The new issue of Education Canada (“Towards Fewer Dropouts”) has prompted a moderate despair for me. I had hoped that parents, teachers, researchers, students and administrators had come down a long painful path together; a path towards knowing why students do not “drop out” but rather how they enter into a complex spiral of leaving school before they graduate. As it turns out, a lot of youth do leave school early; especially those who have been made socially and/or economically marginal by society and/or Aboriginal youth for whom schools did not work – or much worse. As the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada has just aptly shown, Aboriginal youth were in fact harmed within school walls and in the name of a perverse form of education. Did the young Aboriginal students who ran for their lives and dignity “drop out” of residential schools? Absolutely not. This is the wrong term, and it leads to the wrong spirit of understanding education and youth. The term is therefore a purposeful call by CEA to provocation. It must be.
The term “drop out” has long been contested, found wanting, and thrown onto an ever growing, steaming pile of useless educational concepts and jargon that turn young people into the demons of day. On the contrary, most young people are actively working diligently and negotiating the intellectual engagements required by good teachers and schools. Some are not, and the reasons vary from having no time or opportunity to do so to finding themselves in a school or class that is a poor fit for bringing out the best in them. Some have also gone too far down the tech-industry’s rabbit hole to pay attention, but that is another long story.
The story here is that the system of public education often pushes students away from schools, but not from the true education they value, seek and demand. The act of leaving school is part of a longer-term process of disengagement and only one step in reclaiming education at a later date. But researchers and teachers don’t often get to follow these kids over time in the way that their parents do, it only appears like they have “dropped out” but they have important critiques and messages to share about public education. In fact, a growing number of young people and parents are turning these messages and demands for education into a political action. Politicians now contend with the fact that failing school systems will lead to fewer votes. Some students who leave school before receiving their diploma do so for very good reasons and show signs of courage in leaving. This is why “drop out” was a term I had hoped not to encounter again. But, see it we must. The good news is that my despair has been moderated in knowing that the CEA knows this history and has called us to action. And, in reading the articles by George J. Sefa Dei and Konrad Glogowski and the youth stories embedded in this new issue, there is much cause for hope over despair. In my next blog entry, I will tell you why.