School dropouts – What we aren’t doing for them…

by on October 5, 2010 · 48 comments

in Education, Popular, The Widder Curry

schools dropout imageby Judi Curry

I am a high school dropout that went back to school and ended up as an assistant professor at local colleges.

I went back and received a Bachelor’s Degree in Educational Teaching and followed up with a Masters Degree in Elementary/Secondary Education Administration. I was an Assistant Professor at SDSU and UCSD, Extension, working with new teachers in developing curriculum to meet the needs of their individual students. I was a teacher; a Vice Principal; a Principal; A Director of Education and Vocational training as well as a Deputy Director of a Job Corps site shortly before retiring in 2004. At the time of my College/University teaching I had more people take my elective course on “How to Individualize the School Curriculum” than any other course taught at extension.

Everyone talks about the drop out problem, but no one really addresses the reasons for the problem.

Let me help you by talking about the reason that I dropped out of school the day I was 16. Plain and simple, I was bored. I was being “taught” over and over things I already knew. If you already know the principle, no one can “teach” you the same thing. You already know it.

Others in my classes were also bored, but there were those that were so frustrated because they did not understand the curriculum that they became discipline problems and spent more time in detention than they spent in the classroom.

schools dropout cartoonThen there were the others that had some form of neurological/medical reason for not learning. What did the teachers do to remedy these problems? Nothing. Why? Because 1) the curriculum did not allow them to teach anything other than what was on the written page; 2) No one was ever encouraged to find out how their students learn; 3) No one ever assessed the level of the individual student to see where they were in their learning ability; 4) The Legislature, in their infinite wisdom, kept adding to the curriculum, subjects that 1/3 of the class would relish, 1/3 of the class would struggle with, and 1/3 of the class would have no interest in learning; 5) When the “new” subjects were added, there was no training for the teacher in the best methods to reach the students.

That was 50 years ago.

Has anything changed? I think not. The Legislature has passed the “Algebra in the 8th grade” ruling. Are the 8th grade teachers ready to teach this subject? Are the students being tested to see which ones are ready to learn Algebra? The answer is “no” to both questions.

So what are we doing? We are creating more high school dropouts. The students that have not even mastered their multiplication tables are going to be put in the situation of learning (?) Algebra. They are going to fail. There will not be any way to “catch up” with the rest of the class. The “D’s” and “F’s” on their report card will stop them from graduating. Why continue going to school?

Until the public realizes that not all 10 year olds, 15 year olds, 20 year olds, etc. are alike, there is going to be a continual erosion of the public school system.

Until each student is tested on an individual basis and the curriculum is adjusted for their needs, there are going to be dropouts. That means that our students must be tested BEFORE AND AFTER instruction to see what and how much has been learned.

Our children are not sheep. They are individuals with different modalities of learning; they are individuals that need to be assessed before throwing them into a class of Algebra just because they are in the 8th grade. Then, and only then, will the drop out rate be lowered.

We are promoting “teaching to the test” rather than teaching for learning sake.

And…for those of you that say “it can’t be done because there are too many students in my classroom” let me tell you something. It can be done; it has been done, and any teacher that is worthy of the name “teacher” will find some way to teach their students to his/her needs. It may be in small groups of those students having the same problem; it may be on a 1:1 basis; it may be peers working with students, etc. Not only can it be done, it should be done! Just give me a call. I’ll tell you how. And, until it is done, everyone should stop bellyaching about the status of our high school students.

The one thing teachers and administrators have difficulty with is understanding that EVERY CHILD can learn; they just don’t all learn the same way. If “Johnny does not learn it is not Johnnie’s fault.” It is the fault of the teacher, the curriculum, and the administration. And let’s not forget the people making the laws without the where-with-all to see it through to fruition.

The drop-out rate is not going to be lowered, until we, as educators, begin to meet the needs of our very precious commodity – the student. We do not have the luxury of “recalling” our product because we forgot to put in a part. We have one time to do it right – and only one time.

{ 48 comments… read them below or add one }

doug porter October 5, 2010 at 9:50 am

terrific post.


judi October 5, 2010 at 10:05 am

Thanks, Doug. I appreciate your comment. Judi


Sarah October 5, 2010 at 12:03 pm

I am also a drop out. After five different high schools I left Houston’s Alief Elsik High School about half way through my Junior year. Why? Because I was bored. Well, that and there was this kid shot in the cafeteria the week before and a PrinciPAL who hated the fact that I wouldn’t wear a bra.

I love your article.



judi October 5, 2010 at 1:55 pm

Thanks, Sarah. The sad thing is that there are many more students that in the same position that we were in, and nothing is being done for them. The educators lament the fact that there are so many dropping out of school, yet they place the emphasis on academics and little, if any, vocational training. I remember when I was the Director of Vocations at San Diego Job Corps and I was visiting one of my training classes – a Carpentry class. I just about fell over when this beautiful, blond, blue-eyed braless female climbed up the ladder in her sleeveless T-shirt carrying 6 4’x8′ lengths of lumber on her shoulder. Not one of the men – and she was the only female – looked at her as a strikingly beautiful woman – of course, they were on the 5th floor! but it didn’t make a difference if she was wearing a bra or not!

Did you ever go back to school?


Sarah October 6, 2010 at 11:02 am

Hi Judi,

I went back to school at at various times in my life but I have never earned a degree. My resume states that I am, “…formally educated through coursework at various community colleges, technical and professional courses, an extensive and diverse work history, a deep love of books and an on-going and personal quest for excellence.”

I worked as a carpenter in Houston in the days before girls did such things. I was 16 and my goal was to be able to walk from one side of the job site to the other with my chin held high against the cat-calls and wolf-whistles. I shudder when I remember the day I accidentally ordered a “nutty buddy” ice cream cone from the roach coach. You can imagine the response from the badass Texans in line behind me.

When I was old enough I joined the Coast Guard and was part of the first group of women to serve aboard ships. I’ll stack the educational value of those experiences up against pretty much any under-graduate degree.

I have been fighting for the return of vocational education for a long time and I’m a HUGE advocate of Job Corp. I spent some time recruiting for the Merchant Marines and one of my all time favorite “stops” was the Tongue Point Job Corp in Astoria. In my years in the maritime industry the graduates from that program stand out as some of the finest folks I’ve worked with. I visited Job Corp campuses all over the west in an effort to help set up and path from the culinary arts programs into the cook positions on our ships.

I will always advocate for the public school system, but I’m not sure I’d risk sending my kids into it these days. Both my sons graduated from the U of W in Seattle, my youngest just last June. I’m still wiping the sweat off my brow. They are, I’m afraid, successful and well educated in spite of the public school system.


judi October 6, 2010 at 12:46 pm

What an interesting background. I became an advocate for vocational schools when I quit high school. I took business classes in high school and made more money working for a pharmacy doing their books than I did my first 2 years of teaching. After I left education we moved to Arizona. I had worked as a foreman for a general contractor here in San Diego and tried to get a construction job there. I was ridiculed; insulted; and made fun of, and I was in my late forties.

Bless you for help in paving the way for other females. (One of my best secretaries in Bangor, ME, left Job Corps to join the Coast Guard. She ranks it as the #1 accomplishment in her life.)

Congrats on your sons. I suspect that maybe you had something to do with their success.



Sarah October 6, 2010 at 6:17 pm

Thanks, Judi. I’ll happily take some credit for their success. I’m beyond proud of my sons. One is a hippie warrior poet sort of man who writes like a dream and the other will be a USN Submarine Officer when he finishes nuclear power school.

By the way, I never felt as if I was paving the way, just as I never felt like a feminist. I give the credit to the women who actually fought to get the doors open. All I had to do was be brave enough, or perhaps foolish enough, to walk through them and ignore the assholes. By the time I came along “they” HAD to accept me, whether they liked it or not. Honestly, it was kind of fun to watch them squirm.


judi October 6, 2010 at 6:36 pm

Perhaps you weren’t the first one, Sarah, but you continued to lead the way for others to follow you. It was not easy being a female in a male profession; yet I am sure that as you continued your work your workmates began to respect you and pretty soon forgot that you were any different than them. That is what we strove to do in the 60’s, 70,’s and 80’s. I know it was fun to sit back and watch, but Lord help us if we didn’t produce. And as for your sons – what a wonderful model you must have been.


Patty Jones October 6, 2010 at 6:38 pm

Sarah, your credentials sounds an awful lot like mine! I dropped out the beginning of my junior year, bored to death and stymied by the rules that disallowed me from taking auto shop and the misogynistic teacher that drove me out of metal shop. I did take drafting classes in high school and junior high (I was the first girl to take drafting in junior high in the La Mesa-Spring Valley school district). I passed the California high school equivalency exam and went on with my life.

I was a roofer for a few years, taunted by the old men in the union hall, but I worked. Even though I was a “token” in the beginning (there were only 2 of us women in the carpenters union then) I was got hired by one of the biggest (in the late ’70’s) shops in the county and the owner drove up to the job site to meet me. I never had much trouble with the guys on the job sites, but did have a run-in with a job superintendent. I was working in Santee on a huge housing tract, it was summer and hotter than hell. I was working in my bathing suit top and was told that I was a hazard and to put my shirt on. I refused. Back then all the guys worked without shirts and I told him that if I had to wear a shirt then so did the guys, and of course I had 30 guys standing behind me staring down the super! And yeah, I could carry an 80 pound bundle of shingles up a ladder.

I finally quit, figured that kind of work would make me old way before my time. I went on to community college where I took drafting and tech classes, and landed a job in the company where I worked for 27 years. I worked in a machine shop and still do (well, for another few weeks, but that’s another story…).

A good friend of mine was a teacher in the Grossmont High School district, a shop teacher. Through him I witnessed the demise of the “Industrial Arts”. They turned the metal shop into a weight room for the football players. The wood shop went away as did the auto shop. I know these classes kept many kids coming to school when they felt there was nothing else for them. I know if more of them had been available to me I may well have stayed in high school.

Thank Judi for stirring this pot!


judi October 6, 2010 at 6:47 pm

Hi Patti,
The only “A” I got in high school was in Auto Mechanic’s and I had to fight to get in the class. I had a 1953 Classic MG-TD and I wanted to learn how to work on it. The counselor told me that I didn’t have the brains to complete high school and all I would do in my life was to pump gas.

Funny – the three of us all had similar experiences in high school and after.When I was a principal in San Ysidro they spent all sorts of money on outfitting the Industrial Arts building and I hired the best teacher I could find – Rudy Lingardo. Then the program went away, as so many of those programs did. My hat is off to you – another warrior! Judi


Patty Jones October 6, 2010 at 6:50 pm

Another uppity woman!


annagrace October 6, 2010 at 7:17 pm

I would really like to cut and paste the conversation among Patty, Judi and Sarah to my article on feminism- Are We There Yet? Students drop out of school and are alienated for many reasons. One of those reasons was because of the stultifying expectations and limitations that were routinely applied along gender lines. You all survived. Here’s to you!


Patty Jones October 6, 2010 at 7:54 pm

Cut and paste me, Anna, you have my permission. Sarah, Judi?


Sarah October 6, 2010 at 8:08 pm

cut and paste away… but will you correct my typo?


judi October 6, 2010 at 8:13 pm

I’m pasteable too!


Sarah October 6, 2010 at 7:59 pm

I’ve loved annagrace’s series on feminism and I’ve loved this thread/conversation, too!

Just to add to the conversation, my niece, who just turned 22, quit school when she was 17, got her GED, joined the Coast Guard and is running surf rescue boats on the Washington Coast. She’s 6 ft tall, smart as a whip and tough as nails. She was selected as enlist person of year for her last command and her Commanding Officer claimed that she was the single finest enlisted person he’d had the privilege of serving with in over 30 years in the CG. Watching her receive that award gave me soul-deep chills. She was my son’s official “first salute” when he was commissioned in June.

I’ll stop bragging now. Thanks for listening!


Patty Jones October 6, 2010 at 8:05 pm



judi October 6, 2010 at 8:17 pm

Don’t ever stop bragging. We need to let people know that a drop-out doesn’t mean failure. How exciting it must have been to have that salute. I liked the feminism article too. Judi


Sarah October 6, 2010 at 8:07 pm

Patty, my brief attempt at community college was in the Architectural Drafting program. I couldn’t get past the first week of drawing bricks.

I’m not at all surprised we have such similar backgrounds. Somewhere you got a lot more “stick-to-itiveness” than I did, ’cause the only thing I’ve done for 27 years is breath and pay taxes. I’m anxious to see what you decide to do next.

Any ideas?


Patty Jones October 6, 2010 at 8:18 pm

Lots of ideas… we’ll see. Too bad I couldn’t make a living working here (the Rag) but I’ll be sending out my resume real soon. Hell, I should post it here, at least then whoever hires me will know my political bent! The corp I work for now blocks site like these. It’s hard to hide your uppity-ness for long. ;)


judi October 6, 2010 at 8:22 pm

One of the hardest things for me to do when teaching – and later “administering” was not being able to put bumper stickers on my car during elections. My late husband and I were so active in the democratic party – he, more than me – and as a Superintendent of Schools had to be even more careful than me in what he expounded on. Imagine our surprise when we attended a Democratic meeting in San Francisco – our abode at the time – and bumped into the School Board President. He, too, said he had to keep his ideas quiet, and I always thought that was unfair.


Frank Gormlie October 7, 2010 at 8:16 am

Wow! the hidden history of my GF!!! Actually I knew some of it, but what a story! Just for that – I’ll cook last night (which I did before even reading this).


judi October 7, 2010 at 8:19 am

Yeah, but who did you cook for? What about the rest of us poor, starving women! Judi


Ernie McCray October 5, 2010 at 5:58 pm

You hit a lot of great points, Judi. In particular I want to scream every time I hear an educator go on and on about how the class sizes are too large in regards to teaching students. It can be done. I’ve done it. Now, it might not be fair or humane for a teacher to have to deal with too many bodies and minds, after all it is a human relationship, facilitating learning for students – but it’s doable. Everything is possible with creative people. Now what isn’t fair, to me, is a student having to be in someone’s classroom who has an excuse for not meeting his or her needs.


judi October 5, 2010 at 8:18 pm

Wow Ernie! Where were you when I was staffing my schools? I started out teaching with 46 students and 36 desks in a new school that still didn’t have the floors in it. We moved the desks around every few hours. Those kids learned. In fact, that may be why I always got upset when I would walk into a classroom and see rows. And you are right – it may not be fair, but it is doable. And sometime REAL learning takes place. Are you still in education?



Ernie McCray October 5, 2010 at 9:06 pm

I’m retired but I work with teachers and classrooms using drama and poetry and prose and movement and whatever will make it exciting and fun – with CoTA (Collaboration of Teachers and Artists).
My first year of teaching I had 44 kids for most of the year, a classroom that the “new” teacher inherits, if you know what I mean. Those kids killed me the first few weeks as I tried to have them conform to about 10 rules I had devised in some methods class at the University of Arizona. There was one kid, in particular, who just jumped on my last nerve the first few seconds of every school day. He had me going home in tears many a day. One day I went home and wrote a peppy little poem about this kid to the tune and beat of a popular tv commercial back then for Sunbeam Bread. It was a put down of him, in a way, but done in a nice clever way and he and the kids cracked up like you wouldn’t believe. And I started to getting the feeling that this is about human relations, about everybody sharing who they are and showing off what they can do.
I started telling the kids about my life, about my experiences with Jim Crow and they would lean towards me. I told them about college life and my experiences in the marine reserves and my playing ball, about my kids and my failing marriage… And one day out at P.E. a kid missed a basket just shooting around and I jumped up and palmed the ball and did a reverse 360 slam dunk and the world stood still and then awakened with an ear splitting “WOW!”
And from that moment on I have facilitated learning experiences for children and teens with the intent of getting them to go “WOW!”
During Vietnam I taught at Perry Elementary in Bayview Naval Housing. Most of my students’ fathers were off to war and we created performance pieces and wrote poetry and prose that exposed the fears we held in our souls, sending dads reel to reel tapes and copies of our writings… We talked to each other, from our hearts, not from that condescending place adults usually go to when conversing with young people…We hugged each other when John was killed during our school day and analyzed all that went with that, incorporating it in our unit on “Latin America.” Then, with the war uglifying the world in the background, Malcolm went down and Martin and Bobby went down… And I learned so much about teaching and learning, about humanizing it and making it relevant, about making it sizzle and shine. There’s nothing in the world more exciting than learning.
Hey, you and I, Judi, have enjoyed the most amazing profession there is – teaching kids, just being around them, caught up in their spirit, their zest for life. With pay, no matter how little they say it is. It doesn’t get any better than that.


judi October 5, 2010 at 9:39 pm

How poignant your answer is, Ernie. The wonderment of seeing our students enjoy learning is second to nothing a school board could pay me at the end of the month. So often we teach page 72 because it follows page 71, and there is no connection to what is going on in the world around us. I remember when Kennedy was killed – JFK – my first year of teaching. I was reprimanded by my principal – teaching 4,5,6, gifted, 46 students – for watching television and discussing the horrible details of the day. He asked me if the students were ready for the math test tomorrow – and I answered, “who cares. This is history in the making, and it will be much more meaningful than the State math test tomorrow.) And, of course, school was closed for several days and the math test was given weeks later. How much more meaningful learning can be when a student can relate to the topic. If you are going to teach 5 + 6 = 11, they will learn it a whole lot faster if they use manipulatives- and who doesn’t know that 5 M&M’s, plus 6 more M&M’s = 11. Or give a student 15 raisins and ask him how many are left if he eats 9 of them or…… I love your basketball story; your rap song, etc. I bet you still hear from some of your students. I do. Thanks for sharing your story with me – and the other readers. Judi


Ernie McCray October 5, 2010 at 11:05 pm

I hear from and/or run into students all the time. A number are friends for life. Wow, someone worrying about math tests when history is all about you. I don’t know if I’ve had a richer year of learning than going through JFK’s death in the 63-64 school year, my second year of teaching in San Diego. I’ve found that learning begats learning. That year my kids were so turned on to exploring their world and ideas that the enthusiasm spilled over into all the subjects. I would be willing to bet that your students probably did as well as they could on the State Math Tests with their minds so open to input.
My principal was very much appreciative of what I did in the classroom during that horrible assassination – mainly because I was just about the only one on the staff who kept the discussion going beyond the first day or two after the event. We discussed it all year, based on the worldwide stories that kept circulating for the months leading up to the end of the school year. I couldn’t have picked a better principal, Irv McClure, to have during my first years of teaching. He let me fly which was so comforting since he couldn’t have kept me from flying. I’ve always done what I feel to be the right thing to do when it comes to teaching or running a school (with everybody, including children having some ownership), not out of defiance, but because I can only do, in good conscience, what I can defend, what I can explain, what I can believe in. My mirror is my harshest critic and when I can’t face it I snap to.


judi October 6, 2010 at 8:55 am

Where are the Irv McClure’s today? Too busy meeting the state requirements to really care about how much learning and retention is taking place? Too many meetings called by the Administration to discuss poor scores? (I was an Administrator – and I like to think that MY meetings were about the students.) When I worked for the Job Corps – three different campuses, all run by the DOL but under the auspices of different contractors, I could see the rules and regulations first hand. We always used to say that as long as lay people were legislating education, Job Corps would always be in business, because most of our students were high-school dropouts. Yet, properly motivated, those kids received GED’s – much harder, in my opinion, than getting a high school diploma where they received credit for PE; Art; Music, etc. and were able to reenter society as a viable human being. Someday I hope that the powers that be look at the “whole child” – and not the subject matter parts that make up the whole. We can still teach science, history, etc., but we can do it in an exciting way rather than all “book larning.”



RB October 6, 2010 at 11:15 am

If your student is going to college, make sure their teachers majored in math, science, English or history and that they follow the book.
If your students are looking to be socially promoted, make sure their teachers have a degree in education, are entertaining, and avoids the complex issues in the book.

Also, teachers who majored in education should never teach high level high school classes. The AP classes that high school students take in English and Science and their math classes in statistics, calculus, and pre-calc are much more rigorous than what teachers take in watered down classes in education departments.


judi October 6, 2010 at 12:32 pm

I basically disagree with you. When I was staffing my own junior high school I wanted teachers that could meet the needs of the “whole” child. What makes you think that people that major in “education” do not have the same ability as those that are subject matter specialists? Many of the high school teachers use the same lecture notes they were using when they started teaching years ago. Teaching Science, English and Math can – no SHOULD – be made exciting. It is the “understanding” that is necessary, and many instructors do not have the knowledge because they only have to be one page ahead of the student. AP classes, something I taught for a while, was as exciting to the student with the methods I used as was the first grader I also taught how to recognize the words in their first primer. To generalize the way you have done is a disservice to those dedicated teachers that spend their lives motivating students to achieve success, regardless if they are subject matter specialists or educational specialists. After all, our product is the same.


RB October 6, 2010 at 12:55 pm

I taught classes as a graduate student to students in the education department. They took math, and science classes for non majors that were several levels below the courses taught to the general university population.

Finland requires teachers to major in subject areas. It is time for our teachers to join the rest of the students at our university in real classes outside these departments of education.


judi October 6, 2010 at 12:57 pm

God help us – and our students – if they do, and I don’t say that lightly. Perhaps you, as a grad student, fall under the heading of “subject matter” specialist that only care about your own subject.


RB October 7, 2010 at 9:02 am

Perhaps we could partner with Finland, ranked number one in education. They could educate our engineers, scientist, and mathematicians. And here in the US schools, we could continue to socially promote, inflate grades, pay for attendance not performance, and produce ‘whole’ children who are ready to work in the food service industry.

Ernie McCray October 6, 2010 at 1:19 pm

You got it.


judi October 6, 2010 at 1:34 pm

Thanks – again.


Ernie McCray October 6, 2010 at 1:21 pm

In this discussion about education let me throw “The Hip School” in:


judi October 6, 2010 at 1:36 pm

Wonderful, Ernie. My granddaughter goes to High Tech – the fun part of it. She didn’t like school – still does not like the enormous amount of homework she gets – but is learning to love learning. Where can I sign her up for the “hip school?”



Ernie McCray October 6, 2010 at 2:03 pm

Generally speaking it doesn’t get much hipper than High Tech High based on a visit I made to one of the campuses a couple of years ago to discuss my career. I had a ball. You could see the love for the school in the kids’ eyes. Reminded me of my John Muir Alternative School Days. I was one of the founders of the school, the principal for the first four years 74-78. That was an experience of a lifetime.


judi October 6, 2010 at 2:50 pm

I was so pleased when she got into the program. She was at San Diego Cooperative before that. Her brother was accepted into the Middle School Program at High Tech, but decided he didn’t want to make the change this year. I hope he will be accepted for next year.

Looks like our careers paralleled each other. Oh the joy that was had.



J. Browne October 7, 2010 at 8:38 am

One more factor that causes kids to drop out….the need to work. I began working full time in the 11th grade. I had work study and lunch as my last two periods. I left school each day at noon and worked until 7pm, then worked a 10 hour Saturday. I didn’t drop out, but my grades suffered because of it. I help support my family and I have to say that I learned more from that experience then in any class. We had a small family business and couldn’t afford to hire employees. I was not paid but did receive a small allowance “weekend spending money” every Friday. It gave me the opportunity to learn a trade, which I then used to later to pay for college. Which, I have to say, was a waste of my money.


judi October 7, 2010 at 11:56 am

You know – I forgot about that. I also left school early to work. The last two periods of the day, as I recall. And, because I was under 16 I did not get “work experience” for that either. (I ditched school.) Good point. Thanks for bringing it up.


Jaimee October 8, 2010 at 10:33 pm

Here Here!!! As a Special Education teacher of those kids, you know the ones you don’t want your child to sit by. The ones that come with the label, behavior challenged, SED, out of control, un-teachable, damaged due to environment, can and do learn. I love the young people I teach 7-10 grades. They are bright, creative, with a sense of humor that can rival the best comedian. The difference between them and the General Education student is they rebel against the boring; and so would I. My son dropped out in 10th grade, and no matter what I tried to do, say, cry or reason with him I couldn’t get him to go back. He made more money with his job, he was a pedi-cab cyclist and made excellent tips – because of his sense of humor and his ability talk to people. He was one of those kids! After much fighting he finally allowed me and my school psychologist friend to assess him – the schools refused since he was already in Special Education.What I looked for was HOW he learned. I thought I knew my son’s learning style, but I was really surprised. I knew he was bright, but I never realized his IQ (for what it’s worth) was well above the High range, 153, yet he wasn’t able to process written words in this brain. He could hear the lesson, give it back verbatim, type out what you wanted but not use the pencil and paper method well, I had always given him an adapter to enlarge the size of the tool, and still he failed time and time again.
When he was 20 he decided to go back to adult school and try again. There he met the most wonderful retired teacher tutor who he connected with. They talked bikes, cars, boats, swing dancing, rap music, any and everything that my son liked. He turned his likes into lessons. He taught him to read better by rapping out his lessons and stories – “The Night Before Christmas”, now has a whole different flow in our house, he learned fraction conversion to decimals, metric measurements, and so on by this man who engaged him in the Civil War through Chess pieces and the game Stratego and Risk. This wonder ful caring Retired Teacher was a true Teacher. When my son passed his GED and later got his Diploma he was the proudest I have ever seen him. Thanks to the dedication of a wonderful teacher, and there are thousands of them out there, my son is a successful tax paying, stand-up citizen. He votes, he is active in his community and is a wonderful husband.
So many teachers have good answers to the problems in education, but unfortunately we have little to say, big brother looks down on us. Who taught them! Where would they be without us. To the wittie, willing to be a little unconventional, teacher who gets to know your student’s GOOD FOR YOU! I have done some silly things in my career and I would do them all over again because it works. The key is to not give up and don’t just send them on through or packing for that matter. The young people of today have great insite – listen to it and teach them how to use it. You just might be amazed at the answers you receive.
Thanks for your article. These student’s are special and need to know just how much they mean to a successful society.


judi October 9, 2010 at 10:25 am

Dear Jaimee, Thank you for your answer to my article. I have seen you teach and know that by your using the “unorthodox” methods you used, your special challenges reached heights they would never have reached in a regular classroom. The sad thing is the “normal” child would have reached those same plateaus if they had been taught utilizing those same methods. How many of those students, not classified as “special” dropped out of school because the “powers” making the rules do not know how children learn; don’t care; and will not listen to those educators that have studied learning methods. The concern is with standardized test scores. Some of those teachers with the highest test scores are lousy teachers. They aren’t teaching for learning; they are “teaching” to pass a test. I admire you and your fellow “Special Challenging” teachers. You have to have a deep love for your students, your subject matter, and your ability to succeed.



D'Ann October 9, 2010 at 1:53 pm


Thank you….

I too was a High School drop out and for many of the same reasons as you. I simply DID NOT fit within the mold of a traditional education. I left school, ran off and got married and found a wonderful alternative school, in of all places, Cheyenne, Wy. There I completed my entire Senior year in six weeks because I was allowed to work at my own pace. I ended up graduating that year with a 3.5. I later went on to receive my Bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Oregon.

As for what to do to prevent drop-outs- I think an overhaul of the system is badly needed. I think if innovative principals and teachers would develop even classrooms within schools that targeted individual needs, be they advanced or learning style, we’d see something amazing happen. We could do this without really allocating MORE money, but simply revamping what we have.

I am a big fan doing away with grades (as in 1st, 2nd, 3rd) and focusing on KNOWLEDGE. That alone would end social promotion and age segregation. We also need to stop focusing solely on kids’ weaknesses and more on their strengths. We force kids into tutoring to improve on their deficiencies (and most likely things they hate) and do nothing to foster and enhance their strengths. My mother had to consistently fight teachers to allow me to read books at a HIGHER level than what my peers were reading, because everyone had to be the same!

We must stop thinking that every child learns the same way. I remember getting C’s and D’s in classes because I did not take “proper” notes. BUT, I was getting A’s and B’s on all the tests. Bottom line, I am auditory learner and keeping notes that way that some educational “expert” said was best, simply did not work for me.

I come from a long line of educators and the sad part is, the system itself also beats any innovation, creativity or attempt at reform out of them as well. Partly this is because we as a society fight reform so ardently. School fits our life in many ways those- or at least it trains us to behave a certain way. Clock in an eight, do the work you’re supposed to do, clock out at three…if you venture to deviate from that, in school OR life, you are labeled as some kind cultural misanthrope.

At any rate, thank you. We need more drop outs to speak up….


judi October 9, 2010 at 2:28 pm

Hello D’Ann. Thank you for responding to my article. I agree so much with what you are saying. There should not be a stigma attached to the “dropout” label, because so many of us have been successes – not BECAUSE of school – but in spite of it. Like you, I was married at 17; went back to school because my “then-husband” was working on his BA and said, ” . . . no wife of mine is not going to have a high school diploma”. So…I went back at night and got my diploma. Shortly after that, and after having my first child (age 18), my “ex” said to me, while working on his MA – “no wife of mine is not going to have a BA degree” and so I went back to school to get my BA. Shortly after having my second child and working full time, my “ex” said, while working on his Ph.D – “no wife of mine is not going to have a MA degree” – and so I went back to school; had another child; received my MA, and filed for divorce! Yet, like you, my career path was extraordinary, and the reason I think we were successful was because we recognized what the schools were not doing for us – and others – and fought to show that we could be a success in spite of them. But alas, D’Ann. I received my MA in 1965 – yeah – I’m old – but nothing has changed in the school system.

I agree the grade levels should be eliminated. Place the student where he/she is at that time. Don’t call it anything. Just meet his/her needs.
And you are so “right on” – it would not cost any more money. It would mean a “retraining” of the teacher and administration. (As aside: I was hired by Fred Craig, Supt. of the Poway school district – to do just that: Retrain teachers to meet their student’s needs. Poway was, and still is, one of the highest performing school districts in the State.)

I bet when you were getting the “A’s and B’s” on tests, and doing poorly on the other written word you were accused of “cheating.” That’s the way it was for me. I have – had – perfect pitch musically, but I could not hear the sounds in trying to learn Phonics. I didn’t show my math work – just knew how to get the answers, but was always accused of copying someone because there was “no way I could learn those things” without writing them down.

When I was teaching at SDSU, USIU, UCSD, etc., I was always called to school districts to do workshops for the current teachers. I made quite an inroad in meeting the individual needs of the students. I lectured all over California and from the feedback I received it was very successful. I don’t know why, or when, those school districts went back to traditional teaching. Probably money. But I wish there were more advocates out there for the children. As I have said over and over, “we cannot recall our product to put in the missing part. If the child does not learn it is not the child’s fault – (and I used the word “child” without meaning little children) it is our fault – the teacher – the administration – the school board – because we do not have objectives for the individual – only for the group.”

Hope to hear from you again, and, again, thanks for your input.


Shane Finneran October 10, 2010 at 11:41 pm

In Tucson, Arizona, the Mexican American Studies program — which offers students non-traditional curriculum such as English classes that incorporate Chicano literature and history classes that talk about Mexican history — has posted a graduation rate of 97%, versus a rate of less than 50% for students not in the program. Seems like the students get more into the classes when the classes are more connected to the students.

Well, Arizona’s lovely lawmakers in the state’s house of reps, led by a schools chief who happens to be running for state attorney general, passed House Bill 2281, which will soon shut down Tucson’s Mexican American Studies program because supposedly it’s discriminatory, or is a threat to national security, or all of the above.



judi October 11, 2010 at 6:51 am

Isn’t it amazing how people can turn things around to fit their needs? ANY program, when it inculcates history/literature, etc. that has meaning to the learning, is learning “going to happen.” How can this program be “discriminatory” when the Arizona law allows authorities to stop a person and ask for I.D. because he LOOKS different? And such a simple way of getting through the Mexican American Study program – you offer it to everyone.

Thanks, Shane, for getting my blood to boil at 6:50am!



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