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
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.