I know I’m being a pain in the ass about this folks, but I’m seriously freaking out about the dropout rate in this country. In my opinion, this is as much of a national security threat as any terrorist ever born. We have two million people incarcerated in this country and 80% of them are dropouts and the overwhelming majority of them are also illiterate. If we don’t get a grip on this problem, we as a nation will cease to exist. And no, that’s not hyperbole, it’s simple facts. We are living in a world that is increasingly dependent on credentials and the ability to continually learn. When a large percentage of the population is uneducated, we cannot progress in any meaningful way.
This is something we can all do something about, whether we have kids or not. Attend your school board meetings. Get on the agenda and ask what they intend to do about the problem. Insist that dropout prevention becomes a priority as early as elementary school. Yes, I said elementary school because that’s where the disengagement begins. You can walk into any elementary school in this country and identify immediately the kids who will be the dropouts. It doesn’t take any special training or expertise. The kids are unengaged and uninterested in school. The trick is to find out the underlying reason why. Children, by nature want to learn and understand everything, so if they’re not, it’s crucial to discover why they’re not and address it.
We must also do something about the low expectations we have for certain populations. I remember one case I had with a 16 year old who was failing the ninth grade for the second time. It didn’t take a Philadelphia lawyer to figure out that she wouldn’t be in school much longer. I had her tested to make sure she didn’t have any learning disabilities, then we had a conference with her school. I pointed out how important it was for this girl to catch up so she could graduate with her peers. This would require summer school and classes on weekends, but it could be done if she was motivated (and I could get the state to turn the money loose). The teacher was concerned that she couldn’t do it. My response? What else does she have to do?
Besides, I knew how to motivate this particular young lady. She loved money and was willing to work hard for it. Essentially I told her, do your work or you’re quitting your job. Once she applied herself and started doing the work, she discovered that she was quite smart, and took pride in her As. In short order that young lady became one of my best assets for working with other young ladies in the same group home. Now she’s a self-sufficient adult that has her own apartment, a good-paying job and a car. Without that intervention she would’ve been just another number.
It can be done people. These kids are not hopeless and they’re not to be thrown away. We have to attack this problem on the grass-roots level. That’s the only place that matters. Take it from me, it’s a lot cheaper to educate them than it is to incarcerate them.