Today you brought me a withdrawal form. I was not surprised. Sad, but not surprised. I get it. I can see why you think dropping out is the best option for you. I won’t pretend to know exactly what’s going on with you.
I know your dad isn’t around anymore, and I know that you work weekends and everyday after school. I know that school has been a struggle for you, possibly since day one. I also know that we have failed you.
For years we promised not to leave you (or any child) behind. Yet here you are in the middle of your junior year, and you read and write on maybe a 5th grade level. That isn’t your fault. We failed you.
Now we are promising to make you college and career ready. But you aren’t going to college, and you can’t see how reading Shakespeare or knowing what caused WWI will possibly lead to a career for you. We’ve made you sit through countless hours of math classes, but when you leave here, you won’t know how to apply for a loan or figure the interest rate on a credit card. That isn’t your fault. We have failed you.
It’s a tricky balance, education. I believe that every student, college-bound or not, should experience the joy of beautiful literature, the satisfaction of solving a complex math problem, and the wonder of science. To educate a student means more than just getting him ready to go to college or to get a job. It means helping him to see beauty and truth and equipping him to choose these, no matter what he does after high school. In that regard, we have most definitely failed you.
You hate science and history. You don’t get math. And you think Hemingway, Fitzgerald and Twain are stupid. It didn’t have to be that way. We bored you. We knew you were struggling, and we knew you weren’t going to go to college, but still we made you write annotated bibliographies and ten page research papers on space exploration.
I am sorry that we were so busy impressing ourselves with our own rigorous lessons that we didn’t just talk to you about how truly cool Romeo and Juliet is or about the absolutely fascinating wonder of human DNA. We took beauty and truth and we turned them into exhausting lists and papers and tests and tests and more tests.
We didn’t hone your ability to write a nice letter or fill out a job application or build a coffee table because we had to be so ridiculously academic about everything. You are a sharp kid. You are funny and interesting. You could have loved Huckleberry Finn or at least liked it. But we failed you, and now you are dropping out.
Again, I won’t pretend to know your life story. But I do know that you think you are wasting your time here. It shames me to say that you might be right. If you suffer through another year and a half you will get a diploma, and that’s important. That piece of paper will show you and any potential employer that you stuck it out. You finished. But if you suffer through another year and a half, I don’t think you will be any more prepared to work and live in the real world than you are right now. I get it. I’m sorry. We have failed you.
So, I’ll sign your withdrawal form. I’ll collect your text book. I’ll wish you good luck. And I will pray for you. I will pray that you find a job where they will train you to use your God-given talents—talents that we failed to recognize or develop because we were so busy developing new and excruciating ways to assess or own brilliance.
I will pray no one takes advantage of your lack of real-world knowledge. I will pray that you will be able to make a decent living, meet a nice girl, and that you will have a happy, satisfying life filled with beauty and truth. I pray that you will have children who will get to be truly educated, who won’t get left behind and who will be ready for whatever they want to do in life. I’m sorry you are dropping out of high school, but I get it.
I will pray for you. I will not fail.
Your (former) teacher
*The author of this post wishes to remain anonymous.