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Most high school dropouts have a poor performance record and, consequently, engage in more acting out behavior than the typical student. They can’t do the work demanded of them because they lack the pre-requisite skills required to perform it and, as under-performers, dislike school. It’s not doing anything productive for them. The current system allows these children to congregate in the rear of the class doing little or nothing.

These are not all of the dropouts. Others have serious emotional problems, other health problems, family problems (usually involving poverty), etc.

The point being made here is that dropping out is not without cause. Should we keep every student in school until age 18? Of course. That’s obvious. Few drop outs (with notable exceptions) end up living a productive, happy life.

What we should not do is require them to sit in school and fail. That’s stupid and, currently, until they drop out it’s what they are doing.

The first requirement of an improved education system is that every child should be engaged in a learning activity they can succeed at and success must be the goal of that learning activity.

Learning involves many things in this modern world. They include: calculation; estimation; project planning; teamwork; reading and writing; using computers; research; informed dialogue; personal initiative; solving problems; leadership; creativity; successfully completing projects; conflict resolution; collaboration; etc.

Dropouts, if appropriately taught, could master all of these things as well as science, geography, history, technology, mathematics; literature; etc.

Our schools are not prepared to do this (some individual teachers do it), state performance standards call for it, but the existing curriculum and curriculum system (a remnant of the 100 year old factory school) doesn’t do it. Instead, it manufactures dropouts.

Keep kids in school? Yes. But, in a system that makes them productive learners.

Les Birdsall lives in Pacific Beach.

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