318. Dropping Out

I think it’s significant that I wrote 317 articles without even mentioning the possibility that some people may decide not to go to school any longer than they have to. As far as I know, all of my friends finished high school, and most of them went on to college. If I found out that one of my friends never finished high
school, it wouldn’t change the friendship; it would confirm my conviction that dropping out of high school does not turn you into another kind of creature.
I never even considered dropping out of high school. High school was where all my friends were, and besides, the propaganda given out by all the adults I knew worked on me. If I dropped out, I thought, I would become an untouchable. I did drop out of Boy Scouts, though. I decided, as I turned thirteen, that I’d gotten to a point where being a Boy Scout just wasn’t meaningful to me, and wasn’t helping me prepare for what I wanted to do in life. Some of what happened in school wasn’t, either, but I had to put up with that if I wanted to go to college. And I did.
I think that in a way, the propaganda I got gave an inaccurate message. True, in our society, it makes practical sense for most people to graduate from high school. A high school diploma opens up some options that may turn out to be useful. But that’s not the message I received when I was in high school. What I heard was that only immoral and inferior people dropped out – that I had to stay in school if I wanted to be a worthwhile person. It took me years to get to the point where I even thought of reconsidering that message.
As parents and teachers, we try to guide children and adolescents toward paths that will make their lives pleasant and productive. The way our society works, finishing school is often a very practical thing to do, and so we try to get them to do so. It’s possible to get a high school diploma later on, but later on, it’s harder, partly because there’s more often rent to pay, etc., and partly because some of the aspects of the high school curriculum that seemed irrelevant and dumb when you were an adolescent turned out to have actually been irrelevant and dumb.
I think it makes a lot of sense to graduate from high school. Maybe it would make sense to make some changes in high school so that graduation could mean different things to different people. A lot of what I learned in high school has done nothing for me, as I thought it wouldn’t when I learned it. I’ve never had occasion to refer to halogens or secants in my work or play. But I had to learn about halogens and secants in order to get my diploma. And having a better- than-average long term memory, I still remember what they are. But so what?
I would still encourage people to stay in school at least long enough to graduate from high school. I hope the eighty children I know who just finished second grade stay in school at least another ten years. To me, ten years isn’t so long. But I hope their decision to stay in school is made for practical reasons, and not just to avoid being seen as drop-outs.

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