Thursday, May 22, 2008
Cultural revolution needed to curb dropouts
Detroit students launch a drive to increase graduation rates
The Detroit News
Shyly at first, then more confidently, a group of African-American young men
took their turns at a Detroit charter school's microphone Wednesday to
announce their commitment to changing the culture of Detroit and
specifically, raising the high school graduation rate among their peers.
At first glance, the press conference -- held in a bare bones cafeteria --
may not have looked like the beginning of a social movement. But the seeds
were there for a potential revolution.
"It's time for the young men in our city to get off the streets, get in
school and get a future," said sophomore David Miller.
The young men at University Prep Academy in Detroit's Midtown are part of
Detroit's Great Hope project, a commitment and campaign by the school's
class of 2010 to transform themselves, their fellow students and their city.
The class has committed to going to college and coming back to the Motor
City to help in its revival. But before that, its young leaders intend to
engage their male peers to stop their hometown's tragic tidal wave of
dropouts. Detroit leads American big cities in male dropouts, with most
studies estimating its rate at more than 65 percent.
Student Ronald Ruffin pledged to convince his peers not to fall for the
surface allure of drug dealing and fast money.
"We all understand that they have a lot of flash, but it's just a front,"
said Ruffin. "They may have a wallet full of cash, but they live with their
mothers, and end up dead or in jail."
The college path may appear more difficult but in fact long-term, college
graduates earn as much as $1 million more in their lifetimes than high
school dropouts, Ruffin pointed out. They also are more attractive to women
-- a prime motivator for teenage guys.
"No jail time, more money, more women -- it's not such a hard choice," he
said as his peers cheered.
The young men's campaign pitch is in the words and context their age group
understands. Already they've begun to engage students at more than three
city high schools in conversations about staying in school. This summer they
want to host a talent show to foster social ties, a foundation for spreading
Their campaign is part of a larger philosophy at University Prep Academy:
Culture matters. You can implement every imaginable jobs program and school
reform but without a shift in culture -- and a grassroots commitment and
demand for high-quality education and college degrees among Detroiters
themselves -- government programs will fall flat.
In a city where more young men are dropping out than staying in school,
Detroit's transformation demands nothing less than a cultural upheaval, a
social movement that must begin in the hearts and homes of the city's young
people and their families.
Joshua Metzler, 16, reads "Outside the Line" by Charles K. Ross for a term
project he is working on at University Prep Academy in Detroit. A group of
black students at the school want to turn around Detroit's dropout rate.
(Velvet S. McNeil / The Detroit News)
-Charles C. Primas
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