School Dropouts

It is often noticed that in a certain period of his life, a child, until then doing well in school, suddenly begins to show a lack of interest in his studies. The normal age group when this can happen is between 13 to 20 years. Sometimes, he drops off completely from school, at others he manages to limp on for another year or two before finally giving up. In some cases, although few, he picks up interest once again after a couple of years of dormancy, and continues with his studies, but as a middling. He will never be a topper. There is yet another category, to which of course belong fewer. It is of those who take up interest in studies only after they have left their colleges, having never been one of those for whom superlative degrees could be used. Yet, once out of traditional institutions, their talents break loose.

Whatever the case, these kind of behavioural patterns are noticed more among boys than girls. In fact, the phenomenon of completely dropping off, say at school level, is quite uncommon among girls. They evince such tendencies later, after twenty, and not in their teens. (This is a topic that we might discuss some time later, given Divine reprieve). But why do the boys evince such erratic behaviour? And, what’s the solution? Is there anything the worrisome parents can do?

The answer is neither simple nor a straight one. Reasons vary from child to child, group to group, culture to culture, and social class to social class. Solutions also vary. Nevertheless, a few common elements are worth looking into.

The foremost reason for showing disorientation in school is a straight-forward one: not every mind is made for studies. Human beings are born with a variety of abilities and hence variety of dispositions. A few are born with the book in the hand, others with a brush or a hammer, a pen or a shovel. Every person’s innate abilities are as different from those of others as their outward physical features are. Variety is an essential theme in nature. It is for the experienced elders to determine the nature of an individual and put him or her to what corresponds well with his or her potentials and inborn abilities.

But, on the contrary, to expect everyone to be a bookworm, and create an economic system – as in India and most third world countries – in which bookworms get the high positions by virtue of their certificates (apart from connections), while the rest carry on paying the penalty for failing in school tests, no matter what their other abilities, is being unfair to a lot of humans. Yet, today’s system is of a kind that one can, to a fair degree of precision, predict the main features of a person’s next 40 years of economic life from the certificate he holds after school.

Although anyone can become a doctor or an engineer, not everyone has the slightest inclination to become one. What happens to those who lack the inclination? They are assigned to an economic class in which they will remain for the rest of their lives: the blue collar class. In short, many a young man has just no interest in inscrutable theories called social sciences, no inclination to mug formulas, remember the parts of an insect’s abdomen, or express in symbols what happens when atoms slam across each other in a chemicals combination. But the system is rigid and unalterable. Therefore, those must fall off whose criticism of a system blind to varied human talents can only be expressed with a resolute silence.

The parents, therefore, need to first explore the mind of the young man. If inquiry reveals that studies is abhorrent to him, then, as a first step the pressure to re-join the school, if he has dropped off, must be taken off. He must be told the truth: though many, but not all corridors of success pass through college buildings. Allah provides all. “Fine. Let us see what can we do next.” That should be the attitude of the parents, and not, “Well, young man, what do you want to do now? Want to become a mechanic?” The problem needs togetherness. The child needs a companion. He knows he is in deep trouble. Sympathy will help open his mind and mouth. And, since high school is the minimum amount of education that is required of every person today, sympathetic parents can persuade the child to make another attempt. “If you fail, we shall work out something else” should be the reassuring words.

Apart from the above stated reason, i.e., compulsory education for all, following common syllabus, of a pattern that cannot be varied for the individual, is another factor that is against the nature of the human beings who have been created with various abilities and readied for various functions. The result has been disastrous. While some fall off, many others end up being what they never wished to become: square pegs in round holes. Mass production is the key to the lowering of standards almost in every field of human activity. Poets, artists, writers, thinkers, and innovators are in such short production everywhere that the few (who are far in between) had to be internationalised. It is a pool of universal artists who are the heroes of every nation whose population doesn’t know the language of the overseas heroes. Local cultures might have produced their last man of some renown a hundred years ago.

While a common syllabus enables a student to pursue his higher studies in any country seven seas apart, and emerge after the course as similar to those he had left behind in his own town, consanguinity is achieved at the cost of a million diversity. Those who could produce richness and variety are crushed by a system that has no use for any talent except that which suits the multinational companies. (This is one of the reasons for the propagation of the rotten Western culture, and the death of local variation).

The main point however is, if, firstly, compulsory education, of the modern type, is unsuitable for all, then, secondly, common subjects, common syllabus, common books are retardant to human societies and repugnant to individuals of varied propensity. Those who are not predisposed to the system must fall off. But not necessarily. If the parents discover that the lack of seriousness is because the child, or the young man, although interested in studies, doesn’t do well because he doesn’t like the subjects, then, he must be explained that he has to patiently do the minimum, that is, schooling, after which he can study subjects of his choice, “if not here, then abroad.” This assurance will give the child a badly needed prop. Hopeful that he will one day sit in to hear a lecture of his liking, he might apply himself to his present study tasks with renewed interest.

Parents’ affluence can be another reason for a boy to lose interest in studies. Their good economic status gives him assurance of similar circumstances for himself, at the cost of their savings, to which he thinks his minimal efforts could be added, if the need arises. The end-result of a degree, as he is to learn from his classmates, teachers, and parents, is a good job to be able to earn some handy money. (The rest, he is assured, will come from corrupt ways). But the parents already have wealth in agreeable amounts, and have not produced a competitor for him within the family. At best there is a sister who will get married and be gone. That is what in fact he hears from the parents who say he is the sole inheritor of the family good qualities which the boy hears as family good fortune.

The parents, on the other hand, provide the child with every thinkable facility and means of comfort, all that he desires, from ice cream after every dinner, to the expensive toys, attractive watch on the wrist, and a driver to drop to school. They do it in hope that in response the boy will, freed of every irritant, apply himself to his course books with zeal. The result is the contrary. Ranks are obtained, mysteriously for the affluent, by those who study under kerosene lamps, with a stomach crying for breakfast and the brain sending the rejoinder, “studies is the only answer to this damned hunger.”

The remedy for above is self-evident. It consists in never allowing a boy the impression that good things come in life by the easy route. He should be made to work and toil for everything that he gets. And what he gets should always be the second best, never the best. He should learn that the second best is what the parents can afford to give him. The best will have to be earned by him as he grows into manhood. Further, the second best should also not be presented on a platter as soon as the desire is vocalised. Rather, he should be made to wait. His pocket money should be just enough to help him buy a simple snack at school, when too hungry. Simplicity and moderation at home is another theme he should get used to. Walking up to school, or taking the bus, is not a bad idea at all. If he doesn’t do well in studies, and affluence of the family is discovered as the cause, then the mother might give the impression to the boy that in his disappointment his father may deny him and give away a chunk of his wealth to an educational organisation for the education of the poor. He might be told that if he can’t study, somebody else who studies deserves to be helped. In fact, to take into custody a poor boy doing well in school, meeting with his educational costs, might provoke envy in one’s own son who may treat his studies more seriously.

Lack of interest in studies could yet have a common but devastating cause. It comes from a wrong picture of life portrayed on the silver screens: the theatres and TV. Children see a film hero as a car mechanic and get the image fixed in their mind. They begin to dream of one day donning an American cap, a dirty jeans, a spanner in one hand and a Pepsy can in another, and do wonders as a car mechanic. A millionaire girl, driving in for spark plug change, is sure to fall in love. Or, they might see another who is shown as an uneducated but handsome dashing young man, a leader of a bunch of youths, capable of accomplishing everything in the world, jumping motor cycle over hills and buildings, or racing against an aeroplane in the sky to arrive at the airport at the same time as the jet is landing. A child who sees these fantasies on the screen, every now and then, will have his mind powerfully affected by them. He will begin to dream of becoming one himself, especially when he sees that the hero on the screen needed no educational qualification, but rather relied on his personal strength (to fist off the street gang), and charisma to become the star of the world. If such models take hold of a young person’s mind, the ordinary activities of life become boring to him. He wants to be in the centre of action and box his way to glory. Screen images are powerful images. Children have been reported across the world jumping off the windows of tall apartment buildings, in imitation of the TV hero, or murdering another, assumed as the contender and enemy of the little gang.

Among Muslims, especially, (perhaps as a punishment from Allah for refusing to live by Islam), tens of thousands of young men and women are affected by this kind of brain malfunction. Since girls live under social constraints and greater parental controls, they do not get the opportunity to jump on the buggy. Boys being freer, make their vain attempt. Many of them drop out of schools or early in college, join up with wandering gangs, and while away their time in cheap cafeterias. It is only when they are out of their teens that the seriousness of life starts dawning upon them, but not yet tellingly. That they only begin to feel, although even now only vaguely, that they might need to do something towards earning the cost of visits to theatres, cafeterias, and, once in a way, a new shirt (the dirty jeans will do for some time). So, in their early twenties, they try their hands on all kinds of funny and unworkable ideas of business, venture out into the field as salesmen of unsaleable products, toy with the idea of buying and selling old mobiles, to finally come to realise that these things don’t work. By that time they would have entered into their late twenties or early thirties and a few of the pals would have dispersed, sucked away by the vacuum pressure of life. Finally, if they had dropped out of schools, and the family does not own business, they end up as hawkers, street vendors, auto-rickshaw drivers, or the car mechanic they had once dreamt of becoming, although a hateful profession by now. Some are not so seriously affected, and so manage to finish inter-college, or a degree in arts or commerce. They end up as salesmen, clerks, shop assistants, store keepers, and the like: the square pegs.

The main point is, once a young man is affected by one of the fantasies that he sees on the screen in his premature years, it becomes extremely difficult to strip off the image from his mind. He worships his matinee idol, and endeavours to become one. He will not tolerate to hear any criticism, just like a religious fanatic who prostrates himself before earthen idols, and will listen to no logic. He brushes off all logic as weak responses of timid minds to higher ideals. If pressed on, the affected child will harden up in his attitudes and close up within himself. The worst that you can threaten him with is poverty. But being poor, penniless, of empty pocket, is, in that fever, a virtue in his eyes. He feels great that he has no money. Poverty fits well in his ideas of heroism. So, how can anyone make him see reason at all?

A psychological disorder of this nature is similar to physical disorders such as diabetes or high cholesterol. They are incurable. At best they can be brought to some control, but they will not go away. So, what’s to be done? The answer is, take care that your children do not contract this disease in the first place. Keeping them away from TV and films, is one of the most important measures of precaution. Just like a diet rich in sugar for a prolonged period is sure to bring on diabetes, a diet of TV commercials and films is sure to cause a psychological disorder of the above kind. This is the reason why top class and very special schools in the West run the advertisements that include the line: “The school is away from the nearest city by 100 km and has no TV.” Otherwise, with the daily bombardment of ideas that are contradictory to all that good education endeavours to plant into young minds, how can good schooling be any effective?

So, what’s the cure when someone is affected? The answer is, there is no immediate and definite cure. Unless, the patient is treated over a long period, with great care, in the end the disease is likely to win out. This means, treatment will be long, and the cure will come in gradual steps, if it works. The following may be attempted.
First and foremost of course, cut down on TV and films. Gradually reduce the watching hours, but not suddenly. Just as serious physical and mental reaction will result if sugar is completely cut off from the diet of a sugar patient, or drugs from someone addicted to them, so also, cutting off the TV completely will have serious repercussions. The child might absent from school without the parents’ knowledge to be somewhere watching a film. If pressed hard, and is in his late teens, he might take the extreme step of running away from home. Although, unless he falls into an organised crime gang, he is likely to come back in a week’s time. Therefore, addiction to TV should be gradually treated. In addition to cutting down the number of hours, which should be done gradually, over a period, a TV-less day might also be observed every week: a day when it is shut off completely for all members of the house.

Side by side, alternative models should be presented to the child. Life history of great men in Islam, especially conquerors, travellers, rulers, and men of science, both ancient as well as modern, may be read out in a study circle at home, everyday. (Asking the child to do it on his own will produce little results). In these sessions at home, the differences between heroes of real life, and those who are heroes only on the screen, but failures in everyday life may be pointed out. One might tell the children about suicide, divorce, heavy drinking and reliance on drugs among the show-biz men and women, as a sign of failure of their lives. Their cheap character, general failure to live up to good ideals, lack of morals, shame and self-respect, should also be pointed out to them. If need be, life of non-Muslim renounced men may also be presented, but not “any” famous person; but rather, only scientists, literary men, historians, and travellers.

Another important step is diversion. The child should be offered alternatives to TV. Sports, if the child has already not grown effeminate, can be a very good diversion. The need for a well-built, strong personality, capable of hard work and tough reaction to threats to honour, life, or property should be stressed. The child should be encouraged to join the school team and devote more time to sports on daily basis. He should be encouraged to form a team in his own locality for games on weekends. Parents should contribute towards the cost and take interest in events and matches.

Frequent outing, some travelling, gardening, house decoration, teaching younger boys, some kind of involvement in social works, are other activities to fill the hours normally spent before the TV. Once in a way, outing with either the Tablighee Jama`ah, or participation in the training camps organised by the Jama`at-e-Islami, or the student movement is also expected to alter the child’s perceptions and ideals.

When a crisis has already occurred, then a formidable task is, how to make the boy talk. All methods of opening up a talk, on any subject meet with an obstinate silence. If at all broken, it is with such brief answers that further fortify the impenetrability. Commonly, it is the father who finds himself facing complete taciturnity. If the boy opens up at all, to some degree, it is to the mother. There is a ray of hope he could be brought about to negotiations. But, sometimes, the boycott list includes both the parents. This is an extremely difficult situation. Parents will have to then find out as to who it is that the boy has been communicating with while maintaining a stone wall before them. Future communications will have to go through them. As for the parents, they must work on their own ways to break the silence. They might involve the son and themselves in a project needing some muscle work. If one can’t think of any, paint the house with the boy in charge and in command. To ask him to investigate and purchase the best of material at the cheapest price will be a daunting task for the young man who will feel wise to discuss the issues with the father. Refurbishing the house is another useful divertive project. If the family has been thinking of shifting to a new house, this is the time to do it. Let the boy hunt for a new house. Or, he may be sent to other towns the father used to travel to for errands, if necessary, in the company of an elder. Depending on family to family, projects can be thought of. It requires some hard thinking. They will help the boy regain his self-confidence and open up opportunities to the parents to discuss some real life problems, affording him chances to pick up some sense of maturity.

The key element during the crisis is to show extreme patience. Never lose hope in goodness, (if it has been planted), and never belittle the young man. Appeal to his honour and say you have not lost hopes, and there is no reason he should in himself. Once the boy begins to talk, he can be led to see reason and at least partially alter his perceptions. It doesn’t mean that thereafter he will become a hardworking student. He will not, in most cases, pick up the threads where he left. But, compromises can be hammered out such as, at least finish the schooling. Or, if he has finished schooling and has failed in Inter, then work out what could be done next, to assure a respectable future in which he will not be forced to beg, steal, or accept to live in a ghetto. One or two short-term courses (not language, and no more than a few weeks long), might help untangle the ball of confused thought.

It should be obvious from the above that the parents play the most important role in the future of the child. They need to participate in the child’s activities. Mere criticism, or admonition, ending with sarcastic remarks, will have no effect. If parents themselves are sluggards, who take little interest in other things of life, rather spend their evenings sprawled before the TV, then they cannot command respect in the eyes of their offspring. Especially, if they are lusty of eye (despite marriage and children), which overcomes their parental duties, sense of self respect and honor, then they cannot but produce their likes. In such cases, it is useless to wait for a season when mangoes will sprout on a tamarind tree. Teen-age is a critical period. There is no escape from it. In this modern disorganised life, with endless variety of moral corruption, so many easy openings for debauchery, destruction of moral values, different kinds of pressures on every individual, the teenager’s punky behaviour can devastate the whole family, if the family cannot handle it cool-headedly. Pent up frustrations may break loose. Additional tension, on top of the old ones, might snap a man’s or woman’s limits of patience and lead to further complications. Parents therefore must prepare themselves for the crisis before it comes on, like a tempest, and sweeps them off their feet.

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