Saturday, April 23, 2011

I’m no better than a high school drop out

About 1/3 of the 95% of children who attend school (5% and growing are engaging in home education) drop out in America.  In large cities like those I grew up in: Los Angeles, Las Vegas, and New York the drop out rate is about 50%.  Often teachers blame parents and parents blame teachers and that just pisses me off because it doesn’t deal with the real issue which is that public schools are just not designed to meet the needs of students.  You often find that those who graduated put themselves on a pedestal.  If they could do it, anyone can.  I am not on a pedestal.  I thought about dropping out often.  I graduated from high school and then college pissed off when I became old enough to realize it was a big waste of my time.  

During all my days in secondary school I wondered what the heck I was doing.  The classes were boring.  The teachers were boring. The kids weren’t nice to each other.  I thought, "people tell us these are the best years of our lives." I thought they were extremely boring and oppressive.  I was literally nearly bored to death and I did indeed think of suicide during those years wondering...”Wait. This is the best? Is that all there is???”

Sure, I finished school. Most of my friends did not. However, just because my body finished school does not mean my mind hadn’t dropped out. Few even knew I was even there.  I didn't attend any of those things people attend like prom or homecoming. One of the great things about the 80s was erasable ink.  I found (maybe stole) a hall pass.  I'd go around to classes helping others escape, delivering the pass with their name to get out of class.  The reality is in high school it was the drop outs that I had more in common with and I spent most of my time.

Here are the things I have in common with drop outs.  
81% wanted better teachers  
81% said there should be more opportunities for “real-world” learning so that students can see the connection
75 % wanted smaller classes with more individualized instruction  
70% simply lack interest in gaining an education most often because the generic course curriculum offered to public high school students, whereby a number of students simply become bored.
70% said the teachers and content did not motivate or inspired them to work
50% said more should be done to help students who had difficulty learning.
50% of students said they dropped out because they were bored and disengaged from high school.
50% of students dropped out because they said classes weren’t interesting.
45% said their elementary schools didn’t adequately prepare them  

I was lucky not to have these things in common
(These factors are often not in the control of students.)

33% said they had to get a job and make money. (I was fortunate to only need a part-time job in high school.)
25% said they became a parent (I was “lucky” not to be one. My best friends were pregnant in high school.)
24% said they had to care for a family member. (I had a sick family member, but that didn’t take me from school.)

If you want to read some reports on drop outs yourself visit these links

There’s a lot we can do to combat this problem.  This is one purpose of The Innovative Educator. 


  1. This is not going to change as long as politicians continue to expect quality results from bargain basement prices using outdated techniques and forcing teachers to teach to a lowest common denominator test. Get rid of the multiple guess tests, allow for school choice and fund schools to a level that will encourage our best and brightest to teach. Then you will see change.

  2. @teachj, where's the "like" button on blogger???

  3. Perhaps some of what you are discussing here relates to what society, or politicians, have come to value as quality education. As Professor X argued in The Atlantic, a heck of a lot of people are not cut out for university or college, not because they are failed people, but because what is expected of those attending college and university falls within a certain skill set, a skill set not equally shared by everyone. Likewise, in high school, where there is an overlarge focus being placed on math, science, and high end academic language skills, again a large percentage of students are left by the wayside.

    School boards across North America decided to cut home economics programs, music programs, shop classes, phys ed programs, art programs, etc, and the tragedy is that this is all a result of the narrowing of the concept of what an education is.

    While I hated high school in some respects (the social dynamics in particular), I also loved high school for the bands I was able to play in, the musicals I performed in, my art and photography classes, my creative writing classes, playing football, rugby and basketball, and having the chance to delve into politics. I loved high school so much that I failed some courses on purpose, just so I would have to stay another year to fulfill my graduation requirements.

    But none of what I loved about high school had anything to do with academics whatsoever, and of the purely academic courses I studied, very little of what I spent inordinate amounts of time on has played any part at all in my life since graduation.

    Really, it just makes you want to sigh. When you stop to think about it, what really is the percentage of people in our society whose knowledge of high end maths, science, or academic scholarship factors into their day to day lives? Do doctors, lawyers, scientists, and engineers make up the majority of those employed? It is as if, collectively, in North America we have chosen to push the great mass of youth through a teeny tiny bottleneck towards a few rarefied professions, while devaluing and even denigrating everything else.

    The answers to the problems of demotivated students are not that hard to solve. What is hard to deal with are the politics, and the collectively held, ideologically rooted, and idealized notions of what the word "education" means.

  4. Oh I enjoyed reading this post so much, took me straight back to my own high school experience. I went to 3 high-schools, all Catholic like my 2 primary schools, because my parents believed that was best even though my mum was terrorised by nuns at school herself.
    I went to 3 highchools because of my "beahviour" issues which looking back now were seriously quite lame, but they were Catholic schools who didn't tolerate skirts above the knee or hair not in a pony tail.

    School was just plain dead boring and unfortunately when I'm bored I tend to misbehave and even though my parents knew this (and tolerated my behaviour) they didn't think to change my school because that's just how it was back then. The school knows best.

    I came from a home where we would have huge political/religious/life conversations and ideas were challenged until they were understood. Yet then I would go to school and ask the same questions to my teachers and I was quickly labelled as defiant and in one report, seriously "too curious". It's sad to say but I used to tell my teenage brothers to "just survive high-school". Get through it and then you're free.

    I thrived at university, I love learning. i loved my lectures, writing essays and embraced tutorials where you had to argue your point!! Freedom!!

    Your post helped me reflect on my own experience and realise that maybe if I went to a school that valued students as people with individual thought then maybe i could have only attended one school!

  5. @James O'Hearn, you make fantastic points. Unfortunately, I had little opportunity for extracurriculars for two reasons. 1) I was the product of working parents and didn't have someone to pick me up or take me to activities. 2) I skipped a grade and was petite as it was. As a result, I was not qualified to participate in sports. Argh! (Proved em wrong as an adult though!!!)

    The point you make about choosing to push the great mass of youth through a teeny tiny bottleneck towards a few rarefied professions makes so much sense. What percent of our population really needs those skills? Those who do can pursue that track but don't leave the rest of us behind!

  6. Teeagers nowadays are really vulnerable in different factors that affects their lifestyle. Influences from friends, unhealthy parent-child relationship, disturbing media exposures are just few of the many factors that really had changed what they should be today. Your experience is also true to many teenagers in our country. As parent, there are lots of ways that we could work out these alarming problems. One of it is to let them join boot camp for teens. In this program, their adverse behavoirs towards things would be redirected to more desirable traits. We always hope for the best to our children and as a parent, it will be a big challenge for us on how to guide them and mold them to what we want them to be in the future.

  7. @Elizabeth Perez, to me the teens are not the problem in many cases. As a student I would have been more outraged if adults tried to "fix" me with a boot camp. School sucked. As I say in my free parent guide, "Fix the school, not the child."