Open the mind, open the heart.

I was reading an article yesterday about plummeting graduation rates at a local inner-city high school in my area. I promptly decided to chime in with my two cents, and while I got a few “likes,” it was mostly opposition. It was interesting to me because it was clear that people didn’t even think to actually read and think about what I had said. They quickly pieced apart the chunk that they disagreed with and ran with it. We all do it, it happens to all of us because that’s how our mind works. The problem is, when we automatically go on the defensive, we miss a lot of other points.

To give you a little background on what happened, I made the suggestion that kids don’t have much motivation to graduate anymore. Right away people freaked out stating that it’s ridiculous to need “motivation” to graduate. Let me ask you, when you were in high school and it started getting hard for you, what pushed you through? Probably the fact that graduating high school was what was going to get you a job, or into college, right? Well, it turns out that these days, graduating isn’t guaranteeing kids any of that.

How many grown people do you know that still make low wages? I’m talking grown people with at least high school, if not college, educations. These are the same jobs a lot of high school kids get, and in many cases if you start at 16 and work up the ladder, you can make more in these jobs than you can trying to land a job after college. Everyone wants experience, but no one wants to hire anyone to get experience.

A lot of kids are worried about their families. When they don’t have food on the table, they start to consider supporting their families, or sometimes just leaving to get away from it all. Some get jobs, which makes going to school tough, especially without a support system. Some turn to drugs or criminal activity to support their family. I’m not saying this is the correct way to do things, I’m saying it is a solid reality for some of these kids. Some of them live in fear, shootings and gang violence is rampant. If it comes to skipping school or going and risking your life to do it, many just choose staying home. Many kids have responsibilities at home like taking care of younger siblings and they just don’t have the help and support to continue with school. Some worry that going to college will burden themselves and their families with student loans. Trade schools or military are options for some people, but those have financial, mental, and physical costs as well, if they meet the requirements and skills to get in.

Our economy has shifted over time from a primarily manufacturing economy (where the money is) to a service-based one, which is different for a lot of the older generation folks. “Back in the day” you got your high school diploma, you could go work in a factory for 30 years and then retire. It was a no-brainer. Go to school, get the minimum, get out and start your family. That’s not the case anymore. These kids are in a school system that teaches them how to spit back information. It teaches them to “repeat after me” instead of thinking for themselves. Everyone has to conform, everyone has to learn the same things. This isn’t building innovative kids. We need to be raising kids that can think outside the box, come up with new business models, and expand our economy. Our education system isn’t cutting it.

I don’t advocate for dropping out of school, but I can see why some kids might think it’s the best option. I’m not too closed minded to see that schools aren’t serving our kids in the best way possible. I’m not too closed minded to see that the government wants to keep schools teaching kids to sit down, shut up, and follow.

Going to school doesn’t necessarily make you smarter or make you a better person. To be honest, most of the stuff I learned beyond my freshman year or so is utterly pointless. Now if there are certain jobs you want to get into, you may need those things, but it isn’t necessarily for everyone. I love Germany’s education model. They have 3 different kinds of high schools. Some kids go to a college prep type of school if that’s what strikes them, others go to a trade/vocational type of school that prepares them for that type of training, and some go to a basic school to learn basic skills for life, but that more than less prepare them for “lower level” jobs. Not everyone wants to be a doctor or a scientist, and especially in today’s age, we need more people willing to do service careers.

Again, I want to reiterate that I do not advocate for dropping out of school. This is where I lose people because they think I’m justifying this. I’m not justifying it, I’m just saying maybe we need to look at things in a different way. There may be a better way to teach kids that actually has them learning valuable skills that they need. My sister in law is a hotel manager and she never finished high school. She makes more money than I do with my associate’s degree. She started as a housekeeper, worked her way to front desk, and is now assistant general manager. She has done very well for herself. I also know people who spent thousands on education via schools just to decide later to become artists or change career paths and they basically just wasted their money. Sure not everyone can make a career in art, music, or sports either, but for some people it works for them. Also, not everyone’s aspiration is to be a millionaire. Some people are fine with a small apartment, used car, and basic needs. We need to quit judging people because they don’t aspire to take on a bunch of extra baggage, get a job they hate, and ultimately create a life they hate because that’s what looks good to society. Sure you need enough money to live and survive, but I can tell you money is not my main motivation for doing anything. It’s more important to me that I have a job that I don’t hate, free time to pursue my passions, and less stress. I make enough money for a roof over my head and food to eat, but not much more than that, and that’s ok!

Maybe if schools were designed to cater to the needs of our students and ultimately our economy, we might be able to get somewhere. If schools helped kids get jobs and helped them with options for continuing education, maybe more kids would be inclined to do it. Basically when you are at the end of high school they drop you on the curb and say, “Have at it, kid!” What kind of teaching is that?

You don’t have to go to school to be educated either. There are these things called libraries where you can find all the information you need. And now there’s this even bigger thing called the internet, where you can find just about any answer. Google isn’t the answer for everything, because there is a lot of false information out there. However, on the other end of that spectrum, I think it is safe to say that in this age, it’s less important to teach kids the answers than it is to teach them how to find the answer. None of us are endless memory banks. We don’t save up every piece of information we have ever learned so we can use it some day. A skill we do need to have is the ability to know that when I don’t know the answer, I can be resourceful and find it. Maybe there isn’t an answer yet, and it’s my job to be resourceful enough to create an answer. I think it’s much more important to teach kids how to do that.

It’s not that I don’t think kids should go to school, I just think it’s important that we find out why they aren’t. I think it’s important that we use those findings to restructure our education system to make it something that works. Our education system should benefit our people, not hinder them. I had a lot of people saying that I had a depressing outlook on things because I said kids don’t have the motivation to graduate now. I don’t see it as depressing, I see it as a legitimate problem that needs to be addressed. I see it as an indication that the lives of future generations are making drastic changes and we need to evaluate how we can meet their needs. They need us, and they need our support, not just a thump on the head from people who think they are “wrong.” What works for one doesn’t always work for all. We aren’t doing a very good job of leaving a positive environment for the up and coming generations, and it’s going to come back to bite us. If we don’t give them a place to thrive and grow, they aren’t going to amount to anything, and we’re starting to see it happen. I want kids to go to school, but I want school to benefit them, teach them, and grow them, not stifle them. I don’t want school to be a burden for kids, but a place for them to reach their full potential. It’s not a grim outlook, it’s being open minded enough to recognize that there is a problem, and boy I hope more people see that before it’s too late.



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