Dropouts hurt themselves, society

Published 11:24 pm Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Their fate is sealed while they are still children.” This is the thought that rings in my mind every time I think about school dropouts. It’s a most disturbing thought. It is well documented that children who drop out of school are more likely to end up in prison or jail, get involved in drugs and crime, live in poverty, experience violence, suffer more health problems and die sooner. Their fate is virtually sealed while they are still children.

By dropouts, I mean children who are put out or pushed out as well as those who appear to voluntarily leave school. Either way, forces beyond their control determine their fate well before they are old enough to decide. Their fate is sealed while they are still children.

Our fate is also sealed when our children drop out of school. Dropouts do not stop learning, they just learn different things. What they learn comes back to haunt us in profound ways. They haunt us in our communities. They haunt us in our homes, making us afraid to stay in our homes and afraid to leave our homes. They become challenges to our families and communities and sometimes to our very lives.

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When our children drop out, they become bigger burdens. It is far more costly to have our homes burglarized, our communities swamped with violence and drugs, our jails, prisons and courts overflowing, our youth unemployed. We think it is costly to raise and school our children, but measure the alternative.

There is a saying that when the White community gets a cold, the Black community gets pneumonia. In other words, what is bad for the White community is so much worse for the Black community. That is certainly true concerning dropouts.

The national dropout rate for white children is 25 percent. The rate for Black children is 50 percent. The rate for Hispanic children is 44 percent. The Black and Hispanic rates are nearly two times that of Whites. According to Education Week Magazine, Alabama’s dropout rate is 39 percent, but is so much higher for Blacks.

The school dropout rate becomes the drop in rate for crime, violence, imprisonment, poverty, unemployment and other destructive practices. The rate of imprisonment for Blacks is several times that of Whites. The poverty rate for Blacks is several times that of Whites. The rate for crime suffered by Blacks is several times that of Whites. Our fates are sealed while they are still children.

Many of us blame the children for dropping out. Others of us blame the parents. Still others blame the schools. All play some role, but it is complex.

I talked with Wesley Curtis and his mother Josephine Curtis. They gave me permission to publicly share their views in this article. Wesley dropped out of Selma High School a year ago.

I know Wesley’s mother and father well. Josephine worked for me for nearly 30 years. They were determined that Wesley would graduate from high school. However, it was not within their power.

Wesley takes full responsibility for dropping out of school. He says that he wanted to drop out, and it was his decision. However, he adds that if he knew then what he knows now, he would not have dropped out.

More importantly, Wesley says that some of his teachers made him feel less than other students; that some of his friends had already dropped out of school well before he did; that he did not see where graduating from high school would make things better for him; that he would not do his lessons and was put off the football team when his grades fell too low. While Wesley takes full responsibility, we see other powerful forces were at work. The good news is that Wesley got his GED, entered the Job Corps and completed its requirements. He is now looking for a job, and I am trying to help.

I also talked to Stanley Brown who is staying at my home. He dropped out of school in the 11th grade. He says that drugs incapacitated his mother, and he dropped out to help his younger sisters. There is also good news with Stanley: he got his GED and enrolled in a community college briefly. He dropped out of college and is looking for work. I am trying to help.

The situations of Wesley and Stanley do not tell the full story. They simply illustrate the complexity of the problem and the potential for solutions. I believe we all are to blame and have a responsibility to correct the problem. We must stop the fate of our children from being sealed at such an early age.

EPILOGUE – What we do with our children today often determines what they can or will do tomorrow. Few things are more determinative than graduating from high school with a meaningful diploma. We cannot allow people’s fates to be sealed while they are still children.