By Skyler Isaac
What sorts of images come to mind when you hear the term dropout?
Do you imagine a homeless man dressed in rags, clinging to a half-empty whiskey bottle as if his life depended on it? Do you think of a sorry-looking garbage collector who isn’t even capable of putting two and two together – literally unable to solve an equation like 2 + 2?
If your mind raced to these stereotypes, sober up – you’ve been completely misinformed about how high school dropouts really are, and we’re here to give you the true picture.
Throughout the month of May, members of the Shakat Journal team spent time with several dropouts who live around the city. When we interviewed them, we quickly dropped any preconceived notions we’d held about their intelligence – for the most part, these people were well-spoken and refreshingly ambitious. And they had some choice words for the overall state of the modern day school system, and how it can be improved even more.
Xavier Binette has an outgoing personality and speaks his mind. He seems to exist in a constant state of over-excitement, and he casts many a flirtatious greeting to the good-looking women he comes across – which happens a few times on our way to and from the interview location.
“I jumped around through quite a few schools,” he begins. “I dropped out of high school at Grade 10. Multiple reasons. I think it was partly related to substance abuse issues, as well as a lack of interest and participation in school programs.”
According to him, the way in which courses are taught needs to change before they appeal to more people.
“Some of the teachers wouldn’t even interact with you, and that really didn’t click with me,” he explains, “I’m more of a hands-on learner – if it was a lesson just in the book or up on the board, it’s hard for me to maintain my concentration and actually take in what they were trying to teach.”
Xavier explains that he excelled in interactive courses, such as wood shop. “You see the outcome [of your work] every day, and that kind of gives you the incentive to want to do more in that certain area.”
He recalls that his most positive learning moments happened around teacher’s assistants. “They brought different ways of teaching to the table. She would always walk around and ask if you needed help with anything. [As opposed] to the teacher who was up there just zooming through everything.”
The next dropout we spoke with was Matthew Hanna. Matthew is a thin and red-haired kid, sporting a pair of glasses. During our interview, he constantly bounces from side to side, never keeping still for more than a few seconds at a time.
“When I was in school, I always just felt like I was wasting my time there because I could just Google everything and get all the answers,” he sets the stage. “I would go on test days and I would still manage to pass, even though I only showed up once a week. And the teachers never gave me the courses I wanted – they always put me in the stuff I didn’t want to be in.”
Matthew felt like the school he attended really just tried to push students through – it just didn’t seem like the teachers or principal really cared.
“That’s essentially why I dropped out.”
Both Xavier and Matthew feel like their teachers didn’t care much about students’ learning outcomes.
Xavier was put in many remedial classes, but that didn’t give him much incentive to take charge of his learning. It had the opposite effect: “Sometimes it kind of felt like I was shunned out because I learn a little slower,” he explains. “If everybody was incorporated all at once…it feels better, and it gives a little more motivation to want to excel at the same pace as the rest of the class.”
“I’ve seen too many teachers who don’t really go out and try and inspire kids and bring out their maximum potential,” says Matthew. “[Too many] seem like they don’t want to be there.”
Both of these former students feel quite strongly that the school system would be much more effective if teachers and classes catered to what students actually WANT to learn.
“What I was learning in school,” begins Xavier, “was not really meaningful. Didn’t have much to do with everyday life.”
“Definitely,” Matthew agrees with Xavier. “I would have been doing a lot better. I probably would’ve had a lot more motivation and I probably wouldn’t have been so lazy. I don’t think the current education system really doesn’t do anything adequately except for one type of learning, which is like, ‘Here you are, you’re gonna get the work, we’re gonna put some stuff on the board, you gotta remember everything, write it down.’ I don’t learn like that. And I don’t even really know many people who do.”
These two men didn’t drop out of school because they were unable to learn new things. They dropped out because they felt left behind, abandoned by an education system that didn’t care enough to cater to their own styles of learning, didn’t care enough to give them the push in the right direction that they so needed.
Xavier and Matthew aren’t alone. Though the rates of graduation in the Yukon are not dismal, according to the Yukon Government Department of Education twenty-five percent of 12th grade students do not graduate.
In small, close-knit communities such as ours, does not every individual count? Will we let more of our young people slip through the cracks, and possibly end up in the places society reserves for the less-than, the incomplete? The fact remains, we are as strong as a society as our weakest component, and if some of those components are being discounted as early as high school, we are in trouble.
This article and the accompanying video are dedicated to the memory of our friend, Matthew Hanna.