Day after day, I am asked by my math students, "Why do we have to learn this?" A sensible enough query, given my constant enjoinders to question most things. The traditional response that mathematics will come up in their daily lives is generally a blatant lie. Most adults are unable to reliably perform mathematics beyond arithmetic and a few percentage operations, and they function quite comfortably. I do have a few responses here, but they seem strangely inadequate:

  1. If you end up in a technical job, you'll actually use it! Such jobs pay well.
  2. It's necessary to graduate high school. This is alleged to be a reason.
  3. Mathematics teaches you to think logically.

Hardly compelling to those students not planning on becoming programmers. And indeed, beyond basic literacy and arithmetic, I question the usefulness of secondary education to the general public. Most of what is taught in high school history, science, and math courses is promptly forgotten in any case, as evidenced by the shocking degree of ignorance in the public arena. Most people can't find Europe on a map. High school geography clearly failed to "stick".

Why, then, do we force everybody through high school at all? In my area, the high school dropout rate is about 50%, and it's seldom hard to pick out the candidates in any 9th grade class. They're sullen, indifferent, accustomed to failure, and are learning little to nothing. Mostly, they sneak furtive looks at dirty pictures under the desks and make masturbation jokes. Why should they, or their unfortunate classmates, be subjected to this? They're hardly the only ones who suffer, the reluctant end of a class will drag the level of instruction down with them, at the expense of those interested in learning. Many of the most dreadful of high school classes come from teachers pandering to the lagging half of their students. With a class seriously interested in learning, any teacher could cover material about twice as quickly.

Indeed, by the beginning of high school, students are well past embarked upon either a college-track set of courses or a set designed merely to take them to graduation. Certainly, the occasional student makes a turnaround, but this is the exception rather than the rule.

I propose essentially the abolition of mandatory secondary education. By the beginning of high school, those students who have failed to become literate are unlikely to do so without a change of heart. Beyond literacy, only those students headed for professional careers are going to benefit considerably from further education.

Those students who gain little in high school would gain a good deal more from work experience or some variety of apprentice's position. If they're destined to be manual laborers, the jobs will provide valuable training, and the students mistaken in departing high school may find more benefits in an education after digging ditches for a while. Just as high school should no longer be mandatory, it should be quite willing to readmit returning students well into their twenties. Many 14-year-olds are simply too maddened by hormones and an unrealistic worldview to learn anything at all. A significant fraction of my male students are convinced they'll earn a living pimping. Several years of reality might well sober many of them into coming back and taking school more seriously.

The more idealistic response to altair would be to say that schooling is mandatory because there is a hope that at least some of those kids might actually learn some of it. This is important, no matter how many kids go through school without learning anything, it's worth it if at least 1 gains from it. Especially since all kids gain in some way.
Truth is, schools ensure that most of the population gain basic literacy and numeracy. Keeping them in high school allows them to practice these skills(though some inevitably slip through the net). High school provides a place for kids to be while they are growing up and and not yet ready to be in the wide world of adult life. Hopefully, high school gives them the right skills.

Anyway, you never know who might start enjoying which part of learning until you make them try it. You have to make sure that they're not doing something because they're too cool. This wasn't what schools were about when they started but that's what it is now. Kids that age think they know it all but it's up to us to let them down gently and show them the way.

If you disagree with this writeup, node it THEN downvote!

It shouldn't be, and it isn't. This is where the aforementioned dropouts come in. In fact, the title of this node already points to one of the problems; the current system is so accepted that no one here even thought of Technical High School or magnet schools as options, or even bothered to question if the program was mandatory.

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