To the Editor:
How to cope with our 30 percent dropout rate? Reg Weaver, the president of the National Education Association, has a plan: Extend the minimum school-leaving age to 21 (“NEA: Earn a Diploma or Stay in School Until Age 21,” Oct. 11, 2006).
The writer Robert Epstein (“Let’s Abolish High School,” Commentary, April 4, 2007) has a different idea: Institute “competency based” schooling, whereby students who demonstrate the desired knowledge can leave school to join the adult world. Mr. Epstein also wants dramatically reduced restrictions on youth participation in the labor market. The present child-labor-law-and-compulsory-schooling regime, he says, is a historical aberration. It infantilizes young people, artificially induces emotional and social turmoil in them, and makes them hate school.
So who’s got the better idea?
Peter F. Drucker, identified by the Harvard Business Review as the “father of modern management” and a “pre-eminent business philosopher,” would have sided with Mr. Epstein. Mr. Drucker made the following observations in a 1968 interview with Psychology Today. The question put to him: Should a young person put off going to graduate school and instead go to work?
Drucker: “I’d put off elementary school, if I had my way. I am not a great believer in school. School is primarily an institution for the perpetuation of adolescence.”
Psychology Today: “If you don’t believe in school, how would you educate?”
Drucker: “That is an entirely different question. The thought that school educates is not one I have accepted yet. No, I am not joking.”
Psychology Today: “I know you are not joking.”
Drucker: “No, I would be much happier if kids at age 17 were young adults among adults. Those who wanted to go back to school could come back later. They would be better students and much happier people.”
A version of this article appeared in the April 25, 2007 edition of Education Week as Abolish High School? Drucker Pushed Idea, Too