Integrity Matters
April 26, 2006

Our society has an obligation to educate

Question: (E-236)

Dear Jim:

Time magazine reported April 17 that 30 percent of American high school students drop out before graduation. Is the integrity of our society at risk with this failure of our schools?


Yes. Effective education enables individuals to solve problems, understand an increasingly complex society and compete in a global economy. With millions of young people not completing this basic high school building block, too many risk becoming adrift, ill equipped to function. Others will fall prey to drugs, crime and a cycle of spiraling poverty and bitterness. Feeling intellectually frustrated and emotionally stifled, they become casualties of ignorance - not only their own, but also the ignorance of parents, role models and teachers.

Educators are convenient targets when young people are turned off and drop out. Many of them should shoulder a significant amount of the blame. Research suggests that 20 percent of all youngsters have some form of a learning disability. Perhaps they have dyslexia or simply a different learning style, making traditional learning processes difficult. How many educators are qualified to assess differing learning styles and present materials in ways that capitalize on learning styles of those who simply learn differently? With a 30 percent dropout rate, the answer is: not nearly enough! Based upon consulting with 8,000 managers and executives during 26 years in leadership development, we identified 20 percent with such classic signs of dyslexic as difficulty reading, a tendency to "freeze" with numbers and finance and both visual-spatial and verbal disconnects.

Dropout's parents also are accountable, many having earlier walked a similar path themselves. Previous generations were not well informed about multiple learning styles. Today, when teachers and parents fail to incorporate proven methods to address individual learning needs, what can society expect? Wounded pride and continuous frustration can drive even the most persistent students away. Relatively fragile young people grow frustrated and finally drop out.

Those who earn all "A's" might naturally select teaching, able to sustain academia. The "B" students can manage business, social and government activities so society can function. "C" students, along with those who receive some "D's" and even a few "F's," might become entrepreneurs - seeing opportunity where others see obstacles.

But until more responsive and practical education is offered to those who are on the edge of dropping out, the young American talent pool will continue to deteriorate along with America's ability to compete and prosper.

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