Far too many students drop out of high school when they reach the legal age. Some say that age should be raised in the hope that a percentage of those deprived of freelancing, in a world that demands expertise and academic attainment, will have a better chance to find work.
Our educational system, arguably in tatters from out of focus dictums that originate in Washington, continues to produce young people who are falling behind and are not graduating from high school with the core instruction that existed 50 years ago. Indeed, and sadly, some graduates cannot read the diploma that is handed to them.
There are varied reasons for our ineptitude, and there is much disagreement as to the cause and effect of lower achievement. Excellent teachers will always educate those in their care, and monetary rewards or being named Teacher of the Year will have no effect on their insistence for learning. In part, money is Washington’s answer to far too many problems. The teacher named as superior is just that and will be that, and the money — only seen as a lucky windfall — will never inspire excellence that was not already in place.
We may already have come too far down the wrong road. We listen to high school seniors mumble, stumble, trip and fall in the vain attempt to speak or pen a properly formed sentence. We are astounded to observe that many of our young people have no idea where to find France on a map, that somewhere in the first 12 years of school we are losing far too many young, potentially productive citizens.
Raising the dropout age to 18 may have some good effect, but that act by itself will not be enough to begin to turn the direction of education. We have engaged in a game that was designed by those who felt their cause just but has demonstrated a weakness that one fears is too late to remedy. That game begins in the first grade and extends to the 12th year, and is designed, every year, to regard the student’s self esteem more highly than the comprehension of data and the demonstration of having learned the rudimentary content of subject matter.
Why have we embraced this theorem? Where did we decide that self esteem is more important than learning? Why do we continue to make students feel good about themselves even when they fail? Why do we fear failure?
Life is full of failed enterprises and failed people, many of whom look back upon those failures as their most excellent achievement. Failure can only be evaluated by examining that which was attempted. The church, if evaluated on the merits of what was to be accomplished, is an abject failure, but seen in the light of what was attempted, turning the world upside down, the failure is magnificent.
Do we need to stop reinforcing a student’s sense of self worth even when he or she makes little effort or none at all? Do we need to stop sending high school seniors into the world of work thinking that this false sense of self worth will be acceptable to employers who don’t share that accolade?
How do we change? Presently, insufficient achievement is glossed over, and failing students are simply passed on to another teacher who will suffer the consequence while having passed students to yet another teacher, ad infinitum.
There was a time when failure was treated as such, and work not done was repeated until done satisfactory. It is possible that we have teachers in our systems who never have heard of that process. This is not a problem that has easy answers, and we are far too embedded in decades of habit to think change can eventuate, if ever.
Excellent teachers are special people. Students who study with them always do better. Those who miss their caring spirits continue to drop out, fall behind or never learn to read.
Edward Clark is a Danville businessman and community columnist for The Advocate.