Systemic Failure: Falling Through the Cracks

© Adam Borkowski ID 7816494 | Dreamstime Stock Photos

As we were returning in my car from a quick dinner out, I happened to ask Aaron (not his real name) about his middle-school and high school experience with the Guidance Counselors. His reply dumbfounded me.

Envision a young man, personable and bright, who does not hold a grade-12 diploma or GED.* Over the course of our association, I had learned months ago that this young man had experienced some ‘behavior’ issues, resulting in several days of suspension, during grades 10 and 11; and had opted to attend a military-style academy, rather than remain in his public high school during his senior year. He unfortunately lacked then, and continues to lack, a small number of credits to qualify for his graduation certificate or equivalency.

He has — as many young men his age — a fair amount of mechanical skills. They are not innate to his sex, he merely taught himself those skills in order to help repair cars, mowers, ATVs and the like, to have the equipment available for use. He would make an ideal mechanic’s apprentice or helper, because he understands electrical systems and typical ‘drive-train’ and suspension components and their usual function.

Since our county school district has a well-developed and capable career and technical facility, I hazarded the question, “Did you take any ‘tech’ courses, Aaron?” He replied, “Nope.” Since I often wish that my younger daughter possessed some mechanical skills, to help her arrange necessary automotive repairs without being ripped off by unscrupulous service shops because she is female, I further questioned Aaron by saying, “May I ask, why not?” His response didn’t really surprise me, when he stated that he had generally hated school and that he had done only enough to ‘get by’ at the time. His honesty was as I had expected it to be. There was a bit of nervous laugh, so I don’t know whether there was any particular regret in his statement.

On the other hand, I was considerably dumbfounded; and then complicated the discussion by asking the rhetorical question, “You mean you didn’t want to attend a (vocational-technical) class that you might have enjoyed, while learning useful ‘stuff’?” And he echoed the line about just wanting to ‘get by’ with as little effort as possible. Still reeling from our talk, in what was admittedly desperation, I posed, “Did you ever visit with your Guidance Counselor, to help you understand your course/subject options to maybe make informed decisions?” The car interior was dark by that time, so I don’t know whether his expression was surprise or not, but I had to repeat the term ‘Guidance Counselor’ because he honestly was unfamiliar with the words. I found that he had never — not even once — spent time with a counselor in middle or high school.

I explained, “You know, the school staff person that helps with interest testing and ‘guides’ students into courses of study that may be of interest or use to them.” He remained unfamiliar with the process.

So, there we have it. It was possible for this former student, now 19, to completely miss having a session, much less sessions, with a Guidance Counselor over the course of his last four to six years of school.

The remainder of our drive back to his place was pretty quiet. I find it difficult to carry on light conversation, while I am shaking my head in disbelief. Buzzing through my cranium were questions such as:

· How does this happen, that no one was interested in inviting him (or even requiring him) to see a counselor?

· Did his ‘behavior’ issues label him as an incorrigible sort and thereby unworthy of any consideration?

· Did the schools carefully avoid orienting students to available staff people and their positions?

· Did Aaron know the counselors as individuals and simply avoid them, not necessarily understanding their role in his schools?

I know that I don’t know the answers to my questions. I remain concerned that a student fell through the proverbial cracks in our school system, regardless of cause. While it would be easy to castigate ‘the system’ I fear that nothing I say would change it for the better.

I have an educational-consultant acquaintance that has proposed individualized curriculum for every student in our state. We have the technological tools to do that immediately. I would favor such a system, particularly if it would effectively fix the lack of individual attention shown Aaron, who fell through the cracks. It could also end the process of ‘teaching to the middle’ and possibly encourage genuine learning in students at their own pace and capability. What a radical concept.


* General Equivalency Diploma [GED®] is an American and Canadian process, since 1942, of obtaining a secondary-school diploma through proficiency testing, for people who did not complete usual high school.

Reader, blogger, musician and music promoter/event producer. Community activist and educational advocate.

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