by Joe Kirkpatrick
I have been very blessed to have had a very good business career. Throughout the years, I have started and owned several businesses, one of which had five locations in two states. For the past 10 plus years, I have also written a monthly column in The People News. Despite all of my success, if I were in school today, I would be a failure and a dropout.
For those of you who have read my column over the years, you no doubt have read before about my struggles when I was in school. My wife, a veteran educator of 35 years, has said my problem is that I have Attention Deficient Disorder, commonly known as "ADD." Unfortunately, back when I was in school it was referred to as "He is smart enough, but is just lazy and doesn't apply himself." However, even back then, if I was really interested in something, I could easily learn and master it. Though I did not do great in any subject, math and English were my biggest down falls. Recently, my wife, who is now retired, substituted in a third grade class and brought home one of today's third grade math problems for me to work. I could not do it. In third grade today, this was no 3 x 5 = 15 type of problem. It was a problem with an equation, and not only does the student have to get the answer, they also have to write a narrative of how they got their answer. Now for the kicker: Even if they get the wrong answer, if the explanation of how they got the answer sounds reasonable, they still get at least partial credit.
From what I understand, they have also added a requirement of two more "advanced" math credits that are going to be required for graduation. I would state that the advance math they already have is tough enough that it already is partially responsible for the current dropout rate being so high. And by the way, do not believe school officials when they brag about their graduation rate being so high. The term "Graduation rate" is a fairly recently invented term and is not the same as the "Dropout rate." In our school systems here, as well as across the country, the dropout rate is still about 33%, the same as it has been for the past fifty years. In other words, 1 out of 3 children who enter first grade this fall will never graduate from high school.
What is the solution? The fact is, most children that are in school today are NOT going to have a job in life that requires advanced math skills. Most children in school today will NOT need Tennessee history to get by in life. Most children in that school today will NOT need to know what an adjective or noun is. And, only about 25% of students who graduate from high school will graduate from college. What do these children need? A few years ago, Judge Russell Bean, a general sessions judge in Chattanooga, wrote a letter to the editor at the Chattanooga Times Free Press in which he stated, "Students do not need two more higher math credits, they need vocational training." Judge Bean, who is a former teacher and graduate of now defunct Kirkman Vocational High School in Chattanooga, should know. Everyday in his courtroom, he is faced with dealing with many offenders, very few of which have a high school education.
As I have said before, it is time to overhaul our education system. Sure, offer the advanced math and science classes for the students who want them, but provide enhanced vocational education for those who don't. Some schools now have very good vocational programs, but the catch is they still require the participants to pass their other non-vocational courses as well. That requirement needs to be dropped, and a "High School Vocational Degree," which is equal to a regular high school diploma, be given to those who complete the program.
By the way, if I was in school today in the current regular curriculum path, I guarantee you I would be in the 33% that drop out!