Friday, March 13, 2009

Pres. Obama Mistakenly Contends That Dropping-Out Is "Quitting on Your County"

In his Mar. 10 speech on education, President Obama outlined his policy initiatives. But he also had this to say to young people who are thinking of dropping out of school:

[D]ropping out...[is] quitting on your country, and it's not an option -- not anymore.

Granted that political speeches often contain exercises in hyperbole, in this case President Obama went too far. He is saying that dropping-out is akin to treason.

America is free country -- and part of freedom is freedom to do unwise things. It is truly unwise (for the vast majority of people) to drop out of school. But they should be free to do it.

We should counsel young people against dropping-out; we should have research-based programs that discourage it and that try to get people to come back to school. (The Doing What Works website is scheduled to post research-based material on dropout prevention later this year.) But we should not end dropping-out by blocking the possibility.


  1. I don't disagree with anything you say on this, Bill, and I totally agree with you that we should not block the possibility of dropping out. But there is something important missing. We need to know why students drop out. My hypothesis is that there are sometimes some very compelling reasons. I suppose there are also very flimsy reasons, of course, but either way we need to know what those reasons are. That understanding, in my humble opinion, can come only from looking much more closely at what is, not by rhetoric of what we think should be. Case studies would be more the way to discover these reasons than surveys and statistics.

    I suppose there is research on dropouts. But is there research that delves deeply into the thinking of a single high school student making the decision to drop out, research that starts with a situation in which the subject can, and will, speak freely, followed by extensive conversations, followed by extensive analysis of what the subject says, what motivates him or her, where those motivations come from, how those motivations clash with the present school situation, who the significant people are in the subject's life, and on, and on, and on? Research that doesn't probe individuals in this way, that start with statistics or surveys, and go no deeper than observations like "35% of potential dropouts report that . . . . ." are, in my opinion, very unlikely to yield any useful insight.

    I have very limited experience or knowledge of students who dropped out of high school, but my impression is that they persevere for a year or so after the idea of dropping out enters their minds, but they get tired of pointless frustration on a daily basis. And I also have an incident or two in my own experience of dropping a college class, but being utterly unable to explain to the professor the basis of my actions. But my reasons were compelling, whether I could communicate them or not. I would assume it is something the same for high school dropouts.

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