We need to start at the beginning – at the root – to grow strong, interactive engagement with our youth and rediscover the heartbeat of education that is alive with relevance. We need to give our youth voice and opportunity for engagement with us in the real world that can grow with them from kindergarten all the way through high school.
Our children are excited to go to school when they come of age. Without the needed nutriment of purposeful, real life engagement we watch our American youth wilt – gradually at first and then more markedly – over a period of thirteen years. Even the “best students” (those who produce the results adults want to see) know that it is a struggle to stay inspired. As parents, it is hard to witness the contrast between academic success and their lack of inspiration – the contrast between their excitement as small children to go to school and their resignation to put in another day in high school.
The problem we identify as dropout or truancy is more widespread than dropout rates indicate. Many of our youth who do not drop out also struggle to cope with their school environment – the continuing singular yardstick of individual test scores; tests created by others that identify their worthiness for inclusion in a future that lies ahead. High school dropout is a strong move on the part of youth who resist this system and opt out.
In a K-12 service initiative, assessment would expand to include multiple, valuable workplace and life skills; skills that are assessable in live time, not in traditional test form; skills that are evident to others on the “team” – classmates. Our youth would engage with one another and cross-pollinate their enthusiasm among themselves; an enthusiasm that crosses over into academic subject matter that connects the classroom to the real world in which they live. This enthusiasm would spin out into the hallways, our homes, and our communities.
Our youth can address the issue of high school dropout among themselves if we give them real world engagement opportunities. They can find their place in the world and the support education can bring to their lives. They can create community within their schools.
A national K-12 service initiative would open wide a realm of future possibilities interwoven with consideration for others and the environment. We need to step back, grab hold of the larger picture within which the classroom fits, and problem solve a sustainable strategy. We can gather our resources and create an inventive, American solution that will not only solve this issue, but a host of other challenges we face in our communities, nationwide, and worldwide.