Let me start by saying, in no way am I glorifying high-school dropouts. In fact, with Operation HOPEs 5 MILLION KIDS (5MK) initiative, we are actively pushing a stay in school, Smart Is Cool agenda for our youth. I think that education is the ultimate poverty eradication tool, because when you know better, you tend to do better.
The best way to insure that you have the best chance of success in this world, is to finish high school, go to college or somehow acquire a marketable trade, keep your head down (studying your craft) and your chest out (dignity and self respect, leading to higher self-esteem).
That said, I believe that America's youth are dropping out of high school at a 30% rate overall, 40-50% rate in our urban schools, and as much as 70% with young black men, is precisely because young people do not feel that education is "relevant" to their future. In other words, we have effectively separated education from aspiration, thereby removing one of the primary drivers for why a kid would complete their education in the first place.
As I have often said, if you want to keep a kid in school, show a kid how to succeed, how to prosper, how to "do well," and even how to "get rich legally," if that is their goal. To me, that translates into financial literacy empowerment, free enterprise and capitalism, ownership, opportunity and entrepreneurship. It's tying education back to hopes, dreams and aspirations in life.
The following names (myself included, I might add), represent just a partial listing of some successful individuals who effectively "dropped out." At Operation HOPE (with our Gallup-Operation HOPE Financial Literacy Index) we will be exploring this in much more scientific ways in the weeks and months to come, drilling down into verifying data, but my guess is that the following list of individuals had an experience similar to my own; loved the concept of education, and of course are totally obsessed with acquiring knowledge to this very day, but was more "distracted" in their lives by the achievement (now) of my hopes, dreams, desires and aspirations.
Enjoy the list, and let's think together in the weeks and months to come about we can re-imagine an educational experience where we take the best of both worlds (left brain and right brain), convincing our children to "dream again," but this time inside the classroom environment. This will not only solve our high-school dropout problem, this will also re-ignite the idea factory we call the "greatness of America," and create a country that leads again.
Richard Branson… Billionaire British businessman.
George Eastman… Founder of the Kodak company.
Albert Einstein… Mathematician.
George Gershwin… Composer
Wright brothers… Inventors of the airplane.
Peter Jennings… News anchor and reporter.
Thomas Sowell… Economist, author and political commentator.
Dave Thomas… Founder of Wendy's restaurant chain.
Ansel Adams… Photographer, author.
Dhirubhai Ambani… Billionaire Indian businessman.
There are at least 18 billionaires that dropped out of high school, as well as 10 Nobel prize winners, 8 U.S. presidents and dozens of best-selling authors. Even Mensa, the high-IQ group, has some high school dropouts among its ranks.
In recent years, it has become less common for dropouts to succeed in many areas (except perhaps business), because diplomas, degrees, and official papers have become more important to society.
While it is good to encourage education, this over-valuing of formal documents may lead us to pay less attention to what intelligence and success really are. Certainly, looking at the list above, you can imagine there are many well-papered people in this world that are a rung or two below some high school dropouts in terms of true success and the use of their intelligence.
P.S. My hero Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. received a C grade in public speaking from Crozier Cemonary, who cautioned that "King would not amount to much if he did not speak 'speaking like that.'" And how the world would be forever different, had he not found his own unique voice, while embracing the power and importance of education at the same time.
John Hope Bryant is founder, chairman and CEO of Operation HOPE, bestselling author of LOVE LEADERSHIP: The New Way to Lead in a Fear-Based World (Jossey-Bass), and a member of the U.S. President's Advisory Council on Financial Capability for President Barack Obama