Friday, October 4, 2013

The Power of Words

As a research-minded person, I am on the computer for several hours a day several days a week.  In my recent efforts to locate information about websites that are dangerous for adolescents and teenagers, I found a few that parents must be aware of in order to monitor the activity of their child(ren) on-line. These websites promote behavior that is not healthy for adults, let alone children, and promote unhealthy life habits.

These websites have been linked to multiple teenage suicides over the past few years. ASK fm was founded in 2010 and as of this past summer has 65 million users. FormSpring was launched in late 2009 and currently touts 29 million users. These social media sites allow users to relate their ideas and opinions on any topic and not take responsibility for their words. Users do have the ability to block people and disallow anonymous questions; however, most adolescents do not take advantage of this feature. Interesting as well is the fact that ASKfm does not seem to offer anything by way of parental controls including any tracking and reporting as other social media sites offer. A television news spot can be viewed about ASKfm at

This site has been used to communicate vile and abusive information and offers the open forum for people to say what they want, when they want, at the expense of whomever without taking responsibility. While I do not believe it was the sole responsibility of any one party for the deaths these sites were linked to, I do believe it is imperative that parents know what social sites kids are on and what the user agreement is for being a member of a particular website.  Our kids, especially our adolescents and teens, are not capable of making some of the decisions parents leave them to make for a variety of reasons, including physiological development of their brains and the ability to discern some harmful behaviors. Since most social media sites allow anonymity (I say most as I have not researched all of them) it is left to the user to know when to shut something down, especially if the site is being used as a venue to communicate vicious openness.

This site blew me away. It is a site for people over the age of 16 and refers to those users as adults. The subject of this site is coined a “fashion game” and allows users to create their own bimbo by purchasing fake breasts, a better attitude, and even provocative clothes. It also encourages users to give their doll diet pulls for crash diets to keep up a “target weight” in order to be considered hot and find that rich boyfriend. In the company’s terms and conditions the user is the sole person responsible for the control and management of the information, and Miss Bimbo is released of any and all liability. It does note in the terms/conditions under the category “exclusion/suspension” that a user’s privileges can be suspended for not sticking to a level of “good moral standards” or if someone posts something that “causes harm to a third party.” This site can totally impact the mind of a young girl. The opening “warning” indicates that users should turn back if they are “easily offended by jokes, banal humor, and political incorrectness.” This is an obvious sign that the site is not healthy for anyone, let alone our younger minds and hearts.

There is a final web topic that I would like to bring to the attention of parents. Pro-Ana and Pro Mia websites focus on the tragedy of the illness Anorexia and Bulimia (thus, Ana and Mia). One of the primary websites has been featured on the Dr. Oz show, and these videos can be seen at the Dr. Oz website or by linking to
The videos broke my heart. The glamorization of these two wicked eating disorders is criminal and sickening. The targets are not only young girls but also older women and even men. These websites actually promote the lifestyle of eating disorders and provide users photos of bony fashion models on a link called “thinspiration”. There are supportive websites that offer support for people who are trying to recover and get healthy from an eating disorder, but these particular sites glorify stick thin body structure and would not fall into the “support group” category as most of us know it.

While I am certain there are more websites that promote unhealthy behaviors than I can imagine these are just a few that could send messages to our young people that promote a way of thinking and subsequent behaviors that are not healthy. As parents and providers, we know most young people cannot manage such powerful messages on an ongoing basis, especially if they are vulnerable for a variety of other reasons; thus, the reference to suicide as a direct result of bullying (be that in person or in cyberspace).Websites that are available to our young people mean parents have to be vigilant and informed about the on-line activities of their kids. We may not be able to shut down the website because of someone’s constitutional right to speak in a specific forum, but we do have the right and responsibility to provide guidance for our children from being both the target and/or person who could cause harm to others.
Be involved. Be responsible. Be educated.



Monday, July 15, 2013

Money for College? Start NOW!

If you are planning to attend some sort of post-secondary educational institution and are uncertain how to fund this endeavor, and if you are a senior in high school or the parent of a senior in high school this information is especially pertinent to you. Competition for scholarships is intense; the more money at stake, the more students who apply. To stand the greatest chance of securing a scholarship, especially one that is local, preparation is important.  You have to make yourself attractive to the people awarding the money. Would it surprise you to know that colleges want students who will become a distinguished alumni and give back to the school either through monetary means or through achievements earned that can be attributed to the college/university? Recognizing what you have to offer a college is important. Assuming you have identified how to sell yourself to a college of your choice, the challenge is securing as much funding as possible. Right out of the gate, lots of scholarships and grants are offered to students who are above average students, academically. Grades are not the only factor, but many scholarships use grade point average to narrow the application field. However, the categories that seem to carry more weight than grades include: ethnicity, financial need, service, special need, and character. Rarely does a scholarship application not include an essay question or two about an experience that happened from which the applicant grew/matured. Relying solely on your ability to get scholarships, though, is not wise. Fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FASFA). To help families with post secondary education expenses each year, the federal government gives out roughly 70 billion dollars. The free form is available from most guidance offices or it can be secured on line as well at  You can also complete the four-page form on-line. The time to begin hitting the FAFSA hard is right after the first of the year. Don’t delay in submitting this initial form. Sometimes an estimation of tax information is best as you can correct any errors or bad estimates later on. Delaying the completion of the FASFA form until late April (for example) could eliminate you from state aid for that year. Since FASFA requires a lot of information in order to be able to compute a legitimate picture of your family’s net worth, having the following information prepared in, say December, will help expedite the FAFSA process: social security number, current bank statements, investment accounts, mortgage information, and school codes. Additional information such as income tax returns for both you (if you work) and your parents and all associated W2 forms will come after the last day in January. It is good to begin to prepare by creating a file specifically for this information. You can also use this file for scholarship information. While these processes (scholarship applications and FAFSA) are not overly difficult they are time consuming.  The goal of all this time and energy is to get as much money as you can. The government’s goal is to do what they can to get money to the most needy and most deserving people. I do encourage you to consider the on-line completion of the FAFSA. It is a much quicker process because fewer steps are involved, and you won’t worry about the safe and prompt delivery of your important document by way of the postal carrier and various trucks.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Report, Investigate, Support

Reporting a bullying situation can invoke many feelings in people, especially younger students. The line between tattling and reporting can be very gray at times. If a school does its job that distinction will be clear and repeated in order to create a culture that has safety at its foundation. Reporting an incident typically begins with a conversation between a student and a trusted adult. Once a decision has been made to file a formal complaint, a form that asks for standard information is used. This basic information includes a description of the incident, citing times and places the bullying occurred. The more detail about the incident the better.  Names of any witnesses are also important.  Many times targets do not want to name witnesses; however, witnesses, as discussed in a prior article, are also targets and often traumatized by actions of the bully. Witnesses, if they believe they are protected, will often substantiate a target’s report. If a witness feels unsafe or fears retaliation by the bully will not likely want to put him/herself in the line of fire. Once a formal complaint is filed, a school should begin an investigation.
            An investigation done with integrity will include an interview by a neutral party, but a person with authority, of both the target and the bully. Any witnesses should also be interviewed if deemed appropriate. The investigation should begin promptly and be completed in a reasonable period of time.  Once the interviewer has concluded the investigation a written report should be completed and given to the district administrator. Copies of the written report should be kept on file in a confidential location.  If any discipline action is deemed necessary and appropriate, it should be taken immediately following the investigation. Waiting to take disciplinary action sends a message to the bully that the situation is not serious.  Such a decision may actually empower a bully rather than encourage a change of behavior.
A powerful anti-bullying climate will also have interventions for both the target and bully. Both parties need to be engaged in constructive and supportive interventions. Such interventions require patience and persistence. Strategic interventions for the target include listening to his/her story, support the target’s efforts to belong to the school community, request permission to share important information from the target’s story with appropriate school persons, determine when the target’s parents should be contacted, provide long-term supportive interaction with the target. The last thing the target should ever feel is abandoned or isolated. Interventions for the bully are also critical. Critical aspects for strategic intervention include understand the rationale and logic of the bully, listen to the story of the bully, educate the bully on boundaries, involve other team members as appropriate to help with accountability, determine when to contact the bully’s parents, enforce policies, and provide support by not abandoning the bully. There is a reason a person bullies others.  To change the behaviors of the bully, a relationship must be established that is based on the bullying trusting the adult. This takes time and patience. Above all, efforts must be genuine. It is highly probable no one has taken time to support the bully and actually help him or her rather than simply punish the actions he or she perpetuates.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Did You See That?

The third role in the bully tragedy is the bystander. These people participate in ways they may not even be aware, both actively and passively. Active bystanders encourage the bully through words and/or actions. Bystanders are at high risk for becoming bullies themselves and they may not even be aware of what they do or say that may be a part of the problem. Passive bullies encourage the bully (also) through words and/or actions (or lack there-of). 
            Let’s be perfectly clear. There are no innocent bystanders. They can be disengaged on-lookers, believing what is happening is none of their business. They may even want to help the target, but they determine the risk is too great to their own safety or the safety of someone they care for. Regardless of what appear to be legitimate reasons for keeping quiet or staying out of the situation, they are a part of the problem. It is, in part, for this reason that bullying is a cultural issue.  And until bystanders take action to stop the bullying the will continue to poison the environment. In the book The Bully, The Bullied, and The Bystander, an excerpt regarding the stand the Danes took against the horrifying Nazis when they invaded Denmark is an emotionally rendering plea to the moral fabric of humanity. Then seventeen-year-old Preben Munch-Nielson wrote of his decision to defy the Gestapo:
            You can’t let people down. You can’t turn the back to people who need your help. There must be some sort of decency in a man’s life, and it wouldn’t have been decent to turn one’s back. So there’s no question of why or why not. You just did. That’s the way you’re brought up. You help, of course. Could you have retained your self-respect if you knew that these people would suffer had you said, “No, not at my table?” No. No way. So that’s not a problem. You just have to do it.  
This quote (posted at the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C.) is about a small group of fisherman (of which Preben was a part) who, with the help of others smuggled over 7,000 Danish Jews out of Denmark to safety in small fishing boats and then, in the middle of the channel, larger Swedish ships. The account of how this was accomplished is amazing.
            Chances are if a child is neither the bully nor the target he/she is a bystander.  Consider the word “bystander”. According to it means a person who is present but not involved; a chance spectator; onlooker. Compare that to “witness” which, according to the same source means to testify to or bear witness to. While the difference in wording may be subtle, the difference in implication cannot be emphasized enough.  To be a witness, a person needs to pay attention, get involved, and never look away.  Encourage children, through both words and actions, to act on behalf of others in need. Discuss with them what it is like to go against the grain. Empathize with them in difficult decisions regarding the fear someone feels when a scary situation arises and they find themselves faced with getting involved. Our children need to recognize bullying, refuse bullying, and then report bullying (Steps to Respect bully prevention program).  It is most often necessary for an adult to intervene to stop serious bullying so the reporting step is critical.  Telling an adult is quite a risk, however, and adults must take the information reported seriously and confidentially. Bullying thrives on secrecy and exposing it is key in fighting it. Martin Luther King, Jr. stated in one of his many powerful speeches:
            Cowardice asks the question: is it safe?
                  Expedience asks the question: it is politic?
                  Vanity asks the question: is it popular?
But conscience asks the question: is it right? And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe nor politic nor popular…but one must take it because it is right.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Is My Child a Target of Bullying?

     The second player in the bullying tragedy is the bullied or the target. This person is also called a victim. Use of the terms victim and target are often used interchangeably but carry very different connotations. A victim refers to someone who suffers at the hands of another; a passive role. A target refers to a person who is the aim of an attack by a hostile entity; a more empowered role as there is not the connotation of suffering per say. The target of a bully is often selected strategically because he/she is different in some way. Often times kids with special needs are targets of bullies because they are different than the "norm."
     Kids who are bullied often to not volunteer their experiences to another person and more often than not adults do not notice. How is it possible that bullying is happening under the nose of an adult and no one knows? Believe it or not it is possible and highly likely.  Targets do not report bullying instances to an adult because of several reasons, including feeling ashamed, fear of retaliation, thinking no one can or will help, and even believing being bullied is a part of the natural part of growing up. While kids do not directly tell about their experience, they do send warning signs. Knowing what to look for is critical in helping identify and address bullying. Then, listen beyond the words and look beyond the fake smiles and nervous laughter.
     A sudden disinterest in or refusal to go to school is a primary warning sign that something is wrong. In addition, a sudden drop in grades can communicate a problem as it is hard for a target to focus on school. Frequent medical complaints, such as headaches, stomach-aches, extreme fatigue, and even onset of panic attacks are signs. The body responds to stress by turning on the chemical defense system which causes an increase in adrenaline for its "fight" or "flight" responses. This increase in adrenaline keeps the body in high gear until there is a mental and physical break down which leaves the body exhausted. Another common warning sign is when the target acts out of character, such as talking about peers in a derogatory way, wearing clothing that is messy or torn, or even getting into trouble at school for behaviors that were never a problem before.
     Consider the poem "Don't Laugh at Me" by Steve Seskin and Allen Shamblin and use it as a discussion point with your children.

Don't laugh at me, don't call me names.
Don't take your pleasure from my pain.
I'm a little boy with glasses
The one they call a geek.
A little girl who never smiles
'Cause I have braces on my teeth
And I know how it feels to cry myself to sleep.
I'm that kid on every playground
Who's always chosen last
A single teenage mother
Try'n to overcome my past.
You don't have to be my friend
But is it too much to ask: Don't laugh at me
Don't call me names
Don't get your pleasure from my pain...
Don't laugh at me I'm fat, I'm thin, I'm short, I'm tall
I'm deaf, I'm blind, hey aren't we all.


Thursday, April 18, 2013

Do Girls Just Wanna "Really" Have Fun???

The special dynamic of the female bully is something that deserves a bit of its own blog space. Bullying between girls is often more psychological than physical. It can also be a bit sneakier. According to the book Bullying from Both Sides, by Walter Roberts, bullying between girls is called “relational aggression.” This term is appropriate as it connects girls to the Western societal emphasis that girls are raised to focus on relationships and communication (p. 59).

What does a bully-girl look like? The bully-girl reflects come “typical” characteristics (note typical does not mean every bully-girl displays these). The bully-girl is often popular and well-liked by adults. She does well in school and can even be friends with the girls she bullies. Fist fights are not her style. Rumors, gossip, revealing secrets, and exclusion of others are her methods of operation. Often she bullies in a group and, because of her status with others, she will often be joined by others or even pressured by others to bully to maintain her power position. The consequences of the bully-girl are serious and destructive, as much or more than with physical bullying. The target can experience anxiety, depression, low self-concept and/or show signs of being a target through a drop in academic performance, poor eating habits, complaints of excessive illness, or even show signs of self-harm. According to the National Crime Prevention Council’s information on the bully-girl, most adults don’t even know when a girl is being treated this way.

So what do parents do when they believe their daughter may be being bullied? As a former administrator and a current parent of a teenage daughter I can assure you that picking up the phone and calling the parent of the bully-girl or marching over to her home is NOT the best solution. Getting a handle on the situation is imperative if time allows for such discovery. Unless there is imminent physical danger, which would warrant a call to the school administrator or counselor, interjecting oneself into the dynamic is the last resort. First, remember that while you cannot “solve” the entire problem at hand, you can help the target realize that a bully is only a bully IF there is a target. I firmly believe that addressing the target must be a part of the entire resolution process. There is a reason a target is a target. It is not, however, the target’s fault if she is being bullied and to communicate fault would be unacceptable and flat out untrue. Watch for signs your daughter is being bullied. Look at her body language and her eyes, listen to her tone of voice and her words, and when you see signs, don’t dismiss them as a passing phase.

What should be done about the bully-girl? I believe punishment of a bully alone will NOT stop the pattern of the bully’s learned behavior. In the book Bullying from Both Sides, the author devotes an entire chapter to the strategic intervention focused on giving the bully attention because “they are kids, too.” This seems so counter to our culture, especially if we are a zero tolerance system, but bullies are bullies because they have learned behavior that must be changed. Most girls (and boys for that matter) cannot change a learned behavior without support and encouragement and thoughtful intervention. There is no “quick fix” for remediation of a learned behavior. The learned behavior of the bully must be replaced with a more appropriate and empowering behavior at the same time the bully is being held accountable for her actions. A bully-girl needs to tell her story and be heard beyond the surface. Education must take place about boundaries and behaviors that are acceptable. Simply requiring a change in behavior without providing alternate behaviors is futile. As humans, we all revert to what we know when we are being challenged outside out comfort zones and not given support to succeed.

As you can see, interestingly enough, both players in a bully-target dynamic need attention and intervention. Our girls are in need of our attention in this unique relational dynamic. Everyone must step up and be accountable for addressing the bully-girl. The way I see it, the end of bullying begins with me. Consider the words from the book “Black Beauty”: My doctrine is this, that if we see cruelty or wrong that we have the power to stop, and do nothing, we make ourselves sharers in the guilt.

Coloroso, Barbara. The Bully, the Bullied, and the Bystander. Harper-Collins Publisher, 2008
Roberts, Walter. Bullying from Both Sides. Corwin Press, 2006.
Wiseman, Rosalind. Queen Bees and Wannabes: Helping Your Daughter Survive Cliques, Goddip, Boyfriends, and the New Realities of Girl World. Three Rivers Press, 2002


Monday, April 15, 2013

Identifying a Bully: One Third of the Tragedy

Bullies are not a certain size or shape or color. They are not identified by the type of music they listen to or the church they attend. A bully can be the popular kid or the kid or the kid who is disliked by many. A bully can be the athlete or the drama student or the trombone player. Bullies are not categorized as such by their looks but by their actions. In her book, The Bully, the Bullied, and the Bystander, Barbara Coloroso indicates that bullying is a “conscious, willful, and deliberate hostile activity intended to harm, induce fear through the threat of further aggression, and create terror.” There are three elements that will always be present in a bully situation: imbalance of power, intent to harm, and threat of further aggression. The fourth element, terror, is added when bullying has escalated because nothing has been successful in stopping it. So what is the “profile” of a bully? While there are different types of bullies, common characteristics include: enjoyment in dominating others, being unable to see a situation from another’s vantage point, using others to get what is wanted, selfish to the point of disregarding the rights and feelings of others, tending to hurt others when someone in a position of higher authority is absent, refusing to accept responsibility for one’s own actions, projecting one’s own inadequacies through the use of blame, sarcasm, and false allegations onto others, viewing weaker people as “prey”, and craving attention. While this is not an exhaustive list, it is pretty comprehensive and can be used as a point of reference. The main motivation for a bully is contempt fueled by arrogance. Bullies have a sense of entitlement and superiority about themselves. This is, of course, a cover up for their inadequacies. So, what happens when a bully is “caught”? The bully’s behavior will most likely deny any wrongdoing, trivialize his/her actions by calling is “fun”, claim self defense and cast the other person as the bully, or even count on the support (by way of apathy or fear) of the bystander(s). Bullying is not something that anyone should consider “normal childhood behaviors.” It is antisocial and must be addressed through the proper channels, protocols, and/or procedures already in place. Bullying is a social problem and will take the efforts of all of us to come up with a solution.

For additional information on bullying, including videos and true stories, visit Pacer’s National Bullying Prevention Center at

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Our Schools’ Responsibilities in Addressing Bullying and Harassment

While there is no federal law that specifically applies to bullying, state legislators in all fifty states have made it a priority to have law, policy, or both law and policy on this highly relevant topic. Federally, when it is related to color, race, national origin, gender, disability, or religion there are policies in place that do address these protected groups as discriminatory in nature. While each state has the latitude to establish its own approach to addressing bullying and harassment, there are common connections between states.  These connections include a purpose statement, a statement of scope, specifications of prohibited conduct, a list of specific characteristics of bully/harassment, components of policy (such as reporting, investigating and responding, and keeping written records), and information regarding training staff and developing a communication plan. To find specifics regarding a particular state, visit for information.
Iowa has both policy and law in place to address bullying/harassment in its school districts. The state mandated that all school districts have an anti-bullying/harassment comprehensive plan in place by September 1, 2007. School accreditation is directly connected to this expectation.  The expectations for schools are outlined clearly on the Department of Education’s website at Click on the link to “A-Z Index” and scroll down the list to the letter “B” under which you will find the “bullying” information. Basically, Iowa policy and law addresses the following:
*definition of bullying and harassment that is consistent with the state legislation
*a statement that bullying and harassment are against the law
*a statement that makes the policy applicable to school employees, volunteers, and  students
*a statement that addresses consequences for those who violate the policy
*a procedure to report and investigate complaints
*a procedure to communicate information to parents, students, staff, and community members.

Iowa also offers a decision matrix for districts to use to guide them in making decisions regarding situations that may arise. Iowa also offers an appeal document for open enrollment situations involving bullying and/or harassment. This information is very valuable and should be consulted in any event bullying and/or harassment becomes a problem for any child, resident or open-enrolled.

At one time during their educational journey our children will be the target of bullying/harassing behaviors, exhibit behaviors that are considered bullying/harassment, witness situations in which they observe a bully/target dynamic, or all of these. It is imperative that parents know how to prevent and respond to situations involving bullying/harassment. A great place to begin is with a basic knowledge and understanding of the law and how it pertains to an individual state and local school district within the respective state. After one has a basic grasp of the legal obligation of schools, securing a better understanding of the dynamic of those involved is important in prevention and response situations.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Bullying: A Life and Death Situation

I shall remember forever and will never forget
Monday: my money was taken.
Tuesday: names were called.
Wednesday: my uniform torn.
Thursday: my body pouring with blood.
Friday: it's ended.
Saturday: freedom.

This was the final diary entry of thirteen-year-old Vijay Singh. He was found hanging from the banister rail at home on Sunday (Coloroso. The Bully, the Bullied, and the Bystander. 2008).

Bullying is a community problem; a society problem; a problem for our entire culture. Adults sometimes minimize, trivialize, or even deny it. Schools develop policies to combat it, but it continues. In the meantime, the bullied refuse to go to school and often spend so much time thinking of ways to avoid being a target that little energy is left for school. People who witness a bullying situation (sometimes called bystanders) are often considered  to neither experience any consequences nor have an active role in breaking the cycle of violence. The truth is breaking the cycle of violence involves more than identifying and stopping the bully. Examination of why a child becomes a bully or a target of a bully (or at times both) as well as the role of the bystander in perpetuating the cycle.  The first piece of information in breaking the cycle is to understand that the language we use to identify the people involved in any violent situation can be a part of the problem. Any time we label a type of person (such a person with a learning disability we call a learning disabled child or a person with diabetes we call a diabetic) that label can encourage behavior based on the label. We unintentionally focus on the person rather than the behavior. We believe if we get rid of the bully we stop the problem. According to Coloroso in The Bully, the Bullied, and the Bystander (2008) the tragedy of bullying must be rewritten, new roles must be created, the plot must be changed, and the stage must be reset. The approach in re-writing any story is to know and understand the original. There is nothing simple about re-writing this tragedy. There is no single contributor to the problem. Rather it is an accumulation of factors that has promoted the situation we are now in as a society.

The next several articles in the series will include a focus on Iowa law regarding bullying, the reporting requirements, the commonalities between the bully and the victim, how to approach your child if he/she is reflecting bully behaviors, how to best support your child if he/she is a victim of bullying, and the cultural responsibilities of adults.

Bullying is an epidemic, and the dynamics of this epidemic must be addressed by adults if we expect our children to change the current direction in their interactions. Victims must be empowered. Bullies must be educated about their behaviors, and parents must recognize their own role in the tradegy. Schools must do a better job of working to prevent situations where bullying is likely to occur.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

The Last Dropout

The Last Dropout: Stop the Epidemic is a book by Bill Milliken, Founder of Communities in Schools. This is a book I ran across while browsing in the bookstore recently. I have always been drawn to students who struggle in school for whatever reason.  I used to think the students who struggled were those who came from a specific family dynamic or were children with special needs or were just unmotivated to try in school. What I have found over the last twenty years in education is that all students struggle in school for any number of reasons at various times during their education.  I discovered along my own educational journey that very intelligent and capable people struggled in school. According to various Internet websites:
*Thomas Edison got a late start in his schooling following an illness, and, as a result, his mind often wandered, prompting one of his teachers to call him "addled." He dropped out after only three months of formal education.
*Benjamin Franklin was the fifteenth child and youngest son in a family of 20. He spent two years at the Boston Latin School before dropping out at age ten and going to work for his father, and then his brother, as a printer.
*Two months before his high school graduation, history's first recorded billionaire, John D. Rockefeller, Sr., dropped out to take business courses at Folsom Mercantile College.
*Charles Dickens, author of numerous classics including Oliver Twist, A Tale of Two Cities, and A Christmas Carol, attended elementary school until his life took a twist of its own when his father was imprisoned for debt. At age 12, he left school and began working ten-hour days in a boot-blacking factory.
*The late Diana Spencer, Princess of Wales, attended West Heath Girls' School where she was regarded as an academically below-average student, having failed all of her O-level examinations (exams given to 16-year-old students in the UK to determine their education level). At age 16, she left West Heath and briefly attended a finishing school in Switzerland before dropping out from there as well.
While this list is not exhaustive, it does present a picture of what a possible drop out looks like. Or does it? A primary lesson I learned from reading this book (so far as I am not done yet) is that the drop out epidemic is a national problem and it is not, again not, a youth problem; it is an adult problem.  Durant High School’s list of students who don’t make it every year is sad but not much different than Wilton, Tipton, West Branch, or Davenport. This epidemic has been the focus on television shows such as Oprah and Dr. Phil. We have tuned in to Iowa Public Television to watch documentaries on this epidemic. National magazines, such as Time, have done cover stories on this crisis.  The focus of most debates seems to be on numbers: is there some moral advantage to losing 1 out of 5 students as opposed to 1 out of 3. The lower our numbers are the greater sensation of success we seem to feel.  Bill Gates said, “When we looked at the millions of students that our high schools are not preparing for higher education, and we look at the damaging impact that has on their lives, we came to a painful conclusion: America’s high schools are obsolete” (The Last Dropout: 2007, introduction). The question that permeates the book is “can we stop the drop out epidemic?”  The answer is that we can, but not until we realize that adults have to stop the problem. The answers come through focusing on kids, not programs or curriculum to change kids, recognizing the role community plays in educational success, and coming to grips that real change will have to come by holding each other accountable and being transparent in our policies and procedures established by local and state school boards, state departments of education and state and national legislators. The key is, though, that real change begins at home, in our own local communities. Focusing on relationships with students is the place to start. Making connections to those students we serve is a must. There is no quick fix. But it can be done. Our graduation rates can be 100%, legitimately, without cutting corners or manipulating grading practices, or dumbing down expectations. This book is a must read for everyone, especially those in education. After all, as Einstein once said, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over the same way and expecting different results.” The face of education must change. Let it begin with me recommending this book.

Source: Milliken, Bill. The Last Dropout: Stop the Epidemic! Hay House Incorporated Publishing. 2007.