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During and after the lockdown, we “fortunately” began to talk about school, about the problems of teaching, the tools and methods of teaching, the reality that students live and the importance of the school for them. Especially with the use of distance teaching, the theme of school dropouts has emerged strongly, in fact an old problem that perhaps today we can deal with a few more ideas.

But what does dropout mean?

It does not only mean the phenomenon of early school leaving, that is, the interruption of a path of study during the same or at the end of the year, but also the failure with the repetition of a year, continuous absences, low performance, or any situation of slowing down in school course.

Not to mention the indirect form of school dropout, maybe even more insidious: the one for which the student manages to reach the title but without adequate training.

In Italy it is estimated that the school dropout rate according to Eurostat 2019 data is 14.5% of the school population.

We have often spoken in the articles of this blog how important are the teaching skills as well as social and thought skills that are generated in the school path to be able to participate in social life actively and consciously. These forms of school failure are not, therefore, at all irrelevant.

Many studies and many hypotheses have been made to explain the reasons for this phenomenon. The socio-economic characteristics of the family of origin and the social context to which students belong were analysed, as well as the ability of teachers to encourage the participation of students with a good school atmosphere.

Analysing these aspects is very important because they can be the subject of interventions to change them and thus encourage the schooling of younger people.

But I would like to investigate another aspect and ask: why does a young boy stop studying and drop out of school? What does it mean for him to do so? What exactly is he abandoning? What does he want to tell us? What does he think of himself and others?

Let’s start with the school choice…

At the end of middle school, how do you find your way around the many choices available today for high school? A high school or a more professionalizing school? More humanistic or more scientific studies?

School choice is an investment, but not in the economic sense of the word. It’s an investment in the identity of the kids. But sometimes the creation of this identity, to which we have all been called, is not easy. Adapting the evolution of the body that turns into adolescence to the evolution of the mind that from childhood must become different, does not happen in the same way for everyone, someone does not manage to do this “growth spurt” immediately. If a valid internal sense of self is missing, confirmation will be sought externally only, we will rely completely on the outside world risking a dangerous conformism that can make us make bad choices.

Sometimes a choice dictated by rational or highly calculated motivations, with an idea of success meant as popularity and richness does not ensure success or the right motivation. Indeed, these choices are accepted, without the slightest search for personal fulfilment or personal research. That’s why there is a lot of work done in high schools for incoming guidance (see if I made a fair choice with who I am, or at least with the idea of what I want to become) and outgoing guidance (in the final year, when the next choice must be m    ade more refined and conscious). I’ve heard so many kids passionate about chemistry or German literature, for example, suddenly become cold and detached in convincing me (or themselves) of their choice of university, oriented in an almost opposite direction, but that would have brought to them safe job or high earnings.

The indeterminacy of the self we were talking about can lead to another difficulty in the kids… If I can’t do something, like at school, and I start getting bad grades, I’m really convinced I’m not worth much. I might think that the three out of ten I took on my math test is the grade “I deserve” as a person. From here to the school dropout the step is short.

More generally, to get to know and learn, that means to be able to make assumptions to be compared with reality, first I must be able to withstand doubt, uncertainty, the unknown until it is known. If I hesitate internally, it becomes very hard to think and do research. I will have no curiosity and interest in the world. So here are the many “lazy” students that families and teachers complain about, students who are actually telling us of a difficulty that needs to be understood.

Even more because those who reject school, those who say they hate it, that they are disinterested enough to interrupt their studies are actually abandoning something more than study     . The school is the first place out of the house where you meet others, where it turns out that you are not alone and not everyone is like us and where, above all, you meet the first valid adults outside the family.

This is why another important, perhaps basic, key to interpret the phenomenon of early school leaving is precisely the rupture of these fundamental relationships and of the sociality, more evolved than the childhood one, that the school proposes. It’s as if a kid who dropped out of school somehow refused to grow up. But what if the idea of growth corresponded to the idea of loss? If being an adult in the eyes of a kid meant being cold, framed, conformed, without momentum, without hope, “rightly” they rebel. Then the possibilities, the hopes are two: the youngest find a less self-destructive way to rebel or the adults stop missing the freshness of the youngest!

Maria Giubettini

Thanks to Chiara Fanasca for the translation of this article


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