As was widely reported yesterday, Governor Napolitano is proposing to raise the minimum high-school droupout age to 18 as part of an economic reform package in the works.
Coming from Arizona's Iron Lady, the heavy-handedness of such a proposal doesn't surprise me. What does is that it's, for to be blunt, a simpleton's approach; if anything else, Napolitano is ordinarily intelligent. If some sixteen-year-olds don't value what's offered in high school enough to find it worth their while, how will making their attendance solve the problem?
Making a law is easy. Making high school worth students' while, on the other hand, is complex, and pushing anti-intellectualism out of the mainstream is daunting. There probably isn't one best answer; expanded school choice, then, is likely to be part of the solution, as is ending social promotion to ensure that sixteen- to eighteen-year-old young adults can read and write well enough to approach studies in a mature fashion. Dumbing down the curriculum does no one any favors.
Dropping out happens for a multitude of reasons, one being the perception that finishing won't raise one's prospects or status. What Napolitano and her supporters probably don't realize is that these "kids" are young adults in every sense of the word. They're not dropping out to play Nintendo and hang out; they're leaving high school to work, have children, and support their families. The dumbed down curriculum for poor kids, the world of difference between the standards and expectations of working-class public schools and those of prep schools, and the objectively apparent babyishness of the English and History classes is a subtle insult. The loud silence on the part of teachers and administrators on the relevance of education and the refusal to teach things of clear worth are downright criminal.
The best reason usually given by educrats for staying in school doesn't even refer to any intrinsic worth but rather to the diploma as a credential. Put up with two more years of extended childhood and you'll get a piece of paper that'll help you get a better paying job! Napolitano only does slightly better, referring to meeting the needs of a "changing" and "increasingly competitive" workplace. The merits--or injustice--of operating a public school system to prepare youths for industry aside, what dropouts would learn that'd help them keep up with the "changes" is a mystery. Furthermore, given, for example, how many times the Electoral College had to be explained back in 2000, or college students' ignorance of the First Amendment, it's doubtful that they're even learning enough to be informed, intelligent voters and citizens.
Why not let them drop out, instead of holding them captive in a place they don't want to be, making teachers and other students deal with disruptive behavior, and sending the bill to taxpayers? Let them get experience on the job or at trade school; if they find later that independent study of the liberal arts isn't sufficient, they can always get their G.E.D.
Or go straight to the university. After all, if what I've seen in two years of teaching freshmen is exemplary, Arizona's high-schools in working-class areas don't give students a solid background in mathematics or English. Why bother?