This may seem out of left field, and maybe there’s an obvious answer that I’m missing, but I’ll throw this out anyway, and y’all can throw the obvious answers right back at me.
One of South Carolina’s greatest education challenges is having one of the worst dropout rates in the country. In fact, of the favorite subject of critics of public schools in our state, that one is the most on-point. Everybody keeps wringing their hands as to what to do about it.
But I got to wondering: Why do we let them drop out? Why is that even allowed?
Thinking aloud (if you want to be charitable and call it "thinking"), I posed that question to one of my colleagues, and she said, "Well, you can’t compel people to go to school if they don’t want to."
Really? We compel them when they’re younger. Why is it OK for the state to stand in loco parentis and say, "Go to school" when they’re 8, but not when they’re 16? Is anyone really prepared to seriously argue that 16-year-olds are capable of making a decision with such huge consequences for the rest of their lives?
Actually, I’m sure some can — but they’re not the ones dropping out. Almost by definition, a teenager who drops out of school is declaring his or her incompetence to make such a huge decision, with staggering repercussions not only for the individual, but for society as a whole (in that we can’t afford to have a lot of such people deciding to be a burden to the rest of society, which they will be).
It seems to me that allowing dropouts is a holdover of a time when that was a legitimate life option, when you could make a good living without a high school education. That’s not the case any more. (And by the way, to eliminate compulsory education for all ages, as a few extremists would do, would be to condemn large swaths of society to permanent underclass status. You may say truly that we already have that — but is that a good thing.)
Yes, I know that if dropouts stayed in against their will, it would be a huge challenge to the schools to try to educate them — especially since so many quit because they’re having trouble meeting the higher academic standards required today. But that’s a challenge I think the schools should have to take on. Whether through alternative schools or innovative curricula in the mainstream schools, there’s got to be a way to deal with this.