Students need to have some say in their education.
I would like to propose a use of vouchers and a two-year diploma in public education which would solve the problem of the dropout and the disruptive student.
Perhaps we are dragging the whole process out longer than is necessary or healthy. Mortimer Adler says adolescence is a pathological state, half way between being immature and being mature. Also today’s children become physically mature at an age earlier than the previous generation. Suppose we shortened the whole process to two years of high school. The requirements for the diploma would change but after two years students could leave with a certificate. The next two years could be more like a junior college program.
This diploma would certify that the student can read, uses correct English, knows how to verbally communicate, can write clearly, can negotiate; understands finances and basic mathematical concepts, and knows how to be a good citizen. Since he is entitled to four years of schooling, he can chose to go further, to learn a trade, be an apprentice for two more years or choose college prep courses.
When I was a counselor at a junior college in California, all students over eighteen were admitted with or without a high school diploma and it was free. There was more prestige in attending college than high school. The catch was that they had to pass tests in math and English as a prerequisite for other courses. They took remedial courses until they passed the tests. Many students never got past the remedial courses mainly because they had not used their time wisely in high school where they had been truant, unruly and often suspended. There was never a discipline problem in Junior College because they were there by choice, not by law.
Schools are places of learning for those students willing and able to learn. There is an implied contract. Teachers can teach but it is up to the student to learn. If the student, for whatever reason, is not ready to learn, then the contract is broken. Schools were not meant to be punitive institutions or holding pens to keep disruptive students off the streets.
The system could change with the use of vouchers. If a student wants to work and sees no advantage to attending school, his voucher would be returned to him to be used at a later date. If a student is disruptive and is not taking advantage of the education offered, his voucher could be returned to him to be redeemed at a later time when he is ready. The students are not labeled dropouts and they are not being punished. They are making a choice to defer their education to a time when they can profit from it.
With this system, schools get out of the business of being punitive. Students who drop out of school do not need to be labeled or punished. They are already punishing themselves by their self-destructive behavior. Instead, the students make the choice and they have a say in what happens to them. The schools merely let the consequences of the students’ behavior take effect. At the same time, schools leave them with hope for the future. The opportunity is always there for them to redeem their vouchers at a later date in order to rectify a mistake they made when they were very young and very immature.
Schools may need to become more accessible in order to accomodate a different population of students under this plan. Many will be older and take longer to complete the program. Many will be working and, perhaps supporting a family. Schools would need to be open twelve months a year from morning through evening to accomodate all students.
When the student chooses to learn, at whatever age, he should find a welcome at the school and a curriculum appropriate to his needs as a learner. This use of vouchers is encouraging and positive to all students. Why not give it a try? A successful democracy requires that all its citizens have the education necessary to make informed decisions.
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