Thursday, June 24, 2010

Something for nothing

I was out of town all day yesterday, and as I drove north on Olden toward home, I had a little trouble navigating through the cars filled with Trenton Central High seniors, honking and screaming, with congratulatory messages scrawled into their car windows with white paint.

High school graduation was a big night for me, too. I remember the lines of honking cars and the exuberance. Life awaits. It's a good feeling.

But the differences between Trenton and my hometown, Howell, are profound. For starters, close to half of the incoming freshmen drop out before their senior year here in Trenton. Also, of the seniors eligible for graduation here in Trenton, more than half of them failed not only a basic proficiency exam, but later, an alternative version of the test, required for graduation. Instead of holding these kids back and requiring them to go to summer school, or even repeat the grade, Trenton school administrators scrambled to do what's been done for too many years: they pushed these unprepared kids forward. They didn't want to negatively affect the kids' self-esteem, so they allowed the failing kids to walk at the graduation ceremony, and get a diploma.

I had a good friend in high school whose girlfriend dumped him a few months before graduation, and he took it particularly hard. He stopped going to English class for whatever reason — just his English class, since I saw him in our other shared classes. But English, is, you know, one of the big ones. Our teacher failed him. Even though he passed the rest of his courses, he wasn't permitted to graduate with the rest of us; he had to take summer school. And he's doing okay now. His decision to blow off English may not have been the wisest, but he made it up in summer school, and got over the girlfriend, and earned his diploma.

Ceremonies are supposed to be special, reserved for those who accomplished something that required a fair amount of work and discipline. So, it's mind-boggling to me that the Trenton school officials would not only foster, but celebrate, failure.

I could go on about why there are such high school failure (and drop out) rates here in Trenton, and how it's largely because of what happens at home. But I've done that before, and today, I feel like addressing the school system's complicity in ruining Trenton, by perpetuating a sense of entitlement, with things like worthless diplomas, which ultimately get Trenton kids nowhere.

No good can come from pushing unprepared kids through the system, except it might look okay on paper. Maybe all the administrative suits are saying, "Half of the incoming freshmen went on to graduate. Yippee! We're doing SUCH a great job!" Only half the children in Trenton have been left behind, on paper, and maybe that doesn't sound too bad to school officials. But if those administrators took a peek outside the gates of the high school campus, they'd see scores of young adults left behind, milling about the streets, unable to read or write properly, but with excellent loud stereo, dice, pit bull, hip-hop, pants down, and baby-making skills. It can be a cruel world out there, and those skills are not as valued as the average Trenton kid might think. The Trenton School system is a sham for encouraging the kids to think life will turn out okay for them, just because. Maybe some will get lucky, but their successes won't have anything to do with the meaningless diploma they took home last night.

I could take my not-quite-2-year old over to school headquarters tomorrow, and if I demanded loudly enough, I'd bet they'd give him a diploma, too. Maybe the legions of dropouts should demand their diplomas, as well; maybe there can even be a special Dropout Graduation Ceremony, so their self-esteem isn't damaged from watching so many of their peers get something for nothing last night? Seriously, I hope the new city government overhauls the school system, because the school system is a joke. Best of luck to all the recent grads, whether you earned that diploma or not.

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