Friday, April 8, 2011

Elwood: Punitive approaches illustrate lack of understanding

Columbia's Free Times features in its current edition a letter from Harvey Elwood, Jr., on the recent proposal to withhold drivers' licenses from students who drop out of school. Elwood pegs the measure as "punitive" and offers his own view:

Once again, the South Carolina House Education Subcommittee is considering a bill sponsored by Rep. Tom Young Jr., R-Aiken, designed to deny drivers licenses to students who miss seven unexcused days of school as a deterrent to keep them from dropping out.
Last year, I along with several good citizens questioned our legislative leaders and asked that a more proactive approach to the state’s dropout problem be considered. Several good proposals were submitted and we can only hope that a more sound and innovative approach will be considered.

The problem of high school dropouts is not new. However, across this nation programs exist that are working well to address this very troubling situation. Even cities like Columbia, under its new leadership, have come up with better ways of helping children succeed in making it through school — programs that inspire hope and provide real incentives for students to complete their education.

In my opinion, government must reach outside itself to find answers that produce the best result for our young people. Punitive approaches only show our lack of understanding the problem and our inability to deal with it. It’s just like a parent punishing a child as an alternative to better parenting or parenting skills.

How many subcommittee hearings have called in experts on this very issue? How many elected officials have visited programs making a difference in stopping students from dropping out?

It’s easy to be a reactionary; the real skill is to foresee issues before they become a problem — and when they do, to have the best possible plan available and show the best side of our creativity as leaders.

We can no longer punish children as the victims of a failed educational policy or system.
Instead, we must address our responsibility as adult leaders, educators and parents to fix those problems. After all, we can’t expect the children to fix something that was broken long before they got here.

Harvey Elwood Jr.
Orangeburg, S.C.

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