Research by Alice Goffman and other sociologists strongly suggests that when inner-city youths are confronted with the option of pursuing a high-school degree and the world of work versus living by their wits on the streets, the latter appears to many to be the more rational and realistic option. This results from their lack of knowledge of their external world and the opportunities it offers.
The first option puts them on a college track with a curriculum that many find irrelevant to their interests, impractical, and largely incomprehensible. Most understand that subjects such as algebra, geometry, and cellular biology never will be needed in any future work they might aspire to.
Contrast our approach with that of Germany, where only 24 percent of K-12 students go to college and the others enroll in and complete hundreds of apprentice programs. The result is a highly skilled workforce, very low unemployment, great prosperity, great job security, and consistent trade surpluses. In part because of Germany’s pragmatic approach, the incarceration rate is only 11 percent of the rate in the United States.
Think of the savings in law enforcement and welfare expenditures that a market-driven approach like this could produce here in the United States, one in which the curriculum would stress skills for living and working in a complex society.
We can only hope that the sociologists will enlarge the sphere of their research to embrace what real curriculum reform in our K-12 system would look like. At present, we are engaging only in charter-school fantasies and “blame-the-teachers” exercises.