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Editorial: Common sense says stay in school

Book sense vs. common sense ó which would you rather have?
Common sense, no doubt, because knowing what’s in a bunch of books is worthless if you don’t know how to act.
But teens who drop out of high school and spurn book sense aren’t showing the best common sense, either. Dropping out greatly increases the odds that they could be in for a hard life.
A column I wrote a couple of weeks ago alluded to this fact. “You can have common sense without ‘book sense,'” it said, “but that won’t land you a good job.”
Funny how people interpret things. Someone asked on the Post’s Web site if this was a dig at two local candidates who did not go to college. No. I was not thinking of politicians.
– – –
Forget college for the moment. I was referring to the importance of earning a high school diploma. I was thinking about the many indicators that high-school dropouts could be in for a world of trouble.
Here are some statistics from a report, “The Silent Epidemic,” funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation:
– Dropouts are more likely than high school graduates to be unemployed, in poor health, living in poverty, on public assistance and single parents with children who drop out of high school.
– Dropouts earn $9,200 less per year than high school graduates and more than $1 million less over a lifetime than college graduates.
– Dropouts were more than twice as likely as high school graduates to slip into poverty in a single year and three times more likely than college graduates to be unemployed in 2004.
– Dropouts are more than eight times as likely to be in jail or prison as high school graduates.
– Dropouts are four times less likely to volunteer than college graduates, twice less likely to vote or participate in community projects, and represent only 3 percent of actively engaged citizens in the U.S. today
– The government would reap $45 billion in extra tax revenues and reduced costs in public health, crime, and welfare payments if the number of high school dropouts among 20-year olds in the U.S. today, which numbers more than 700,000 individuals, were cut in half.
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On the flip side, some famous people dropped out of high school to follow their dreams and did quite well.
– Albert Einstein: The father of E=mc2, a physics genius, finished his high school studies on his own and, on his second try, passed the entrance exam to the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology.
– John D. Rockefeller Sr.: The United States’ first billionaire was a self-made man, leaving school two months before graduation and going on years later to co-found Standard Oil.
– Walt Disney: The father of all things Disney and a true American legend drew and animated the first Mickey Mouse film, and the rest is history.
– David Murdock: The California billionaire who owns Dole Food and dreamed up the N.C. Research Campus dropped out of high school and joined the Army, serving during World War II.
In the music and movie business, high school dropouts are legion ó John Travolta, Tom Cruise, Elton John, Ray Charles, Louis Armstrong, Whoopie Goldberg …
So dropouts are not absolutely destined to failure. If you have drive and gumption and that special spark of creativity, you could go far.
For every enormous success, though, there are millions of others in obscurity, eking out a living wishing they’d at least finished high school. One of the most important lines on a job application is “education.” If you can’t claim a high school diploma or any post-secondary education, you’re going to leave a lot of blank lines. And that will speak volumes to prospective employers.
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Public schools are under pressure to improve the graduation rate ó to become more relevant and compelling so students will stay engaged. The No. 1 reason students leave before getting a diploma, according to “The Silent Epidemic,” is that school is not interesting. Other reasons cited are having missed too many days of school to be able to catch up, spending a lot of time with people not interested in school and failing.
There’s one other disincentive that parents everywhere should take note of. Thirty-eight percent of the dropouts surveyed checked “too much freedom and not enough rules in my life” as a reason for dropping out. In other words, their lives lacked structure and parental discipline, so they did what they wanted. And they did not want to go to school.
The schools can’t use bad parenting as a cop-out. It’s their responsibility to work with students no matter what circumstances they come from. Schools can help young people build better lives for themselves.
But Rowan Countians need to look in the mirror. Some of the blame for the falling graduation rate here goes to the local culture ó people of all races and school districts who put no stock in education. They didn’t graduate. Plus, they’ve got problems of their own ó overdue bills, alcohol and drug habits, chronic illness, lost loves and weak wills. The kids can fend for themselves.
Somewhere in the balance between common sense and book sense, Rowan needs to find its sense of purpose. If adults don’t value education, their children won’t, either.
– – –
Elizabeth Cook is editor of the Salisbury Post.

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