Desmond Ryan

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'Drop-outs' vote against school - do they have a good reason?

First, let us state the principle relevant to Sir Ken's issue, a refinement of the neo-Darwinian view: "...most higher organisms select their environment before they allow the environment to select them. Release a hare and a rabbit in the middle of a field, the rabbit will run off to the hedge and live its life there, while the hare will be content to live its life in the open field....If a seed falls on stony ground in the desert, it simply refuses to germinate until the next shower of rain comes along and gives it an environment at least somewhat appropriate to its needs." (C.H.Waddington (1972) 'Ninth Lecture. The importance of goals' in Kenny, A.J.P. et al. The Nature of Mind Edinburgh University Press p.128)
Second, let us respect these young Americans for having rumbled that their schools are not a well-irrigated flower bed for their Robinsonian flourishing, but something else, perhaps a selection mechanism for the US economy, against which, they know from their parents, there is no resistance, from which there is no mercy, apart from which there is no life.
Third, let us propose that, notwithstanding the danger of economic marginalization, large numbers of the young people who fail to engage with American schools have decided, in the metaphor of the seeds in the desert, to avoid 'germinating' (i.e. exposing their vulnerable developmental potential) in 'mechanistic' schools which provide no environment for their individual needs.
Fourth, let us accept the tragic conclusion that to be a school-failure by their own hand (drop-out, apathy, disengagement, exclusion) is nevertheless an act of agency, a decision to say 'No' to a system which, while not recognizing their human existence, wants to brand them for life as sub-standard goods, hardly worth taking to market - and wants them to accept that branding as publicly binding for the rest of their life.
Nothing unusual here - drop-out kids are selecting their environment before they allow the environment to select them.

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    Nov 5 2013: There are a number of drop outs that show us that a formal degree is not a must.
    Bill Gates is one of them Henry Ford was another.
    Today, with information so readily available on the internet, formal schools are probably not as necessary as the were in the past. Although this also depends on the student's personality. Some people just need structure to get something done and a school provides this structure.
    On the other hand, one can educate himself based on the vast information that is available without the need of a formal school.
    The problem I see is another one. It's society that cares more about degrees and diplomas than real qualification. But I think, that's something that will change eventually.
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    Nov 6 2013: Good evening, Scott, from Scotland

    Please develop your hunch about children as the soil from which all things in society emerge.

    I find your perception of American society's take on education very reasonable. It fits the facts, and chimes with Ken Robinson's picture. Interestingly, you and he both echo a characterization of educational research first published in Edinburgh in 1972, in which it was seen as subservient to the 'agricultural-botany' paradigm. To save you time, let me quote:
    "Dominant [in educational research] is the...‘agricultural-botany’ paradigm, which utilises a hypothetico-deductive methodology derived from experimental and mental-testing traditions in psychology….The most common form of agricultural-botany type evaluation is presented as an assessment of the effectiveness of an innovation by examining whether or not it has reached required standards on pre-specified criteria. Students – rather like plant crops – are given pre-tests (the seedlings are weighed or measured) then submitted to different experiences (treatment conditions). Subsequently, after a period of time, their attainment (growth or yield) is measured to indicate the relative efficiency of the methods (fertilizers) used. Studies of this kind are designed to yield data of one particular type, i.e. ‘objective’ numerical data that permit statistical analysis."
    What's new? All the educational programs that generate Sir Ken's 'millions of children left behind' are properly scientific. But it is a science unable to realize that its measurements are all being made in Death Valley. Good agricultural botany stipulates tight boundary conditions: contextual effects must be neutralized. Even if it's Death Valley.
    Good science, ruined lives - is this what is meant by irony?
  • Nov 6 2013: Good morning Desomond from California,

    Your thoughts on seeds got me to thinking.....

    I wonder if you might reflect on this.......Do you feel it is accurate to claim that society, as a whole, views education in much the same way it views agriculture? That is to say, our children are the seeds. The seeds are planted into soil which is itself institutionalized educational systems. Desiring strong and healthy crops/adults, we add things to the soil to make it richer....more fertile. We tinker with it. We strive for efficiency so we begin to arrange them in larger groups. We crowd them closer and closer. We arrange them in rows. We use medicines and pesticides to address pests that enter the growth system. Pests that mess with efficiency and yield. We develop best-practices/common core standards and apply them across the board to every plant/student. We test and test. We measure. We compare. We work desperately to do more with less money. In the end, we are left with a monoculture.

    While I exaggerate and embellish, I admit that this IS my perception of institutionalized education. This has been my belief for a while. But, I cannot help but question and doubt all beliefs....especially my own for I've been proven wrong over and over again. Thus, I cannot help but wonder if our children are NOT actually the seeds. Perhaps Schools are NOT the Soil in which they grow. Perhaps we are wrong altogether.

    What if the children are the Soil from which all things in Society emerge. The quality of Society is a reflection of the quality of the Soil. Crops are separate. Soil is not.....
  • Nov 5 2013: I believe that the "problem" with the dropouts is actually two sided. A student might dropout of the "school" simply because he thinks that he can develop his learning or skill by himself as the cases cited by Harald. But I am sure that some successful development might happen to other kind of students who just want to learn something by himself even through some unconventional path. Of course, there are some one like myself, who dropped out of school at the age of 14, because my family need my financial support. As a matter of fact, I was doing fine with my career or even became a little rich as well. But I was interested in academic knowledge, even when I could only self study during my spare time away from my job. Finally I skipped all the needed years of formal schooling and entered the graduate school at the age of 28. But I did completed a PhD degree and served out my remaining years as a professor in a medical school and a school of public health. I am not complaining about that the middle school abandoned me (because I dropped out due to my own choice). However, the society can't be responsible for all the bad apples of dropouts, the outcome must be laid on both sides, if you wish.
  • Nov 12 2013: Every person who drops out has a reason.

    Not everyone who drops out votes against school.

    We never know where that student will end up in life. Some go back for GED's or return to complete degrees later in life.

    I find that there are more people who have gone all the way through school, who think that how they were taught was right, vote against schools than those who actually drop out.
  • Nov 12 2013: School is not important.

    Education is important.

    People drop out for a variety of reasons, unless it is to obtain a better education their efforts are without a good reason.
  • Nov 10 2013: Desmond,

    Let's follow your analogy. What if the seeds, the children, are not ready to grow? Put into any environment they will not grow nor sprout.
  • Nov 9 2013: I think it depends,if children do have their own option to drop out,just support them.But for most of kids,staying at school is still the best way to keep learning.Learn to come across any difficulties in studying is worth.
  • Nov 6 2013: What you say is a good description of the process of opting out by many students. I would not disagree with it. The problem for me as a long term passionate teacher, is that there is mostly no alternative environment for these opt out students. There is too little recognition of self education. Very few really become successful (by their own and society's definition). Mostly they become the bottom level of society, which isn't usually deserved nor fair, nor useful to society. Education systems need to provide a range of educational environments or be designed so that the environment is ultimately flexible, so that each gets what level of support to become successful they need and will use.
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      Nov 6 2013: Robert Winner writes frequently about this- that there should be options that allow people to pursue a range of interests and to develop skills that allow them to build successful lives in a variety of ways.
  • Nov 6 2013: Different strokes Different folks.