Friday’s grist for my mill

I will have an hour to blog before I go off to paint our church’s parlor. I’ve promised my thoughts on what it will take for Hillary to get my vote and I have the last four days worth of posts Monday-through-Thursday sitting incomplete as reminders to me of what was once on my mind. Maybe I’ll get to them on Saturday.

Today’s NPR story is the grist for my mill today especially in this week of graduations. Its headline: More Than 6 Million U.S. Students Are ‘Chronically Absent’. With all the other school board members I’ve been celebrating the kids who crossed the finish line of childhood with a high school diploma. Now they embark on the marathon of adulthood.

Since I graduated from college I’ve been more exercised about the kids who having been getting to this point. She told me she didn’t believe in hell. To her the only hell was the one that we create on Earth. She also told me that if there was a Hell she expected God to go there and save all its wretched people.

I was no god. Once I began teaching I didn’t have a clue what to do with kids who came into my classes knowing that school was going to let them down.

This was very much on my mind when I first began running for the school board in in the early 90’s. In one of my first three failed campaigns I was alerted by a couple of school counselors that our school administration was fudging graduation rates and downplaying dropouts. It led me to do some research and write what I called “The Dropout Report.” It begins:

“One out of five school children in Duluth do not graduate from school and the School District is doing little to improve this dropout rate. Furthermore, this 80 percent rate may be a low estimate. Existing evidence suggests that the graduation rate is, or has recently been, less than 80 per cent. The corresponding dropout rate is at least 20 percent and possibly greater. Except for a very few administrators, the School administration seems unaware that only 80 percent of our children graduate from Duluth’s public schools.”

This beginning is noteworthy. In both my report twenty-five years ago and in today’s NPR story the 20% dropout statistic hold steady. I have no idea what our graduation rate is today but I doubt that things got any better in Duluth as our elitists raced to eat up our general fund by pouring it into bigger and better school buildings. Our Denfeld faculty tried to tell us that kids were coming into their classes unprepared.

The first year I found myself back on the Board I immediately began volunteering with Lifehouse to get a look at the kids who were struggling and were most likely not to graduate. That gig fizzled out as our damned school board decided to turn its attention to removing Art Johnston who was far too preoccupied with the inattention paid out to kids in Western Duluth Schools. Art has always been dangerous as KBJR TV reported. He reminds me of the recent superhero movies where government attempts to shackle them because of all the mayhem they cause fighting the bad guys.

Maybe we can get back to kids now. A good first step would be to see if in the past twenty-five years Duluth has improved on its rate of graduation. The NPR report tells us that the first sign of a dropout is absenteeism. As the story says, even the best teacher can’t teach a student who isn’t in class. I’m sure that DFT President Burnham would agree with this.

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