When my daughter told us last April that she was dropping out of school, all I could see was billowing black smoke and the four horsemen of the Apocalypse on her horizon. I could envision her, doomed to walk through life with a big embroidered D on her chest. We pleaded, cajoled, begged and bribed, but it didn’t do any good. She was through with school.
We drove to Amsterdam High School and filled out the required form for dropping out. I was disappointed at the perfunctory way it was handled. I had expected the clerk to tell my daughter that the school requires a student to have a conference with a guidance counselor or principal before he or she quits. Instead, the whole matter was handled in much the same way that the DMV handles your license plates when you take your car off the road.
My daughter did agree to study with me at home so she could prepare to take the GED test. I ordered some home school curricula and GED preparatory books. Reading novels and studying literature together was great fun. We both agreed that “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” is somewhat overrated, while “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” is a powerful, underrated book.
We read “The Gift” by Lois Lowery, “Civil Disobedience” by Henry David Thoreau, “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” by Martin Luther King and much more. We studied history, science and math as well, but we enjoyed studying literature the most.
She needed the most help, however, with science and math, the two subjects I was least equipped to help her with. Eventually, my wife enrolled her in a Workforce Solutions program that helps students who have dropped out get jobs and prepare to take the GED test. While they never did help her get a job, they did help her prepare for the test.
She took the test in the spring of this year, passed it and even got a perfect mark in Reading Arts. She received her diploma two weeks before her class at the high school did.
My daughter is a member of the class of 2009. I emphasize that point because The Daily Gazette’s otherwise excellent special coverage of the class of 2009 made no mention of graduates who received their diplomas this year through non-traditional means, such as homeschooling or earning a GED.
Students who earn their GED are recognized sporadically. Some schools and alternative education programs hold graduation ceremonies for people who have earned their GED. For the most part, however, students who graduate with a GED are not given the same attention as those who graduate by completing high school.
Yet many students who drop out and eventually earn a GED have to overcome major obstacles in order to get it. Not only do they have to study hard, often on their own, in order to pass the GED, they have to overcome whatever it was that caused them to drop out of school in the first place. That might be mental illness, crime, a bad family situation, social anxiety, poverty, bullying, lack of a work ethic or simply not understanding or appreciating the value of an education.
Some of the dropouts I have met are intelligent and gifted kids. I know for certain that my daughter is. Another friend of ours, who has yet to get her GED, dropped out of high school and spent a couple of years taking care of her father, who was dying of cancer.
There were just the two of them. She cooked and cleaned and looked after her father until he died last year. Her father was well-read, and their house was full of books. She is intelligent and well-read. Just the other day, she informed us that she wants to finish school and go to college to study medicine.
The statistics on dropouts are dire, according to most school officials. Nevertheless, 74 percent of all dropouts earn their GED by the time they are 23. While I have no desire to promote dropping out of school, I do think that sometimes we need to look at dropouts a little closer and recognize that they are not all destined to become criminals, as some educators would have us believe.
Regardless of how one feels about dropping out of school, those who go on to earn their GED need to be recognized and praised. So I offer my congratulations to everyone, whether 18 years old or 80, who earned their GED this year. Congratulations to all 450,000 of you. You too are part of the class of 2009. You should be proud of your accomplishment, just as proud as if you graduated from a traditional school.
And I especially want to congratulate my daughter Rachel and let her know just how proud I am of her.
Daniel T. Weaver lives in Amsterdam and is a regular conrtributor to the Sunday Opinion section.
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