Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Why Is Dropping Out of High School Still Legal?

16% of American kids aren't graduating from high school. That's one out of every six.

In twenty-first century America, this is not only a major problem - the economy depends on educated people - it's damn embarrassing. About the only legitimate reason not to receive a diploma is a mental disability. But providing a legal avenue for healthy, able-minded students to drop out is a relic of rural America, when going to 4 years of high school might legitimately have been overkill if you worked on a farm in Iowa. Not any more.

When you read all those depressing statistics about how kids in Japan and Germany outscore our kids - the reality is that your son or daughter in a suburban American high school is probably right on par with those kids. The kids that end up dropping out, and committing crime or going on entitlement programs, that drag down the averages - and our per capita income - and the quality of life in American cities - are distributed in a few regions of the country or a few types of demographics. We can't screw around any more.

If I speak strongly on this issue, it's because through a mentoring program I've had extensive personal experience and frustration with self-sabotaging students doing anything to avoid graduating high school. And after all, we've made it illegal for 18-year old men not to register for the military, so why not do the same for staying in school?

Here's what we can do:

1) Make dropping out illegal. Everyone who doesn't have a learning disability - as determined by a real doctor (no getting your aunt to write you an excuse)

2) Consequences for parents of kids who skip school. That means fines and jail time.

3) Consequences for majority-age students who skip school - if you decide now that you're an adult you're going to stop showing up to school, we fine you, and put you in jail.

4) No social promotion. You're 19 and it's embarrassing that you're still in high school? Too bad. You don't get that diploma until you pass your classes. If you stop coming, the police come. You have kids? Make arrangements, or their mommy/daddy gets fined and/or jailed.

I'd rather coerce kids to finish their education now and fight the misguided legal fights that will surely follow the enactment of such policies, than pay for the problems that will persist if we allow this to continue.


Anonymous said...

I rarely comment on these things, but I have to disagree with your sentiment.

Making it illegal to drop out of high school is asinine; when you're a senior, you're most likely an adult (18), and adults aren't FORCED to go to school under the law.

Sending parents to jail/fining them is also way over the line; while I agree that this is a problem that starts in the home, the government has no standing to tell parents how to raise their kids; last I checked, we were a free (ish) country.

You fail to point out, however, that high school education is abysmal. I felt like I was wasting my time the entire time I was there, and I've gone on to earn both a bachelors and masters degree in the 5 years since I graduated. So much focus has been put on passing standardized tests that there's no longer any room for actual learning. Maybe if there were actual classes (shop, music, art... gasp!) in high school curriculum in addition to math, reading, and science, more young adults would find things they're interested in and will WANT to go to school. A sentiment I love (and I believe rings true) is from Mr. Holland's Opus - if schools keep cutting the arts and only focusing on math and reading, soon the kids in high school won't have anything to read or write about.

I agree with you on the social passing; that's a detriment and an insult.

Anonymous said...

There is another solution to this problem. Just like any parent or teacher knows, in today's permissive society, getting a kid to do anything against his or her will is nigh impossible unless you can convince them they want to. You need to restructure schools to provide the type of modern education that appeals to the studnet. Ponderous legislation from the DOE has made it nearly impossible for schools to restructure to meet the needs of their students. Cries of accountability make teachers scared to do anything but bolster the skills students will need to pass standard tests, not to create the kind of valuable citizens this country needs. Teach the basics in Primary, rhetoric in Middle school and logic and reasoning in high school.

Thomas Paine Jr. said...

The quality of high school education is another issue that we definitely need to work on - but say "once they're adults they can do what they want" doesn't work. We already have (if necessary) a military draft, so morally, what's the difference? Going to school they're contributing to the economy and they're not put in harm's way.

mjlijewski said...

This is a really dumb idea. You can't "make" people learn anything. One of the big reasons many public schools suck are the many kids in class who aren't interested in learning and instead spend their time disrupting class & thus impeding the learning of other kids. I say let'm drop out at their earliest possible convenience; better yet, empower public schools to kick out (and possibly penalize parents) of disruptive students. Private schools don't have this problem. If a kid disrupts class in a private school, they can get booted out. Teachers today can do very little with disruptive kids, to the detriment of the entire class. There's a disincentive to kick kids out of school: the school will get less money from the State. I'll bet once you have kids in school you'll see this differently.

Thomas Paine Jr. said...

Mike, I sympathize with this viewpoint but it affects you and me. I don't accept that keeping a kid in school for two more years (however stupid and unruly s/he might be) has no net benefit to you and me. And that's also why I strongly support tracking, instead of dragging back the high achievers by having them be in classes with the "dim bulbs", a problem which you rightly address.