War has nothing on our failing education system when it comes to extinguishing the futures of our young.
Last month's report by America's Promise Alliance concluded that nationwide, nearly 1.2 million students drop out of school every year and that about seven out of ten of students graduate on time. While these alarming statistics may only seem a problem for failing schools and the children they affect, the loss of potential along with the economic burden on society as a whole should be of immense concern for all of us.
The Alliance along with the Bill Gates Foundation has announced its support for summits to be held across the country to "increase awareness, encourage collaboration and facilitate action" to improve graduation rates. But will any of these summits deliver anything different than the same ole-same ole?
A Philadelphia Inquirer editorial (Leaving School 4-23) addressed the drop out problem, stating, "The problems are complex and not entirely the schools' fault. In fact, the most effective solutions to reducing the dropout rates start at home."
In a perfect world, that may be, but home is only the solution where there is no dropout problem. It's a Catch 22. If the home solution premise was applicable to the kids dropping out, we would have no such problem. You'd be better calling for a wholesale change in society than expect the families of drop outs to be able to get the kids back at their desks.
You can have as many educators' symposium's and "dropout summits" as you like. But no matter how hard you work it, continuing the same approach and expecting a different result, is not a description of success. It's the definition of insanity.
It doesn't start in the home, nor with the student. It starts with the attitude of the educational system towards the student. And that will need a complete overhaul. That might sound expensive, but it really isn't. When a child drops out of school we not only lose revenues derived is they had remained, but we're also losing their futures and everything they could have contributed to society. We're losing the taxes from work income and the potential their creativity could have generated, if only we showed them how to access it. Instead we end up with welfare and criminal drains on our taxes and well-being. An overhaul done right becomes a revenue producer, not an expense.
And the recipe for the turnaround just might be as basic as implementing a lemons to lemonade principle; transforming tart to sweet, only more. We need to remind children, repeatedly, how adversity, mistakes and failure can be key ingredients to cooking up a tasty pot of success. Pushing ahead in spite of the obstacles we all face not only turns many defeats into victories, but more importantly, reveals a passion or hidden talent that otherwise would have remained buried; something so unique to the child alone, something so vital to his or her happiness, that no one else but they could have discovered it.
But it all starts by removing the negative implication of the word "failure."
In sports we call it practice. In entertainment, rehearsal. In science, research.
In education...failure. Bad, bad failure.
That needs to be changed. And it will - the moment we choose to start using the tools that failure provides; not to smash, but to shape possibilities.
It's is not about embracing incompetence, but about students recognizing their own strengths, NO MATTER WHAT THEY ARE, and using them as a jumping off point. Failure should never be where we stop, but where we begin; not a place of loss, but one of discovery.
In most cases our present educational process makes an effort to teach the same thing to in the same way to every individual student, using the same techniques and expecting the same result. But with each student's individual experience and level of expertise, how in the world would we ever expect any diverse group of children to learn on an equal level? Not everyone learns in the same way nor at the same speed.
Rather than a negative, that diversity in the capacity to absorb information is what makes us all unique. It's not about how quickly or what road we take to get where we're going, it's about making sure we all get there to reap the benefits. We all trip up or fail at some point - most of us, at many points. With a willingness to persevere despite the obstacles, we can see our stumbles not as rock-hard barriers but as rest stops where we pause to reassess and recharge, continuing our journey stronger, smarter, and with a greater sense of purpose.
To do that we need a new pair of glasses. If a student scores a 40 out of a 100. We don't start teaching where we want him to be, we begin where he is. Before we try to teach them 100, we need to teach them 41. Most important in any teaching proposition is establishing the proper place to start. In failure, there is actually a place of knowledge, a place of comfort, and therefore a viable learning tool. And what is comfortable for the student may be an uncomfortable place for a system now encumbered with a teaching to the test mentality based on standard academics. Today we may need to tap into music, sports, video games, the street, even sex, to reach some students. But once you build a mechanism around their comprehension, learning other subject, even those academic, becomes possible. It is on that foundation that we can begin to construct a complete education.