted for the great material progress of our age. But why is it necessary to push all children to become “literate” in these areas?
Is there anything wrong with our allowing a minority of math and science talented individuals to account most of all for the technological progress that benefits all of us?
This siituation doesn’t bother us in other fields, where only small minorities of gifted individuals carry the weight for us all, in music, basketball, and other athletic endeavors, in art, and in fiction and non-fiction writing, for example.
If nothing else we are a nation of specialists. Why go on for the first 18 years or more of our young peoples’ lives, expecting them to become more knowledgeable and skillful in certain academic disciplines that are of little interest to them?
Why not at a much earlier age pay greater attention to the individual’s gifts, for not only are all created equal, but all are in possession of something unique and important. At the present time our college for all program results in many young people losing their belief in their own uniqueness and importance.
Even an otherwise admirable effort, such as Bob Moses’ Algebra or algebra for all Project, has probably done more harm than good. This should have been accompanied by a Music for all Project, an athletics for all project, and innumerable other such programs or projects. In respect to an individual life is algebra really more important than music or athletics? Certainly not.
Look at the many minority and innercity and poor children who don’t graduate with their class, and at the even more among those who, while they do graduate on time, are no less convinced that they are not students, don’t know much, aren’t going to succeed in their future endeavors.
And why? Often for silly reasons like they still have trouble adding fractions, or calculating percentages, or are unable to write an decent essay. The tragedy is, of course, that there were many other things that they could have done well, successes that they could have taken with them from their school years, instead of the feeling that they hadn’t accomplished much in school, nor would accomplish much in their lives in the future.Explore posts in the same categories: School Dropouts