Many students don’t graduate

One morning last week, I encountered a flood of high-schoolers in the parking lot of Lawlor Event Center. I was walking to my UNR summer class. They were heading to a rehearsal.

Over the weekend, these young adults received diplomas from the madness that is high school.

Some 484 students graduated from my neck of the woods. As I waded through them, I couldn’t help thinking of those who didn’t make it—the 16 percent, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, of Nevada high-school students who don’t graduate.

For a school that size, 16 percent means that about 57 or 58 teens won’t be sending out announcements, signing yearbooks or donning the square hat and tassel. They won’t be getting cakes and parties and checks from relatives.

Perhaps they think they beat the system. We don’t need no thought control.

In the 1960s, Paul Goodman, author of Growing Up Absurd, wrote disparagingly of institutionalized educational systems, especially high schools that beget prom queens and football stars along with an overall shallow learning experience. It’s a relatively new concept, he said, delegating to the state the responsibility of educating children.

“In all societies, both primitive and highly civilized, until quite recently, most education of most children has occurred incidentally,” Goodman said. “Adults do their work and other social tasks; children are not excluded, are paid attention to, and learn to be included.”

Public schools are a grand experiment, arguably a failing one. It’s terribly easy to fall through the cracks in overcrowded, under-funded Nevada schools.

Think back, you 30- and 40-somethings, to your own high-school experience. Now double or triple the number of students. For one of 2,500 teens attending a school that maxes out at 2,100, learning takes a back seat to survival. Throw in zero-tolerance polices and armed school cops in bullet-proof vests. Fascist attendance procedures. Feuding friends sedated by Xanax. Straight Edge. Cybersex. Bulimia. Distant, self-absorbed parents—or worse, parents living vicariously through Junior’s overachievements.

How are you doing so far?

Eyes a little red? You must be on drugs. Wearing a bandanna? You must be in a gang.

Imagine the high-school teacher of today, stressed at the demands of teaching kids whose moms, step-moms, dads, step-dads, etc., abdicate emotional responsibility so that they can work overtime to pay young Jessica’s $200 monthly cell phone bill.

In a world where the media elevate beauty and sameness, picture the kid who looks, sounds or dresses wrong.

There’s no room to screw up.

Yeah, so much simpler to get your GED and get on with your life.

Of course, by doing this, high-school drop-outs are playing into a set of tacit societal expectations. Leave and there’ll be fewer kids hogging classroom space and more low-paid, uninsured workers making change at slot machines, delivering pizzas, staffing warehouses. Also, since schools receive $4,424 per pupil in state funding, 58 high school drop-outs save the state around a quarter million.

Subversive advice for teens considering the Big Quit: Fuck the system by staying in school.

Good thing a person can’t link lousy education to increased crime—because Nevada spends $17,700 per inmate each year, according to the Nevada Department of Corrections.

Pay now or pay later! say progressives. School choice! Private enterprise! say conservatives.

More psychotropic drugs! say pharmaceutical companies.

In the meantime, dozens of families didn’t watch their kids cross the platform and receive high-school diplomas last weekend at Lawlor Event Center.

It’s heartbreaking.

As one of those moms, I should know.