Framing the Dropout Issue

Most of the work in dropout prevention over the last several decades has been predicated on the belief in the personal deficiency of our young people. In other words, it is built on the belief that we have a dropout problem, because we have bad kids who don’t value education.

But is it really? Personally, in my 30 years working with youth, I’ve found that 95% of students who get to the point of dropping out of school actually want to return to get their high school diploma, but don’t know how to or where to come back to finish. Our society does an amazing job of inculcating into all our citizens, young and old, the value of an education. So if it is not bad kids that are causing our dropout problem, what is?

I believe that we have an outdated system that is irrelevant to a majority of our youth in both the way we teach and what we teach. The ones that drop out are actually the canaries in the coal mine that give us an early warning signal that there is a dire problem with our educational system in its current form.

Dropping out is a rational decision for those whom our system does not serve well – albeit in a large part an ultimately self- defeating proposition, because it is difficult to move forward in this society without the basics of a high school education. We’ve got to create educational systems and approaches and schools that allow these rationale defectors a different way to reach their educational goals. Let’s create a better system more worthy of the amazing kids we have in this country!

Rilke on Youth & Education

“You are so young, so before all beginning, and I want to beg you, as much as I can,…to be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms and like books that are written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.” – Letters to a Young Poet

Where is the inquiry in our American educational system. We are intent on cramming so much core content according to core standards into our young people. Could we create an educational approach that recognizes what Rilke recognizes, and build a container for young people to ask and live their important questions? Could we create a system that is inspired by the remarkable potential of youth, and helps them realize the amazing gifts and talents lying within them all. Sure we can – we can do much better!