I am fortunate to be able to take education for granted - for myself and for my three boys. My parents had the means, the time and the roadmap to be sure I made my way through high school and on to college. My boys, with the support of their incredible mother and dedicated caregivers, will have a similarly uncomplicated path.
But for nearly 1 out of 5 American teenagers -- and 65 percent of young African-American men in my home city of New York, there is no roadmap, there is no easy path, and there is no high school diploma. The result is a generation of young people with limited options, limited earning capacity and ultimately a lack of experience with education success to guide their children on a path to fulfill their goals.
We could blame parents, but I've met many parents in my years on the planet, and very few are not rabidly interested in seeing their children succeed. But many are also overextended, juggling three jobs to keep food on the table. Where do they find the time -- or frankly the energy -- to rifle through their kids' backpacks for the note from the teacher? How do they ask for the time off to attend a parent-teacher conference or to call the guidance counselor? How do they find the courage to talk to a school administrator when they may have a limited education or a language barrier? These parents may not have the wherewithal or the experience to draw on to keep their children on a path to graduate from high school with their peers. Parents almost always take the fall for their children's' failings, and I am sure there is some truth to that (ask my children in ten years' time where I've gone wrong.) But blaming the parents isn't useful or productive.
So what about the teachers? They are increasingly younger, working with smaller budgets and bigger classes. They are being measured by how well their students perform on exams. There is little time or leeway in the curriculum for them to encourage and inspire so many children who are plugged in 24/7 and distracted by a world of heartbreaking problems. In the absence of parents to inspire and direct their children to a fulfilling education, the teachers are expected to fill the gap - but do they truly have the time or experience themselves?
Unraveling the issue of high school graduation requires the entire community. The organizations that are trying to make a difference (Like the Citizen Schools, United Way or Skills USA) need support and resources. The children, the parents and the teachers alike need mentors to help them with the logistics and provide the spark that might inspire them to push harder. Because without inspiration, we are likely to fail.
The good news, if there is any, is that the dropout crisis is now front and center among lawmakers and thought leaders. This Saturday, public media will shine a spotlight by joining with community partners, educators, and business leaders to engage in American Graduate Day 2013, a full-day multiplatform forum helping local communities identify and implement solutions to the high school dropout crisis. With an energized community, we can collectively work to make a difference in these lives -- one student, one teacher, one parent at a time.