It’s the battle of modern times, a battle waged for decades, how to keep kids in school, how to ensure they graduate and have the best start in life; as the title says the latest thing designed to anchor kids to their desks, galvanize an interest in their grades and engage them in their own academic futures is to tie driving and graduation; no school attendance, formally drop out, no driver’s license. That’s what some school districts are implementing to make sure more students get their diplomas, banking on 16-18 year olds not wanting to give up that rite of passage; one South Carolina district going so far as to revoke or suspend the licenses of students who missed 7 days of school without an excuse. Proponents of such legislation point to statistics that drop outs are more likely to be unemployed, make lower wages when they are working, more likely to become unwed mothers, end up in prison or abuse drugs. However opponents shrewdly state simply denying dropouts licenses does nothing to address why they dropped out in the first place, does nothing to ease overcrowding, provide access to extra tutoring, solve bullying and harassment issues creating a toxic learning environment, doesn’t tackle bad, ineffective teachers or teaching methods, saying those resources, counseling, tutoring and smaller class sizes are a better route.

Arguing the case against the measure are such related facts as not every family has a vehicle on which their child/children can learn to drive, meaning they may not learn until later in life or won’t possess the typical ability to drive anyway. Increasingly 16 year olds faced with the underlying responsibilities that come with driving, i.e. what happens when they receive their first speeding or parking ticket, are postponing obtaining their license. Added to that is the impact of technology on teen lives; they no longer need to go to the local mall, burger joint or even friend’s homes to hang out. In fact, they do most of their communicating, socializing online making a driver’s license far less important; continuingly, it will have little effect in larger cities where public transit is the primary mode of day to day activity. Outside the obvious examples of New York City’s subways, Chicago’s L train, many big cities public transit runs roughly 6 am to midnight permitting young people to hold an afterschool job, likely work 5pm to close and return home without the aid of a family vehicle or someone to pick them up, translating to a driver’s license is something they can take or leave, giving them the freedom to drop out or not. Neither should schools be arduous places kids feel locked into only to be tormented every day, made to feel stupid every day.

Not allowing teens who drop out to gain something as basic as a driver’s license is also discriminatory not just against young people in general but against young people who drop out and immediately begin working toward their GED, go to college because that, independent, self-directed format works for them. It discriminates against youth who quit school in order to get a job and help their family survive especially in the current economy. Kids who drop out for these reasons, reasons of fundamental safety and well-being should be helped not further punished. One thing the recession has taught school districts is how difficult it is to serve students deemed homeless, some unable to allow the student to enroll without past school records, a permanent address, effecting one boy who was, for all intents and purposes, abandoned by his mother, living with his aunt, who had no idea where the mother had been, where to look for the needed information or even how long the boy might be staying. Fortunately for this young man, a school in the area was found that could more expediently enroll him and see to his needs minus the paperwork under his classification of a homeless student. But for caregivers in areas where schools have no idea how to handle the influx of homeless students, don’t have policies, wavers and procedures to permit them to be educated in that school that district, translates to care providers forced to either homeschool the child or postpone enrollment until their status can be clarified, until they have been in a residence so long, imposing more extreme measures on relatives, would be guardians, to sue courts for custody, terminate parental rights, just so the child can go to school.

Strengthening the positive points of counseling and other methods for keeping kids in school can be noted in the instance of one kindergarten teacher, who in these troubled times, instituted a positive reward system designed to get students to behave long enough to earn the most coveted classroom prize, lunch alone with the teacher. This is what all the students want because it gives them a chance to talk about troubling things going on at home, when they can’t help but hear about family financial struggles, employment struggles, impending homelessness, possible moves. According to experts children have hypersensitive hearing in such situations no matter how careful parents try to be; they will similarly pick up on intuitive cues of tension turmoil and change in family dynamics, interaction. And judging by this teachers experience giving kids mentors, people they can trust, along with a safe place to talk about what’s troubling them has a drastic impact on them for the better and greatly increases their success in school, no matter where they are in their school career. Next take that thought process to every school, every grade level; another glowing show of support for alternative methods was a school who took a radical approach to their bullying problem, not with zero tolerance policies, extended parameters on harassment or legal consequences, but rather by solving the bullies problems. Couple it with smaller class sizes, something particularly effective during middle and high school, infusing teens and adolescents with the idea someone cares if teachers miss them in class, ask questions about where they have been. Smaller class sizes are key for students transitioning from elementary to middle or junior high school and from middle or junior high to high school, meeting the challenges and expectations therein. Kids housed in smaller classes get more one on one attention crucial to those having difficulty academically, making far bigger inroads toward students getting their diploma eliminating the need to impact vehicle licenses for anyone.

Also to be considered is that today, no matter how well you do in school, whether you go on to college, trade school, training, it is hit or miss if you will get a job, dependent largely on factors like internship and other practical skill programs participation, limited in availability. So there’s a serious debate to be had about taking chances for that experience even if it means working more and focusing on school less, working, snagging an opportunity to do something one of a kind instead of finishing school, an unfortunate reality no city official wants to face. Now imagine you’re an older version of the homeless young man above, 16 old enough to drive, being put in a position of having no place to stay once already, not wanting to go there again, you want to learn to drive so you can take the family car to and from work but because you are technically lacking a home, can’t gather needed documents, you can’t go to school which means no license. How about if staying where you currently reside is conditioned on you getting a job, due to the fact your relatives, family can’t afford to provide for you without additional income, and you drop out because you work 5pm to close, go home try to do homework, get up at roughly 6:30 am exhausted from doing that day in day out, year in year out. Meanwhile if you are on track for shift manager and a pay raise, it can be very tempting to look at the situation and say I don’t need to finish school I simply need to keep working, regain some sanity in my life, have time to sleep, all things I can do not going to school.

Other worries coming with such policies are that teens will simply drive without a license, making roads that much more unsafe; it will further drive the market for fake diplomas, GED scores, proof a student is attending school. They’ll get their license anyway, negating the entire purpose. Slippery slope concerns also apply; what are we going to do next require you show a high school diploma to receive a driver’s license even after you are past high school age, as an adult? How far are we really going to take this and if we cross that line how many people will be effected when they’re 30, 40, 50 +, been driving for decades and can’t find a copy of their high school diploma, lost or damaged in a fire, natural disaster; maybe the same thing happened to their school records, even for recent graduates, current students considering the tornados sweeping across both the south and the Midwest. Are we going to prevent them from getting a driver’s license because their diploma, their records got swallowed by a vast and violent vacuum, a force of nature no one has any control over? What’s next, to renew your license between the ages of 18 and 25 you must show proof of attending college, trade school or job training; after that it will be you must be working to renew your license?

Come on all of this is just another example of unimaginative, grasping at straws, looking to outside, unrelated forces to correct an internal problem; instead of addressing concrete issues causing students to drop out, rather than being willing to even test counseling, mentoring or tutoring, dealing with bullying and harassment, from both students and teachers effectively, they say oh we’ll just take their license away, prevent them from getting one until they graduate. Contrastingly, lasting effects of counseling, mentoring, tutoring means life skills not just academics, can stop kids from going down the wrong path, keep them from drugs, legal troubles, eating disorders, self-mutilation issues, and if said problem are found get young people help early. Far more than just making sure they graduate high school.