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  Comments (3) Total Friday Apr. 18, 2014
Childs’ Play
Kids Count
A recent Kids Count survey found that Montana’s students are dropping out of school at some of the highest rates the country. The numbers are disheartening and just another excuse to analyze the area’s youth and discuss what can be done to keep them in line.

When reports like this are released, it’s easy for parents to blame teachers, teachers to blame parents and everyone to blame students. State Superintendent of Public Instruction Denise Juneau, who says the spike can partially be attributed to better tracking methods, now wants the Legislature to pass a bill that would require teenagers to stay in school until they’re 18 or graduated, instead of 16. Apparently, we need a new law to keep these youngsters in line.

We’ve been talking a lot lately about the burdens passed upon this younger generation: How we our going to saddle them with the largest deficit in the nation’s history. How they won’t be able to afford college and, those who can, won’t be able to find a job anyway. How their cell phones and computer games have made them inattentive and lethargic.

It’s an American tradition to hammer on the apathy of youth. But it also appears to be amplified by a recession that could make it more difficult for them to fulfill even modest dreams. And there is now a larger platform – with the advent of this information age – for us, the wise adults to tell teenagers what’s best for them, or complain about them, or scare them about their futures.

What’s more frightening than the dropout rates among Montana’s youth is the number of children living under the poverty line. The Kids Count survey reported more than one in five come from families making less than $21,834 annually – an increase of 24 percent since 2000. So not only are more kids uneducated but more of them grow up poor.

This is Generation Z, or Generation I, or the Internet Generation: We haven’t yet figured out the apt stereotype to bestow upon them. And it must be depressing for them and they must be resentful for the mess it appears we are going to leave to clean up. But the thing is, many of them aren’t.

Overwhelmingly, I find Flathead teenagers equally polite and engaging. During a recent weekend I was surrounded by about a half-dozen high schoolers. They were voracious readers, volunteer firefighters and still possessed of the enthusiasm many of us lose as we age.

In the past, I’ve spoken at both high school and community college classes. Expecting a crowd of blank faces – discussing journalism can be excruciatingly boring – I found them curious to ask questions and offer advice about how to fix a trade in flux.

When teenagers visit the Beacon office, whether to be photographed for a sports feature or to job shadow our staff as part of an extracurricular assignment, they are always eager to learn and inherently optimistic.

This, of course, is just anecdotal evidence, and doesn’t address the real issue of more Montana and Flathead Valley students dropping out of school. True, it’s a problem that needs to be addressed.

But as we turn a critical eye to this next generation we should, at least, remember the one turned our way as we battled the trials of our own adolescence. And while we talk about their dire plights (both real and perceived), maybe we should listen to a few of them as well.

The majority of youth aren’t as scared for their futures as we are. That is, until we remind them that Social Security will be depleted by the time they qualify for it.
On 08-08-10, inthemiddle commented....
Most people who put down our youth have not spent much time with them. Todays kids are no different than past generations. Since the time of Plato and Socrates elders have put down and worried about the coming generations. The kids I come in contact with on a daily basis…
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