In speaking with my mother (who attended school during the 1980s and 1970s) about her scholastic experiences, I’ve come to realize that with a different generation comes a different drive and need for education. Physical labor is no longer America’s respectable means of income; we live in a schizophrenic country with technology being our new economic fixation. Even in the last decade, I can recall with amazement the innovations I’ve come to see in terms of technology and the convenience these innovations have brought. That point aside, the market is in high demand, and requires advanced education to supplement its constant growth. People go where they smell money, and this specific market definitely reeks of capital.
With people chasing much more advanced careers in this day in age, the idea of a sturdy educational background is embedded with us from day one. From kindergarten to graduation, we are told that the responsibility of high school defines our being, and that it is the end all, be all of what we become. It is on your resume, it is on your college applications. It is your support beam. The four years students spend in high school are times of growth and knowledge — but for some those four years are cut short. Studies are conveyed, polls are set in motion. Numbers are informative for data, but progression in the situation of high school dropouts is really found in the mentality of those students who say farewell to the rhetoric said to be so profound on their lives. Why do they drop out?
Pressure. I wish I could tell you that going to school every morning and grinding out some sort of productivity for 61/2 hours a day is what I take pride in, but lying is a shame and a sin. There is so much more going on other than just that moment in time where I travel period to period, organizing my mind into small hour-and-a-half slots of knowledge that it is overwhelming. Even if I succeed in my studies presently, it will not be enough. In the type of world we live in, “average” is sub-par and perfection is expected.
If I told my teachers and fellow students I wanted to be a trash collector, I would get laughed at and told I was lazy. I ponder sometimes as to whether or not collecting garbage, or any other similar form of physical labor, would be frowned upon in such a way 50 years ago.
These days, unless you are an athlete or the stereotypical aspiring actor or actress, the financial aspirations are the same: teacher, lawyer, doctor, programmer and endless other occupations that require a higher education. This disdain for the remedial can take a toll on anyone. How can we have faith in what we want to do if your parents, peers and teachers won’t accept it as a valid goal, but as a way out of doing work? That in itself is the problem the average middle-class American teenager faces with the fork in the road they travel. Being “average” has been reclassified as being “lazy.” Not everyone is meant for greatness, and not everyone is capable of it. Instead of greatness being measured in how well we do the job we have, it is now measured in what that job is. As young members of this diverse and boundless society, we must take pride in our abilities and never-ending optimism in terms of bettering ourselves as human beings.
Contrary to this, we are being told that if we do not apply ourselves in this unique and structured setting that does not contour to our individual needs, that we will be nothing — that we will “work at McDonald’s.” What kind of message is that to those of us with working-class parents? Did they fail at this aspect of life I’m currently attempting to excel at? The answer from our parents is usually, “I did fine, but I want you to be better, to have options.”
That is ridiculous. They don’t want us to have options, they want us to be the next Bill Gates. I would love any adult to point me in the direction of a Harvard graduate who one day just weighed his options and decided to take that lucrative job as a janitor over the internship that could make them the next district attorney. We, even though still children, pick up on this notion and that just pressures us even more to strive to over-achieve. Our parents’ innocent intention to point us in the right direction just makes the tread toward success more difficult, as we don’t want to seem like failures in their eyes.
There are many other valid reasons high school students drop out: teenage pregnancy, poverty, drugs and other misfortunes. These hold weight, but their source is not a mystery. Teens like having irresponsible sex, they succumb to addiction easily, and some parts of America are hurt financially and have schools that reflect it.
But the pressure of simply being a teenaged high school student is universal, and when added together with every other factor of our lives, can negatively weigh us down toward a departure from the very thing that we are told will determine our financial and social future.
Ian Blanding is a Shadow Ridge High School junior.ESSAY CONTEST
Ian Blanding, a junior at Shadow Ridge High School, is the winner of the Review-Journal’s most recent high school essay contest, which asked students why teens drop out of school. Mr. Blanding will receive $200. Runner-up Hannah Jackel, also a Shadow Ridge junior, will receive $50.