Should Your Child Finish High School Before Learning to Drive?

One method that seems to be fairly effective with many kids who are not doing well in school is to take away something they enjoy, such as TV, video games or cell phones. Some state governments have even enacted laws wherein licenses are taken away from those who drop out of school. Is this too much government interference? Should this type of punishment be meted out only by parents?

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No Diploma, No License

Currently, 20 states have laws that tie driving with staying in school. Most recently, South Carolina approved a bill that would allow the state to take away the licenses of those who have dropped out of school, with those individuals having to wait until their 18th birthdays to be reinstated. Other states, such as Massachusetts, require driver's license applicants to possess a high school diploma or equivalent.

Sound like a good idea? To many, it doesn't. For one, opponents say, there is no indication that withholding or taking away a driver's license has any effect on dropout rates. The punishment also fails to address the reasons why students are dropping out.

What's more, this type of blanket punishment might not take into account individual circumstances. Perhaps, for instance, a student has dropped out of school to get a full-time job to support his or her family who might be victims of tough economic times. Taking away or withholding a license in this case would jeopardize this individual's ability to get to work.

While South Carolina's law allows for exemptions in some cases, such as for the one illustrated above, not all states appear to do the same. The Massachusetts law, for example, seems less likely to take individual cases into account. There, it seems to be: no diploma, no license.

Not a 'One Size Fits All' Punishment

Will taking away driving privileges make students more motivated or attentive in school? Not necessarily. The threat of losing their license might not be effective enough to keep all students in the classroom, or it might keep them there but not force them to do the required work.

Or, as Jay Smink of Clemson University's National Dropout Prevention Center/Network told The Post and Courier in April 2011, some students might go back or stay in school to keep their licenses but will eventually drop out anyway. This, he says, has been the experience in some other states with laws similar to South Carolina's.

Basically, it should come down to this: parents need to decide what type of punishment will work best for their children. Sure, taking away a driver's license might work since it would take away that bit of freedom the child feels he or she has, but that should be a decision made by the parent and not by the state. What's effective for one student might not necessarily be as effective for another.

In the long run, though, the best way to combat rising dropout rates is to address the reasons why students are dropping out in the first place. Is there a way to approach material that will make these students want to learn? Is there counseling or early intervention methods that might help them stay in school? Is there more in the way of support that parents can give? We need to make sure these students are challenged, focused and stimulated. In other words, we need to give them an inner drive, the kind of drive that isn't tied to a license.

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