My wife and I had stopped at a New York Thruway service area. As I walked into the men’s room, I was met in the entrance by a young man pushing a cart with a large waste container on it. He was leaving as I was entering.
He stopped. I stopped. I stepped aside; he glared at me and proceeded to empty another basket of used paper towels into his container on the cart before pushing past me without a word of acknowledgement or apology.
He appeared angry. If I had done something wrong I couldn’t imagine what it was. I thought about the encounter as I went about my business and decided that he probably was just angry; angry about, in his view, the stinking job he had.
I may be guilty of some level of elitism, but bear with me. He was angry, I decided, because he was a young man (he looked to be 20 or so) in a boring job that had no future.
He spent his day watching other people in the service area who were traveling either on vacation or business while he was going nowhere.
He probably couldn’t go on vacation even if he got time off and his daily future was cleaning up the mess left by others.
Now don’t get me wrong. Custodians, matrons and other people who work in the service industry are absolutely necessary. They do honorable work, they work hard and they often receive little recognition or thanks for their effort.
School kids in particular are sometimes unkind in their attitude toward the custodians and matrons who keep their school building functioning and their classrooms clean.
But there was something about the angry scowl on this young man’s face that told me he found no honor in the work he did. Maybe it was the multiple tattoos on his arms and neck that swayed me, but I suspected that this was the best job he had ever had, or would have — and he knew it.
It wasn’t just the tattoos understand; many people these days have tattoos. His, however, were angry tattoos. They bespoke a resentment toward society, at least that’s what they said to me. I sure didn’t see a heart with the word MOM across it.
I suspected that somewhere, sometime he had made a decision to drop out of school, and that decision was now coming back to haunt him.
Voice of experience
OK, so I am biased toward education. I admit it. But my experience, and that of countless other adults, is that education is important, it opens doors. It provides us opportunities, or as one woman I talked with recently put it, “Education provides us with choices.” Dropping out of high school limits your choices.
During the summer months when school is out of session, young people have the chance to earn what is, for them, some serious money. They can work more hours than during the school year. They may even move up a notch in earning power precisely because they can work full time during the summer. They have money to spend now.
This is when those who are unhappy or unsuccessful in school may start thinking about dropping out next fall. They still live at home, however, and have few bills to worry about. The mortgage will be paid, the utilities will work and there will be food on the table without any cost to them.
Smart parents will squelch in a hurry any idea about dropping out of school.
Any teenager with the silly notion of dropping out should be charged rent, made to pay for meals and required to pony up for laundry expenses and a share of the utilities. Teach your naive youngster the facts of life: There are no free rides in adult life and kids not in school will be treated as adults.
School may be tough. It can be very tough for some young people. We know that. But we also know that starting out on the journey through adult life without at least a high school diploma is tougher still.
Call the school if you need help keeping your child in school. Enlist whoever you can to help, but do not let your child become an angry 20-something dropout with no future.
And remember: What people believe is true is more important than what is true.
Charles Cummins, Ed.D., is a retired school administrator. Send questions to him at: [email protected]