Monday, December 1, 2008



Frequently in my discussions with junior high and high school-age children I tell them that right at this moment each one of them has a job. What is it, I ask? They mostly stumble and stammer in their responses, but with time they come up with what I view to be the correct answer: their job is to get an education. And it is probably the most important job they will ever have. I recommend you have similar conversations with young people that you know.

  Remind those who are not concentrating on their studies that there are literally millions of young people their age all over the world that would give anything for the opportunity to get a good education in this country. And they are simply throwing away this enormous opportunity. So ask them why they are doing that.

  And who is rooting for them to get a good education? Again, after some false starts, they correctly answer with their parents, family and friends. I am rooting for them too, and I don’t really know them. Nevertheless, I also want them to get a good education. So do you.  

  But there are more people who are rooting for them as well. Talking with a boy, I say that there is a girl out there somewhere who may not even know you yet, but she is genuinely hoping that you get a good education. Why? Because it will make an important difference in her life. Who might that be? Of course, his future wife is the answer, and for the girls it is the same thing as to their future husbands. And what about some people who are not even born yet? Their future children also are deeply hoping that they get a good education because of the critical impact it will have upon their lives.

  Then give them the numbers that were published several years ago by the Santa Ana Unified School District. On the average, people that graduate only from elementary school earn about $595,700 during their entire lifetime. But if those people stay in school and get just a high school degree they can almost double those lifetime earnings to about $1,105,000. And then if they go on to college, on the average they will much more than double that amount again to about $2,846,300.  

  Now if we figure that students will be in high school for four years, that means they will be paying themselves over the course of their lifetimes about an extra $127,300 for each of those four years. Dividing that by 180 school days per year, that means they will pay themselves about $707.00 for every day they go to high school, which comes out to be about $117.89 for each of their six class-hours per day of high school.

  So ask the young people, where can you get a job and earn $117.89 per hour? The bottom line message is that they are economic fools to drop out of high school! And that is often true all over again if they do not go on to either a college or some form of trade school to obtain a marketable skill.  

  So dropping out of school is a choice, and that choice will have a big effect upon these young people and their eventual family for the rest of their lives. Confront them: Would you like to have that better-paying job? Stay in School – an education is your key. Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to support your future family well? Have some financial security, retirement benefits, take a few nice vacations and eventually send your children to college? If that is what you want, Stay in School!

In addition, there is certainly nothing wrong with being a school custodian, but would they rather be a custodian that rakes the leaves on the school grounds and sweeps out the classrooms in the evenings, or be a teacher at the school? Which would be a more interesting way to live their lives?  

Furthermore, understand that people without job skills are usually the last to be hired, and the first to be fired when the economy slows down. So once again, for their own future, stay in school, get an education, and obtain some job skills. They will always be grateful that they did so.

But there is more to life than economics. Help these young people focus upon one of the biggest truisms in the world. And that is that “It is Fun to Learn.” And the more you learn, the more you see that everything in life is interconnected. So there is an interest and excitement factor that an education will bring that cannot often be obtained in any other way.

As an example, one of the countless things to marvel about is the human body, which is the most amazing machine in existence. There are reasons why our bodies do things involuntarily for our protection, that is, without our conscious effort.  

With an education, we will get an exposure to questions like why do we cough? Well, if something is caught in our throats, a cough will help to dislodge it. And our bodies vomit to get rid of poisons or things that are harming our stomachs. If you think about it, our bodies are fascinating, but we are much less likely to share in those wonders without an education!

Other simple but brilliant adaptations are for us to have toes for extra balance, and more nerves in our toes and fingertips to provide more precise information to our brains about what we are encountering.  

And why do we shiver? By moving our muscles when we are cold we generate heat, and that results in our bodies being warmer. And pain sometimes really can be a good thing, because it tells our brains when our bodies are being hurt so we can attempt to take it away from the source of harm. The same thing is true with fear, which can be the body’s alarm system to warn us of danger.

We automatically yawn when we are getting too tired to breathe sufficiently, so our body does that to bring in more oxygen. The same thing happens when we exercise hard, because our body makes us pant in order to meet its increased demand for oxygen. And why do we hiccup? Well, that is something for the future, because to my knowledge no one has ever figured out a reason for that to occur.  

But without exposing oneself to an education, areas of interest and fascination like these in physiology, as well as countless others in astronomy, history, art, chemistry, world travel and so many more are likely to be lost to them. We are only on this earth for a short period of time, it is a tragedy not to make the most of it!

So let’s all try to spread the word that is apparent to some of our young people, but lost to many others. Stay in School! That choice to obtain an education will make one of the most important differences in a person’s life, both in tangible results, and in making that life much more pleasant and interesting along the way.

James P. Gray is a Judge of the Superior Court in California, the author of Why Our Drug Laws Have Failed and What We Can Do About It - A Judicial Indictment of the War on Drugs (Temple University Press, 2001) and Wearing The Robe - The Art And Responsibilities of Judging In Today's Courts, has a blog at, and can be contacted at

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