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

By Sherman Dorn | Go to book overview

3
Early Attitudes Toward Attrition

Despite growing arguments that the high school should be the primary institution for adolescents, concerns about those who left without diplomas did not become a well-recognized, cohesive issue until the 1960s. Instead, discussion of the problems of early school leavers or elimination from school (as dropping out was sometimes called) was idiosyncratic and unfocused. What was new in the 1960s was not concern over school leaving by itself but the definition of a discrete social problem with a clear sense of why the problem was important and what caused it. Educators and others may have been worried about attrition before 1960, but few defined it as a crisis.

Thus, the concerns that later became part of the common description of the dropout problem were not inevitably part of that definition. These issues were, instead, part of a very loose set of discussions about the purposes and problems of formal schooling. Slowly, the debate over the purposes of schooling, and especially high schools, became more coherent. At first, educators and their critics applied these concerns to elementary schools, which the vast majority of students in the nineteenth century attended. Slowly, though, secondary schools came to occupy a larger place in the debate over what schools should do and how they should function. At mid-century, discussion about school leavers began to snowball.

Since the early days of the republic, social critics in the United States have worried about the consequences of poor school attendance. Proponents of public schools in the early nineteenth century thought that too few children of poor parents were in urban schools. They argued that free primary education would help remove the stigma from what had been called pauper or charity schools, thus raising attendance. School officials in mid-nineteenth-century factory towns constantly worried about fluctuating enrollments and truancy, which made planning impossible (in their view) as well as letting immigrant children elude

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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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