Thinking the Unthinkable
"Let Them Drop Out" by Jackson Toby, in The Weekly Standard (Apr. 9, 2001), 1150 17th St., N.W., Ste. 505, Washington, D.C. 20036–4617.
Why has the rash of school mass murders afflicted stereotypically "good" suburban schools, such as Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, rather than wretched inner-city high schools? In the answer, argues Toby, a Rutgers University sociologist, lies a practical way to prevent some of the massacres.
The disruptive students responsible for the everyday (but usually less lethal) violence in inner-city schools are able to escape, he says, before their frustration with being trapped in the classroom "reaches a flashpoint." They become chronic truants or actual dropouts; schoolwork does not enjoy sufficient parental or peer group support to keep them in class. But for kids in excellent suburban schools, Toby says, dropping out is unthinkable: "Their parents would be horrified. Their friends would be bewildered. Their teachers would be shocked." Though students in such schools can feel trapped and miserable for what adults would consider trivial reasons—"the teasing of classmates, a poor body-image, athletic or romantic failures, unpopularity"—the consequences of their feelings sometimes can be explosive.
Let the troubled youths go, urges Toby. If they are too young to leave school, then get them into alternative schools. If they are old enough, let them drop out. McDonald’s may succeed where the high school failed. The dropouts can always finish high school later. "Formal education is not the only path to responsible adulthood," Toby notes.