Creating the Dropout: An Institutional and Social History of School Failure

By Sherman Dorn | Go to book overview

1
Long-Term Demographic Patterns

High school graduation in North America has become an important ritual. The attendance of graduates' relatives, the careful order of events, the invocation of secular and sacred symbols of power, and the passage of students from one state (student) to another (graduate) suggests the importance of the commencement in recognizing graduates as adults ( Fasick 1988). It also suggests, to the historian, the ways in which graduation has become invested with multiple meanings over time, from completion of a curriculum of studies to economic credential to rite of passage. None of these meanings are inherent in graduation. Certainly, graduation from high school was not an expectation of adolescents 100 years ago. At the turn of the twentieth century, only a minority of students in North America ever attended high school, let alone graduated. The increasing proportion of teenagers earning diplomas has made it possible for us to expect children today to graduate. That change was a necessary condition for the development of a new expectation, or norm.

With the joint development of increasing graduation and the expectation of graduation, demographic trends and the social construction of adolescence have woven together and reinforced each other. Thus, demographic changes are an important component of the story of dropping out as a social problem. Several general conclusions emerge from the analysis of 1940-90 trends below. First, high school graduation has become common among all population groups. This broad trend is the foundation for the development of new expectations for graduation among adolescents. Second, the gap in graduation between racial minorities (especially African Americans) and whites has narrowed, particularly between African Americans and others of similar income and other family characteristics. This turnaround in the relative educational experiences of African Americans and other minorities came from changes in labor markets and opportunities that accelerated during and after World War II.

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Creating the Dropout: An Institutional and Social History of School Failure
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Tables vii
  • Acknowledgments ix
  • Introduction 1
  • 1 - Long-Term Demographic Patterns 11
  • 2 - The Changing Mission of High Schools 33
  • 3 - Early Attitudes toward Attrition 51
  • 4 - Social Dynamite 65
  • 5 - The Limits of Dropout Programs 81
  • 6 - Omissions 99
  • 7 - Dropout Tides 119
  • 8 - The Demeaning Dropout Debate 131
  • Bibliography 147
  • Index 165
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