Every day in America, 6,000 children drop out of high – that’s one every 29 seconds.Â Even more alarming, according to a 2006 study by EPE Research, and reported in USA Today, “students in a handful of big-city school districts have a less than 50-50 chance of graduating from high school with their peers, and a few cities graduate far fewer than half each spring.”
Such statistics have triggered many efforts at school reform. One of the latest is California, where Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger declared in March that 2008 would be his “year of education reform.” The focus on school reform came about in response to a set of 22 studies about the state’s education system in March. The Stanford reports, known as “Getting Down to Facts,” detailed the many problems plaguing California schools, including concerns about the large number of kids dropping out of school.
What’s going on? Despite all of our efforts, growing numbers of children are not engaged in learning and leave school without a direction, and often without hope for a future. Over the years, I’ve talked with many parents who are anxious about problems their kids are having in school. I tell them honestly, “There’s nothing wrong with your child.”
The problem is that our schools are weakening our children by the way they are designed. By this I mean:
- What is taught - Schools still pursue a compartmentalized and often obsolete curriculum and expect children to be enthusiastic and motivated about learning subjects that have no relevance in modern life.
- How it is taught- Teaching styles are often in conflict with a child’s learning style and motivation. Schools rarely take into account that children have different learning styles; ignoring this can cause kids to become frustrated, de-motivated and lacking in self-esteem.
- Expectations parents and teachers have of children – We expect every child to do well in every subject and participate in all kinds of extracurricular activities which may not be in alignment with their interests or abilities. We don’t give them a chance to have input on what they learn and then characterize them as weak or deficient.
Our educational system has failed to address these factors in any serious way over the last hundred years. The bottom line is this: if our children are to have happy and fulfilled lives, we must invite them to the discussion about what should be learned, as well as taking the time to explain why and how it should be learned. And most importantly, we should help them discover and develop their strengths, and set our expectations based on their interests and motivations, rather than some abstract standard which may have no relevance.