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Nonfiction Matters
Inside Nonfiction Matters

50 Percent

Did You See the Article on the SLJ Site About Graduation Rates? This 50% rate reminds me of the number Bill Gates used in a speech to African American software engineers: if you track African American 9th graders nationwide, only 50% will graduate high school. The SLJ article in effect takes that national picture and shows us focuses in on the concentrated areas of failure. 

What can we do — as authors, librarians, teachers, parents, what possible role can we have in a problem as intractable as this, where the Gates Foundation with its billions, much less the government itself, is not making any clear headway. 

Being a child of the 60s, I have to begin with consciousness raising. Realizing that we have this abomination, this stain on the health and future of the nation is an important first step. We have numbers like this because, on some level, we accept them, we treat them as normal, just part of the national landscape. 

What would not accepting a 50% failure rate — which is what this is, not a 50% graduation rate, it is a 50% doom rate — look like? How about this for a radical idea — mandate that every child in America must graduate from high school, and if at 15-16 some clearly will not, they go into an alternate track of some form of national service that includes education. That is, they are trained to do some sort of CCC-style ecological clean up work, or to help out with the elderly, or some such. The idea is that there is no free fall — either you march through school, or you are fed into a help-out-plus-learn program.

How is this paid for — I don’t know, though I have to think that over any extended period, the social gain of having better educated more productive workers would surely pay for the cost of creating them. I realize too that there will always be exceptions — teenagers with children, kids who support families, kids with some religious objections. Still when a person has a serious illness, doctors may call for radical treatments, and when a nation is losing half of its children to a life of poverty, illness, poverty, and failure we too must consider extreme steps. What do you think?