Why are our children fleeing into the Speedy Market?

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The drop-out problem has been slowly improving, but remains intransigent in some areas. The Washington Times reports the following: “Detroit Public Schools’ 65 percent graduation rate was well below the nation’s top rate in cities – 79 percent in Houston, Columbus, Ohio, and Des Moines, Iowa – but above 62 percent in Milwaukee and 60 percent in Indianapolis. The Detroit district, which includes 74.9 percent low-income students, mirrored the 64 percent graduation rate for low-income students across Michigan.” (By Emma Fidel, Associated Press, April 28, 2014)

In this time when almost everyone except the garden slugs has heard about the value of a college education and the necessity of a high school education, many kids still drift aimlessly away from school. Others have a plan. My former bilingual students mostly have left to help dad with his landscape/construction/cleaning business or to get some other job to help support the family. We need the money now, they will explain to me, as I try to keep them in school.

I am sure those students are telling me the truth. They want to earn money to help their families. That financial explanation only forms part of the picture, however. I have had students who were working full-time at grocery stores while attending high school full-time. Work or school does not have to be an either/or option.

Why are our children fleeing into the Speedy Market jobs? Why are they quitting school to make sandwiches and hang bags of Doritos on little hooks? Why does flipping thousands of burgers seem preferable to another year of high school classes? I put curriculum choices right up there with test-preparation burnout, both of these natural consequences of our standardized testing obsession combined with educational funding restrictions. We are planning our students’ lives without consulting our students or even really looking at them.

We don’t listen often enough when our students say, “I hate school.” When Elise says, “I don’t want to take biology,” we smile condescendingly and tell her “you need biology for college.”

She doesn’t want biology. At this point, we had best hope she enjoys her other classes. With luck, she has a passion for mathematics or another subject. Because if not, she may decide she doesn’t need biology and she doesn’t need high school, either. When her parents exert pressure on her to stay, she may also default to the tried and true, “Momma, I’m gonna have a baby!” There’s more than one way out of school when a student is pressured to stay.

We used to place students in classes based on their understanding levels. We still do to some extent, especially in math. But nowadays the curriculum may demand the teaching of topics for which a class is genuinely unready – because those topics will be on the test. I am reminded of a quote from a staff meeting two years ago:

Special education teacher: But do I have to teach this? My kids can’t understand it.
Principal: Do they have to take the same test as everybody else?
Special education teacher: Yes.
Principal: Then they have to learn the same stuff. Do it.

Eduhonesty: Obviously we can’t let students decide their own curricula. We would be giving classes in Wiz Khalifa and brownie baking. But we do need to keep the big picture in mind. When school becomes nothing but tests and test preparation, some kids will not merely opt out of the test. They will opt out of school altogether.

Most of Europe offers a vocational track. Too many of our vocational tracks have become pathetic bus trips to local community colleges. Too many of our schools offer almost nothing except that test/college track that I believe is making some students exit the educational scene.

If you can never do well on those tests, why would you stay?