Sunday, July 29, 2007

School Dropouts

Recently I posted an article about Pathways to Education, a program that has remarkable success in decreasing the dropout rate and increasing the percentage of those graduating from high school and going on to post-secondary education. Much of its success, no doubt, comes from the high degree of support offered to those enrolled in the program, but there is little doubt that the other factor has to be the motivation of those who are receiving the help. Without that, the most earnest efforts rarely come to fruition.

Which brings me to the purpose of this posting. Long before I retired, I held the belief, as I still do, that dropping out of school is not necessarily the worst thing that can befall a young person. While administrators might feign shock at such an attitude, and society may ring its collective hands over dropout statistics, I suspect a significant number of teachers would agree with me for many reasons. First, we have all had the experience of students whose attendance could be described most charitably as sporadic, surely one of the prime symptoms of school disengagement. Then, when they are present, they tend, through their behaviour, to disrupt the learning of others. The dynamics of a classroom are such that even when the majority wants to learn, as few as one or two individuals can make that almost impossible, and believe me, it has nothing to do with the teacher’s ability to control the class. While I am not saying that efforts to keep kids in school are misguided, I am suggesting that there should be reasonable limits put on such efforts.

Some might find my attitude elitist, but my logic is simple: young people are often most reluctant to accept the experiential wisdom of their elders. In other words, sometimes they have to learn the hard way. Once they do absorb the hard fact of life that without an education they are essentially doomed to minimum wage jobs or worse, many are ready to resume their education, either within the conventional classroom or through alternative programs. Then real learning can take place.

Often, it seems to me, school officials and governments are more worried about the ‘optics’ involved in having a statistically significant dropout rate than they are about the learning realities of the classroom. Perhaps it is time for them to begin consulting teachers on this issue.

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