The discussion last night took several interesting twists. Unemployment, underemployment, labor unions, job training, education, and... the drop-out rate.
The drop out rate is 62% (gasp!) of 73,000 students (gasp again!) and growing (1400 teacher layoffs this year, remember?) in the city of Cleveland.
Educated suburbanites are surprised and appalled.
"Can't innovative programs, challenging courses, and inspired teaching, keep these kids in school?", they ask.
"They can and they do" I answer, "for a few kids."
Those very positive things are all good, and do work until a couple more elements are added into the mix. Chemicals and sex.
I am certain some official numbers are kept regarding attrition factors, although the accuracy would be questionable, considering the fact that most drop-outs don't fill out an exit questionnaire. They just stop showing up for school. My information is gleaned from personal observation, and discussion with students.
The sexual component, that combination of tumultuous teenaged hormones and ignorance, resulting in adolescent parenthood, is ostensibly, the biggest factor in the drop-out rate for girls.
A secondary factor, along the same vein in female attrition, is sexual harassment in the schools. Many girls complain of physical as well a verbal harassment on a constant and daily basis.
I have done informal surveys amongst my students in regards to bullying, and in the course of those discussions discovered the subtler, more insiduous victimization that goes on in the hallways and classrooms in the form of sexual intimidation, physical as well as verbal.
Complaints are rarely made to the faculty , since the students perceive that the problem will only get worse when teachers and parents get involved. Girls will put up with the name calling, propositioning and even the occasional random hallway groping (some boys think nothing of grabbing at a girls breast, or bottom, in the close confines of a crowded stairwell) for only so long.
The feisty ones get attitude and the harassment stops. The quiet victims often just disappear.
The chemical abuse factor in the drop-out rate is one that would be impossible to prove, since illegal consumption of alcohol by minors, and the use of recreational drugs, is information that educators can only learn anecdotally. My own experience leads me to believe that drugs and alcohol are, far and away, the leading factor in male drop-outs for the Cleveland School District.
I see the young faces, burned out, and hung-over. Eyes glassy, or reddened or deadened.
I wander my classroom, antennae up, while my students work on their art, and discuss the weekend's party. I know who's using and who's selling. I know who gets what from their neighbors, parents, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles. Often I eavesdrop, more often they tell me.
My personal observations lead me to believe; not every kid who abuses quits school, but almost every kid who quits school abuses.
I often complain about short sighted, city/civic planners, who leave the city schools out of the discussions about urban renewal. The problems are huge, and the issues are societal as well as educational. But just because they are daunting, doesn't mean they are impossible. Problems don't resolve themselves when they are ignored.
And this one is cancerous. It is eating away at the core of our city. Unchecked, it will destroy our future.
Will any of our leaders even acknowledge the potential implications that this lost generation of damaged young people will have on our city?
No, that would be too painful of a reality check.
Let's talk about hotels, and convention centers and lakefront condominiums instead. Those things are so much nicer. So much fun to build! They may cost money, but they will attract all the right people to come to Cleveland.
In the meantime, cashflow is a bit slow. There need to be some cuts to balance the budget.
Now where did our inspired civic leaders make those cuts?
Let's see if we can remember....cops...schools...neighborhood programs. Brilliant.