I’m seriously exhausted from the number people I’ve had to deal with who were equating “just got a GED” (General Educational Development certificate) or “dropped out of high school” with “not intelligent enough to have a job.”
Seriously, it would be nice to go one day this week without feeling so much contempt for the people who know nothing about why people drop out of schools or why people get GEDs instead of regular high school diplomas. It’d be nice if they recognised that a lot of this is because of so many structural factors that make the required schooling difficult to obtain for people and not because of any assumed “deficiency” in intelligence, whatever that’s supposed to mean.
But that’s not going to happen this week, as more people wake up to the fact that Lauren Boebert has a job in Congress and completed her GED over the summer. You know, as if that is the problem.
Unfortunately for us, Lauren Boebert is a recently elected Republican member of the US House of Representatives from Colorado’s 3rd district. Prior to the elections in November (and the attempted self-coup in January), if people across the US did know about her, it was likely due to the fact that she refused a cease-and-desist order to close her restaurant under Governor Jared Polis’s ‘safer at home’ order. Despite being a ‘law and order’ sort of candidate (a type of candidate I despise from any party), she has shown repeatedly that she believes the laws don’t apply to her (which is highly hypocritical but not unsurprising for a white woman). And in her GOP primary, she challenged five-term Republican Representative Scott Tipton and won.
Oh, the other people who knew about her nationally? QAnon researchers. She’s supported QAnon in the past before she deleted relevant social media accounts to run for Congress. She espouses harmful beliefs that are dangerous for an incredible number of people, which the national media seemed to overlook or gloss-over up until this past week when it suddenly became relevant (to them).
As you can see, she has many things that she can be rightfully criticised for. None of them include her level of schooling, which tells us nothing about her (without her contextualising it, and I wouldn’t necessarily trust her considering she’s been caught lying about why she was arrested, and I don’t trust liars).
But instead of critiquing those things about her, I’ve been inundated with liberals and self-proclaimed “progressives” who have decided to make fun of her for obtaining a GED this summer. Rather than actually point out how she’s dangerous and harmful to an overwhelming majority of people across the planet (but especially in the United States), they’ve honed in on something about her life that she shares in common with millions of other people.
Amusingly, many of these people have failed to even look up what content knowledge is required to pass a GED exam. I’ve seen people say that it’s “not [a] requirement on the GED test to know the branches of government” (despite the fact that 50% of the social studies exam is civics and government). Strange how they know so little about something as they denounce it while proclaiming that this is the reason a horrible Congressperson shouldn’t have the position she now holds.
Anyway, it seems the hills they plan to die on are elitism and alienation. (When they complain about losing in the future, remind them of these behaviours.)
If you take some time to investigate the dropout rates for different demographics, it starts to become pretty clear why people see a so-called “lack of schooling” as being ‘bad’ and ‘disqualifying’. It has a lot to do with our society being racist, ableist, xenophobic, homophobic, and classist. The overwhelming majority of students who leave school often fit one or more of those demographics.
In terms of race, the statistics provided by the NCES (National Center for Education Statistics) show that the dropout rates for all people have been decreasing across the board, but they still show that a number of the most marginalised students are dropping out at higher rates. Looking at race alone, these rates still remain the highest for those who are Hispanic (8% in 2018), Black (6.4%), Pacific Islander (8.1%), and American Indian or Alaskan Native (9.5%). The graduation gap between Black and white students is still fairly massive (especially in some places more than others), too. (I do want to note, though that Black and Latinx/e families place a higher value on education and advanced degrees than white families; part of this is likely due to the fact that people in these demographics require more qualifications than their white peers to access most industries.)
Furthermore, information for Hispanic people shows that, due to the large number of immigrants in that demographic, it is often more difficult for them to access information about GED programs. A lot of the information is not provided in a language that is accessible to them, the institutions are often more difficult to access, and the process of obtaining a GED can also be cost prohibitive for some people. (Unfortunately, much of the information for Hispanic and Latinx/e students does not make a distinction between white and non-white Hispanics and Latinx/e people.) With regards to other migrant demographics, these issues also impact them for similar reasons.
With regards to disability, though the NCES’s statistics for dropout rates for disabled students are limited, they still show that most disabled students are disproportionately likely to drop out of high school (or graduate with an ‘alternative certificate’ instead of a regular high school diploma). Students who are categorised as having emotional disturbances have the highest dropout rate of any group: 32%.
But that’s just a quick glance at populations who are more likely to drop out of school. So why do people drop out of school?
A lot of people seem to think that students who dropout of school do it because they are incapable of learning or simply unintelligent. This stereotype has no real foundations, and this is largely because everyone is capable of learning something. Also, the concept of intelligence is something that is based entirely in our own cultures; no two cultures have identical ideas of what this means. Even people within the same culture have different ideas about what ‘intelligence’ is. In fact, this is one of the reasons that things like IQ tests are junk science. (For example, IQ tests don’t consider motivation, levels of poverty, access to materials, expectations, familiarity with tests, and interest. They’re useless metrics.)
Much of the research about reasons for why students dropout of school doesn’t show this stereotype to have any foundations, either. For example, one paper goes through a number of theories about why students leave school. They find that a majority of students reported having passing grades when they left school, and they note that the reasons for why people leave are largely diverse. These reasons include: family disruption, an obligation to take on a new job, hospitalisation or other medical event, immigration problems, becoming a parent, conflicts at school (with teachers or peers), bullying, a death in the family, natural disasters, and being arrested as a youth.
There is no one reason for why people leave, but it’s clear that most people leave school because it’s not meeting their needs (or it’s taking away from their ability to meet their needs). They leave because there is a conflict between their school life and their home and outside life, and they are trying to solve that problem because the school isn’t helping them to do that. In fact, it’s usually because the school and the school system are causing more problems for them.
These students often come from more marginalised backgrounds; they can be immigrants, people of colour, queer, disabled, poor, or some combination of the above. Students from these groups are far more likely to drop out because those groups are often targeted with bullying and harassment from their peers and the school staff; they’re more likely to have their problems brushed aside and ignored, even when they make them known. If they leave school because of an external problem, it’s largely because the society isn’t helping them meet those needs, and they have to find some way to keep themselves and their families afloat.
This is largely why I frequently advocate for the abolition of school and developing community centers that focus on the needs of all people: children, teenagers, and adults. We’ve been seeing a lot of debate recently about the purpose of school and how the already-existing issues have been exacerbated by the pandemic, highlighting so many reasons why we should be looking for alternatives to what we do now.
But we also need to think about how schools, as they currently exist, don’t foster community and don’t foster learning. In fact, they’re frequently shoving people out of them just because they don’t ‘fit in’ (and that also includes teachers).
So many people leave school for a huge range of reasons, and none of them should impact a person’s ability to survive or participate in their community. Leaving school doesn’t make them less valuable as a person; it doesn’t mean they’re less intelligent than the next person.
It just means that the system failed them.
So let this be a reminder: Lauren Boebert should be criticised for her dangerous and bigoted beliefs and actions, not because she got a GED.