I worked with many teens in my 30 years of psychological practice. The parents would bring their teen to my office, believing the youngster needed counseling for behavior or attitudinal problems. Invariably, the parents wondered what they had done wrong, but in many cases the difficulties and heartbreak stemmed from the school environment rather than the home.

Yes, these kids had fallen through the cracks. And the cracks were mighty wide and deep. Let me tell you about one such case. I’ll call this girl Emily. She always liked school but reading problems emerged in the second grade — and her smile started to fade. She tried to pay attention, obeyed her teachers rules, and studied harder than most of the kids in her class. Her mother was a single parent and helped Emily when she could.

But Emily still wasn’t making it. In middle school the counselor suggested that Emily might enjoy some career options such as becoming a veterinarian assistant. Emily was excited. Perhaps she could finally excel at something. But Emily and her mother were informed that Emily’s academic grades weren’t high enough for acceptance into the career program. Even when the counselor eventually found a program that would take Emily, it required private transportation and Emily’s mother couldn’t afford a car. Even worse, high-stakes testing left no time for alternative career work.

Emily already felt she was a failure, but the official state tests took many hours to administer and when she failed the world history test she had to retake it until she passed. Emily failed that test five times. When I saw Emily, she was clinically depressed. Could anyone help poor Emily? Political and educational leaders could help the Emily’s of this world, but their fear of the truth keeps them from changing things.

What is the truth? The truth is that most students aren’t capable of true college work and should focus on career training. Career education that is relevant to their lives and results in happiness and financial success. The concepts that all students are pretty much the same and that all kids should go to college are tragic myths that lead to school dropout, unemployment,.and psychological problems.