Why famous dropouts aren’t the best advocates for staying in school

rg, left, is greeted by T.C. Williams Principal Suzanne Maxey and Sway at T.C. Williams High School. T.C. Williams won the celebrity visit through a national contest.(Astrid Riecken / For The Washington Post)
Mark Wahlberg, left, is greeted by T.C. Williams Principal Suzanne Maxey and Sway at T.C. Williams High School. (By Astrid Riecken / For The Washington Post)

Mark Wahlberg, the wildly successful actor and musician and producer and actor, appeared at T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria to encourage kids to stay in school and get their degree. He dropped out in ninth grade, and now, at 41, he is working through an online credit recovery program to get that diploma.

No doubt the students were excited to see him and hear him as he joked about what he would do if his career “goes south” — drive a truck and/or work at McDonalds, he said (unintentionally dissing truck drivers and McDonalds workers). And he said, according to this story by colleague Michael Alison Chandler:

If you think about what I accomplished without a diploma, imagine what you can do with an education.

Do you really think the students in the crowd were wondering how many more millions of dollars he could have made or shows he could have produced or films he could have starred in if he had a diploma? Or did they they think, “Well, not everybody who drops out winds up in jail or driving a truck. Maybe I can be lucky like Marky Mark.”

Because Americans have such an outsized fascination with celebrities and what they have to say and do (and, increasingly, what perfume they have designed and marketed), it is good when they speak out with a positive and even important message. Staying in school certainly counts. And good for Mark Wahlberg for finally valuing education enough to work towards his degree.

But if schools are going to bring in celebrities to wax poetic about the importance of staying in school at a time when the news is filled with stories about how college graduates can’t find jobs, they might be better off finding someone whose education actually helped them be successful.

 

 

Valerie Strauss covers education and runs The Answer Sheet blog.
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Valerie Strauss | April 25, 2013