The Blog

As a newspaper columnist, Nancy Devlin, Ph.D. has written over 700 articles on subjects related to education and parenting. Welcome to her Classroom!


Many  of our students are productively involved in  learning

for not more than half of the average school day.  Other students

participate  in no productive learning because they have  dropped

out  altogether.  This waste must easily constitute our  greatest

misuse of natural resources.
In  a book entitled, “Winning Teen-agers Over”, the  private

logic  of  the  students who stay  in school  but  who  drop  out

passively is described:  “You adults are going to tell us what to

do, when to do it, how to do it.  It’s clear that we can’t change

anything,  so  I’ll tell you what you can do.  You can  have  it.

It’s  your school. I want to get out of this place some  day,  so

I’ll do enough academic work to get by but you can bet I won’t do

any  more than just enough.”   These students feel they  have  no

choice.  Many students put up with the system in order to get  on

to college where they hope things will be different and they will

have more freedom.  Many are doomed to disappointment in this.
Students, especially high school students, need to have some

say in their education.  In our present system they are given few

choices.   If  they do not conform, they are violating  the  law.

The  authoritarian system  imposed on students  seems  especially

strange  when  we  claim  to be training  our  young  people  for

democracy.   When  do  they ever have  the  opportunity  to  make

choices  and learn to accept the consequences of  these  choices.

In dropping out passively, many students feel they are  defeating

the  system.  Some do it to punish parents.  In actual fact  they

are being self-destructive.
There is another ever-growing group of students who drop out

of school physically.  The numbers are staggering at a time  when

the country can ill afford to lose educated workers.  The  United

States  will  not  be  able  to  compete  in  the   international

marketplace without them.  Most states’ answer to this problem is

to  make  it  more difficult for students to stay  in  school  by

having  more requirements for graduation and by requiring  harder

proficiency tests.  Most curricula are now dictated by the  tests

and are becoming even more boring and irrelevant to the students.

Instead  of  seeking to change the  ineffective  practices  which

cause   apathy  and  failure,  we  impose  more  regulation   and

conformity, thus worsening the problem.
Some   schools   offer  alternative   programs   for   their

disaffected    potential   drop-outs.    For   many   of    these

studentsschool learning has become irrelevant.  They have to face

problems which would overwhelm most of us.  Alternative  programs

offer educational options and learning opportunities suitable for

the  students’ needs, interests, talents and aspirations.   Their

initial  emphasis  is not on academics but on developing  in  the

students the skills of self-discipline, dealing with frustration,

problem  solving, and learning to use basic social skills.   This

approach has proven to be very effective.
Another  option is to build schools  around  career-oriented

curricula.   There  are such schools in New York.  One  is  built

around students’ interest in medical and nursing careers. Another

is  built  around  interest  in  business  careers.   Traditional

vocational  schools  can  be a robust  option  for  students  not

academically oriented.
Students  should be permitted to leave school at 16, not  as

dropouts  but with some kind of certificate, and with the  option

to  resume  their  education  at a later  date  to  complete  any

program.  Children now mature to physical adulthood younger  than

earlier  generations.  In our present educational  system,  their

adolescence is unnecessarily prolonged.
Until we make some changes in the system we will continue to

have  students  who  are  frustrated  and  resentful.    Dropouts

become  uninformed  citizens unable to function in  a  democracy.

Our country cannot afford this state of affairs.

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