The Canadian Imagination

What it means to be Canadian; examining and reworking Canada as a nation.

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Sound bytes

Debate Moderator: So, Guests: why is there such a high drop-out rate in our schools?

Guest #1: Too much pressure. Not enough payoff. We have to make what is taught more relevant to the students.

Moderator: How would we go about making it more relevant?

Guest #1: In alternative schools, curricula are tailored to the student's individual needs.

Moderator: Shouldn't that be the case in all schools?

Guest #1: Mass streaming works toward the average. Those exceptional in any direction increasingly are left out of consideration. The fortunate few are identified early and placed in appropriate alternative education, but this makes the mainstream even less tolerant of those outside the first standard deviation.

Moderator: I have heard that there is a link between gender and drop-out rate ...?

Guest #2: The studies are mixed on this. Some find significantly more boys than girls drop out of secondary schools; others show an even split. Interestingly, segregated classes do show significantly lower drop-out rates among girls, but not among boys.

Guest #3: There is also a correlation with socioeconomic status.

Moderator: Meaning what, exactly?

Guest #3: Familial support is absolutely essential to a student's future success. You can't have that when both parents are holding down full-time jobs. More government intervention won't help. We have all kinds of governmental programmes already, and the drop-out rate still keeps going up. It has been shown, time and again, that government hand-outs don't work. You can't just keep throwing money at this kind of problem. It is not the state's job to substitute for the family.

Moderator: You have been very silent, Fourth Guest. What do you think about our growing drop-out rate?

Guest #4: I think maybe we are going at this ass-backwards. According to a study by one pharmacy benefits management company, spending on behaviour-modification drugs for children and adolescents, precisely the group considered here, has increased by 77% over the past three years in the United States ... but what if the behaviour so many keep trying to modify is actually perfectly adapted to the real social environment? Maybe it is not that the subjects being taught have to be made relevant to students. Maybe schools and families and mass media and social environment alike have already taught those students their dominant frame of relevance: that personal motivation toward anything other than money or free time is not valid. Correlation is not cause and effect: what if the links mentioned earlier have nothing whatsoever directly to do with why the student drops out, but have everything to do with how strongly that frame of reference is reinforced (or possibly invalidated) by the familial environment? There will always be a very few students who have a genuine and innate passion and dedication; but what if the only differences among the vast majority of students who drop out and those who continue their studies is a slightly longer attention span: nothing more than the ability to accept a slightly longer timespan between the work and the only rewards which matter?

Moderator: We only have a couple of minutes left. Could you tell us, in a sentence or two, what the solution is?

[... silence ...]

Moderator: I see. No solution, then. Thank you for being on our show.

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