EDITORIAL: Bill shirks core dropout issues
     A New Haven Register editorial                                May 02, 2000

Let the schools handle it.  Is that to be the response to 
   every problem involving our youngsters?

The latest instance involves dropout wannabes, and the state House of Representativesí overwhelming passage of a bill that may keep a lot of them in school against their wishes. 

The state Senate also is expected to approve it. 

The legislation simply requires 16- and 17-year-olds to get parental consent before they can quit school, which is reasonable enough.  Advocates say it will "return some parental supervision."  Itís sad, of course, that parents should have to rely on a law to hold influence over their children, and the requirement for parental consent simply may further degrade a wobbly relationship.  And if the lawís intent is to lead an indifferent parent to take some responsibility for the youngsterís education, its efficacy is extremely doubtful. 

But the major problems with the bill lie in what it ignores: its own side effects, and the fundamental issue. 

The side effects are plain: Someone who does not want to be in a classroom often interferes horribly with those who do value learning.  Not only can they disrupt class, they also can sway marginal students, compounding the detrimental activities.  Teachers, as well, can be dragged down by the malcontents. 

The fundamental issue that is missed: Why donít these students want to be in school? Clearly, there are myriad reasons. 

In some cases, it indeed may be a problem that the schools should handle.  Perhaps teaching methods need to be adjusted, making learning more engaging; or hidden learning disorders discovered and addressed. 

But other reasons arenít issues for the schools.  They often involve home life.  They can involve economic need, or mental illness, or addictions, or simple immaturity, or a multitude of other problems. 

Requiring parental consent to leave school does not address any of them.  Yet it could partially hide the sores from view. 

The bill reflects the unquestioned belief that staying in school is good for everyone, and the alternative is a life of crime and failure.  But, the plain reality is that some people are not academically inclined.  After age 16, the law says they no longer have to be there. 

The legislature should not make parents accomplices to the use of schools as holding pens.   For most, even dropouts, there is a gainful life after school.  When that is accepted, they can be encouraged find other paths to good citizenship and a productive life. 
 
Color & emphasis added by ENM