Did You Know I Dropped Out of High School?

Me, a high school dropout — who knew, right? It sounds comical, even now. Looking at me you would never assume this. But, really, what does a high school dropout look like? I should explain that I eventually went on to earn my degree; so does that make me the rule or the exception to your perception?

Regardless of what you think, that was my reality. I was a teenage parent living in a basement apartment with a newborn daughter and her mother. Things weren’t easy. I worked as a stock boy at a grocery store and at an electrics store as a loss-prevention agent (euphemism for that person who checks your bags at the store exit).

I was hungry to learn, excited to be learning. And I don’t think that kind of passion for education is typical in Canada because we aren’t all living in poverty; we’re not all teenage parents or disadvantaged. But things worked out for me. They worked out because that was what I wanted; they worked out because I fought for my education, and I knew even back then the best way to elevate myself was to educate myself.

But I ask this question again, am I the rule or the exception? My circumstances of living in poverty was largely self-inflicted. But what about the one in four children in Toronto right now who did not choose to live in poverty? How are they coping? Or, the better question is, what are programs doing to help them cope?

Think of the effect on someone’s ability to learn if they’re not even sure they’ll eat that night. How do you adjust the curriculum to cater to “hungry?” How does a child ignore his economic distractions and focus on the day’s lessons?

Don’t get me wrong, developing curriculum is important. That’s been one of the big talking points, at least in Ontario, hasn’t it? Trying to figure out how and when to introduce certain aspects of sex and sexuality to our children has divided parents, teachers and our government. Deciding whether math theory is more effective than practical teaching has been criticized, a debate that has been reignited since the most recent Ontario student math scores showed a clear decline.

These conversations matter. And the very fact that people are uncomfortable should be taken as a sign we’re at least moving in the right direction. The resistance shows we care enough to make our concerns heard.

When I was still in high school, my biggest concern was staying interested in the lessons. Even before dropping out was a thought, finding ways to get excited about topics that dulled my brain was a challenge.

And reflecting on those thoughts right now, I actually feel really bad. Because if we stepped out of Canada and polled students from developing countries, they might not even worry about curriculum. Going to school without the threat of war would be their only wish, and being safe in school and learning would be a privilege they would welcome with open arms.

In those instances, education is about much more than reading textbooks. It represents something deeply valuable to the child — their family — and it should mean more to the city and country in which the child is learning.

Here in Canada, the social aspect of our school system is more appealing to our children. Getting to spend hours with friends is just as important as what the teacher is scribbling on the board. But that’s not true for the 25 percent of kids who live in poverty and not to me who finally realized the only way out was to hit the books. It certainly isn’t true to children living in developing countries where going to school and feeling safe is a luxury.

Make no mistake, education is the key. Regardless of our perspective, regardless of the curriculum, our geography or economic circumstances, the reality is education is one proven way to improve our lives. Getting my education has directly led to my career as a writer. It means I can take care of my daughter. It is the reason I can wake up every morning and earn a living doing what I love.

So, when Christian Children’s Fund of Canada releases survey findings in November about what children around the world need to feel safe at school, we should pay close attention. We should open our minds and hearts to figure out how we can make it easier for children to learn.

Leading up to Universal Children’s Day on November 20, I will continue to point out the importance of education as it relates to children around the world. What will you do?

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