American Education Is A Gift

Since the start of school I have heard a growing number of high school parents complain that their children do not wish to go to school. Some of these students go kicking and screaming and ...

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Since the start of school I have heard a growing number of high school parents complain that their children do not wish to go to school. Some of these students go kicking and screaming and others are really resistant. Their parents feel powerless. In most cases, these children are really too big to physically push out the door.

American education is a gift that too many American teenagers take for granted. The present generation of high school coeds believe that most of what they need for successful survival are entitlements from their parents. A growing number of high school students do not feel that they need an education. They expect their parents to support them, employ them or buy them a business. Even the poorest among us have spoiled our children. Too few young people appreciate the work ethic of yesteryear.

Constantly I hear high school students complaining about the jobs available and the wages offered to them. A number of teenagers think they should walk into executive positions with little to no experience. They balk at having to work at entry-level positions first.

Then there are other high school coeds who think that fast food and manual labor positions are beneath their dignity. Meanwhile, they are seventeen, have a car that needs to be insured and a cell phone bill that in one month is more than some people make in a month as a salary. Their recklessness goes unchecked. They need gas money, lunch money and play money. When you add up all of these basic monthly expenses, they are outrageous.

However, the beat goes on because many parents underwrite these expenses without any accountability. I've heard countless stories where single Moms cut on the food budget to cover a teenage son's ridiculous cell phone bill.

American education is a gift. For too many high school coeds it is a prison sentence that they endure rather than use. Some of it is the school's fault. Most of it is parents and our overall approach to education.

We have established a base line standard of education for all Americans. In our state you must earn a high school diploma and/or stay in school until you are sixteen. We make it easy to drop out. For the growing number of students on the edge, too often we compromise all the integrity and substance of a high school diploma. Those who earn that kind of diploma are often functional illiterates who can barely read and write.

In our state, we have raised the bar for academic achievement. Unfortunately, too many high school students were already behind. The new standards have only further buried them in the rubble of misguided bureaucracy. So much for President Bush's new federal law "No Child Left Behind."

How can we empower students who are weak and lacking support to meet the higher standards, if we are continuing to cut back vital support services for students? How are students with special needs going to excel if in the name of economics they are going to be subtly denied BOCES possibilities?

Bigger classes, less program diversity and reduced special services are not going to encourage students with special needs to continue. The climate of fear and chaos is not an invitation to stay connected.

However, there is a growing group of students who are invisible because many school districts ignore them. They are students who are not among the gifted and talented, nor are they students with special needs. In other words, they do not qualify for services under the guidelines of special education. These students have average IQ's and no identified learning disabilities. They are not disruptive or rude. They are average high school students who lack any motivation to learn. They become invisible because they do nothing but cut.

In larger districts sometimes it is weeks before the attendance office contacts a parent about AJ's cutting. Some of these students have cut over 10% of their classes before the first marking period is complete. A parent meeting is arranged with the Assistant Principal in charge of his/her part of the alphabet. AJ arrives on time, dresses appropriately and is respectful. He promises to work on his attendance, but conveys how boring school is and how much he hates it. He is good for a week and then the pattern resumes. However, now he is smart enough to fly under the radar and go unnoticed for a longer period of time.

AJ is over sixteen. Most school districts are not willing to file a PINS petition, even though by law they can do so until the teenager is eighteen. If a student turns sixteen after the school year begins, technically the student cannot withdraw from school until the end of the school year.

The facts of life in this area are simple and clear. Few school districts fight to keep truant sixteen year olds in the classroom. Some will be creative and will keep giving the student another chance to make it (but these districts are rare). These students are the growing number of invisible faces that fall between the cracks.

Education, as I see it, is a gift freely given, not an entitlement. As a gift it should be used appropriately. In my home, my students are expected to go to school every day and attend all their classes. They are expected to be respectful, do all their homework and hand it in when assigned. They know that if an unsatisfactory progress note comes home and/or a phone called from a teacher is received, there will be non-negotiable consequences for those poor choices.

School is not a babysitting service. I remind my brood that if they choose to cut or be blatantly non-compliant, they will lose the gift of their education. They will have to sign out and get a full time job, working forty hours a week. They will not be allowed to return to school until the following year.

Consistency is key. Human nature is such that we all look for the shortest distance between two points. A bored, non-motivated adolescent will look for every loophole to get over on the system or be non-compliant to your rules and expectations.

Your son is a junior or senior and your high school has an open campus for the students in those grades who have permission from their parents. If you decline to give permission and you find your son downtown having lunch, he should be held accountable.

If your son cuts and/or is purposefully late for school and needs you to write an excuse note to cover for him, don't write the excuse note. If you do, you are enabling the negative behavior. Most students amend their behavior if they know the consequences for their poor choices will be enforced and that Mommy and Daddy will not rescue them.

In the past twenty-five years, I have seen the most difficult of students make it in a system of secondary education that at best is not student friendly. Some students won't be able to make it in our traditional high schools. If they drop out by choice or are forced out, it does not mean they won't continue to learn or go on to college. Some students need the five or six year plan. These students need to find their way. When they mature and see the value of higher education, they will seek it.

In the meantime, we need to hold our children accountable for the choices they make and not rescue them, even if it makes us feel better. It is the growth and development of the student that is most important.