I have always believed that our primary role as educators is to be merchants of hope. If every student could leave our educational system with hope, then we will have done more than we ever could by focusing on academic rigor, attendance, or standardized test results. When I think of hope in this way, it's more along the line of Fullan's definition:
"Hope is not a naive, sunny view of life. It is the capacity not to panic in tight situations, to find ways and resources to address difficult problems."
Providing every one of our students with this capacity will allow them to take on the challenges they will face regardless of what they decide to do after graduating. Granted, it's a shift from providing only tangible skills but the world they are entering isn't looking for the defined skills as was prevalent a generation ago. Seymour Papert, as referenced in Dylan Wiliam's brilliant new book "Embedded Formative Assessment" (http://tinyurl.com/7kkjoqx) talks about the skills students of today need:
"The skills that you can learn at school will not be applicable.
They will be obsolete by the time you get into the workplace
and need them, except for one skill. The one real competitive
skill is the skill of being able to learn. We need to produce
people who know how to act when they're faced with situations
for which they were not specifically prepared."
The absence of hope, created in part for some of our students through the daily reminders that they failed, serves to put those students on long term losing streaks. Streaks for which there seems to be no end point. Disappointment leads to Discouragement. Discouragement leads to Disengagement. And, sadly, Disengagement is a short step away from Disappearance. These students leave our system with minimal skills and even less hope. In these situations poor choices are often the only choice. The law of survival supersedes the laws of the land. As Martin Luther King stated: "A riot is the language of the unheard." We can lament as adults that we no longer feel safe in our communities or that we need more jail cells or more "tough on crime" politicians and judges. Or we can recognize that our time is now with the kids we have to be those merchants of hope.