My school has 16 students between the ages of 12 and 21. They are all from the same town, a small community in the St. Louis Metro East that has fewer than 4,000 residents and covers an area about 3 miles by 4 miles. The topography of the town is flat, and there are no bodies of water that have to be crossed to get from one side of town to the other. Outside temperatures can be cold-ish in the winter and hott-ish in the spring and fall, but generally stay between 20-85. School busses run for all kids who live more than a mile from school, and for our students, transportation is provided regardless of residence location.
Education in our town is free for all and compulsory up to age 17. Our school is air-conditioned, heated, has running water, and has some of the most up-to-date technology of any schools in the county. Every classroom has a SmartBoard, 1-1 net books, and desk top computers. Some classrooms are equipped with iPads, class responders, wireless slates.
Both breakfast and lunch are served to students in our school. Breakfasts can be light, but always include milk and juice. Lunches have at least 3 items plus milk.
This always makes me sad, but after seeing the photo (http://photoblog.msnbc.msn.com/_news/2012/01/20/10197332-indonesian-children-make-perilous-journey-to-school-over-collapsed-bridge) below of children in Indonesia crossing a broken foot bridge to get to school, I got angry. Some children in the world literally risk their lives to get an education. Each day they brave dangerous conditions just to sit in a poorly equipped classroom and LEARN something. Why don't we have that drive to better ourselves here? Why do some students throw away this golden opportunity? Why isn't education VALUED the same here as it is in other places?
I know some of the answers to these questions. Nothing that is given for free is valued for very long. Nothing that is made too easy comes with much of a sense of satisfaction. Nothing that doesn't have to be earned in some respect gets a whole lot of attention because it isn't going to be taken away. The fact that schools are free isn't the root of the problem, but it does seem to me that we value what we pay for more than what we don't.
I'm not suggesting that schools become pay institutions. What I am suggesting is that students who do not want to be in school, who don't value education, who come to school and take up space while disrupting the learning of their peers, who aren't invested in any way...be given a different option. Create vocational programs, work programs...something else. Make education in schools the privelege of those who want to be there and who take advantage of what is offered.
Photo Credit: Beawiharta/Reuters