Sunday, August 03, 2008

Look before you leap...he who hesitates is lost...The Drop Out Dilemma

Look before you leap...he who hesitates is lost. These are paradoxical axioms which in different circumstances we take for granted as true. You look both ways before crossing a street or you arrive the first day of the sale so you will have the best selection to choose from, hesitate and that item you wanted may be sold out. They are both phrases of advice and each is useful, but the efficacy of this advice will only be found if the right idea is used to deal with the right situation or problems. Too often in education we are looking for the right answer instead of a poignant debate which recognizes the paradoxes which are inherent in the issue of education. There are tough questions, with multiple answers that sometimes seem at odds with one another. Should funding be increased to help failing students and failing schools or should the funding be used to bolster science and math schools for gifted students? Is it better to pool resources into regional schools or attempt to fix ailing neighborhood schools? Should we have a national curriculum with national standards or develop regionalized curricula which are germane to the issues relevant to the geographic areas they are taught in? Are voucher programs good or bad? There are multiple sides to these issues and none of these answers are clear cut. What is clear cut is that when one explores the topic of education in the United States it reveals a dichotomy: the haves and have nots. The haves go to good public schools in good neighborhoods where parents are able to be involved and students are able to attend school without worrying about more than doing their homework, participating in school activities, perhaps working at a part time job for extra spending money and making sure they are on top of the college application process. I don't want to stereo type, I know there are students in this demographic who face problems but it is different if you are a "have not." The have nots find multiple tendrils coiling around their educational process. Issues of poverty and marginalization of students who already live in a world of struggle. As a nation we tend to be myopic, lumping all high school drop outs into the same pool, the truant trouble makers who are doing so poorly they don't make it....and once they are out of the system they are off the grid, they become invisible. We offered them a free education and they failed... we can easily blame them. But let us look before we leap into being callous as a nation to those who fail. We don't seem to see the drop out as a student who has to work to help support their family or has to live in a number of different towns each year because his family does seasonal work or as someone who has no electricity on at home. A majority of students who drop out do not find school relevant to their lives. They are students who live in poverty, who have little guidance and little hope. They need help, and we as educators need to find our voices in order to help them. A third of all high school students who start high school in the U.S. do not graduate. A third! We need to do something. So I hope you will read The Silent Epidemic and One Third of A Nation, both of these reports present the realities of this terrible situation. As educators we need to look before we leap into funding schemes which provide band-aid solutions instead of cures for the drop out epidemic. At the same time we need to not hesitate in finding solutions, time is running out, the longer we hesitate the more students we will lose.