As I entered the trading post in a small border reservation community I passed two Navajo youth leaning against the wall, one leg propped behind them for support. They wore black tee-shirts, one declaring “Indian Pride on the Rise,” the other showing a heavy metal rock group “Twisted Sister.” Both wore high topped basketball shoes and hair free flowing to their shoulders. One spoke to me. “Hey, are you the lady who is talking to dropouts? You should talk to me. I'm a professional dropout.” I did. And to many others. Their stories spoke of racial discrimination and rejection by teachers. “The way I see it seems like the whites don't want to get involved with the Indians. They think we're bad. We drink. Our families drink. Dirty. Ugly. And the teachers don't want to help us. They say, 'Oh, no, there is Another Indian asking a question' because they don't understand. So we stopped asking questions.” Their stories spoke of the importance and power of families and the Navajo culture. “I go crazy worrying about my parents. They need me so us Navajo stick together. I feel kinda proud to be a Navajo.” And their stories spoke of academic and social marginalization in their classes and schools. “It was just like they wanted to put us aside, us Indians. They didn't tell us nothing about careers or things to do after high school. They didn't encourage us to go to college. They just took care of the White students. They just wanted to get rid of the Indians.” This article is about these Navajo and Ute youth who leave high school.
In mainstream research the phenomenon of “dropping out” is commonly defined as an issue of individual failure (see Note 2). Youth “fail,” either academically or socially, to make it through school. The problem exists not because of deficiencies in the schools but rather because of deficiencies in individuals and families. Youth who leave school are described as deviant, dysfunctional, or deficient because of individual, family, or community...
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