What makes the world go around? Some might say the answer is "love." Others might say "dollars and cents." What do you say?

Too bad for the love people, the correct answer is, based on what’s happening around us, dollars and cents. We claim to be a loving nation but when the rubber hits the road, most everything is related to dollars and cents.

Third World countries are Third World countries because they have no dollars and cents. The Central American countries, most Middle Eastern countries and many African countries would give anything to have the dollars and cents that developed countries have. They want the money not only to feed their population but to create better schools, better roads, better hospitals and just to improve the overall standard of living. Because they have little money, they have to beg for it or borrow it and sometimes steal for it. If you are hungry, you are capable of doing almost anything.

One of the things that developed countries have over non-developed countries is free quality education for everyone. Developed countries have quality education largely due to an investment of dollars and cents, which countries like the United States have in abundance.

How do developed countries get the dollars and cents? The answer to that is one word, "ideas." People invested in ideas and the good ideas resulted in dollars and cents. Where did we get the ideas? We got them largely from a free education system, which taught us to think and to ask good questions and to argue and to debate and to put our thoughts on paper so others could react and the end result was an idea that made a difference. This doesn’t mean that every idea or every new business came directly from our education system or a specific class or from a specific teacher, but education is the means to develop our brains and more learning means more ideas. Once those neurons get moving, it’s almost impossible to shut them down.

Bemidji is a fine community. It's growing and it's becoming more prosperous because people who have ideas are implementing them and the results are more dollars and cents for everyone. The same is true for all of the communities in Beltrami County. We realize, too, that our county is also a poor county. We don’t have an abundance of millionaires like Eagan or Minnetonka or Burnsville.

We have many kids on free or reduced lunch in our schools; we have a homeless issue; we have many kids in foster care; many people are on public assistance. There is one more reason why we struggle to make ends meet. Beltrami County has a drop out rate somewhere around 40%. That’s high. That’s very high. Even if it were 10%, it would still be too high.

Here’s an idea. What if 100% of that 40% completed high school? What would that do to the economic condition of our county? Think about it. I mean, seriously think about it. If we became a prosperous country because of ideas, what if we had more people generating ideas?

Would our homeless problem be less? Would we have fewer kids on free and reduced lunch? Would we have fewer people on public assistance? Would we have fewer kids in foster care? Would we have more people entering college? Would we increase our work force? Would we have a higher tax base? Would we have more revenue for schools? Would we have fewer incarcerations? Would we have more people making better decisions thereby lowering our drug addiction rate?

Here is an interesting question for you. How much would schools save if those 40% who dropped out of school, stayed in school? Remember that for every high school student that leaves school early, the district loses thousands of dollars in school funding. It doesn’t take too many students who leave school early before the loss in revenue equals one teacher. So, the answer to the question is, school districts would save a lot. This is why enrollment is such a big factor for school districts. Fewer students mean fewer dollars.

So, what are we doing to keep those kids in school? I could say a lot, but a better answer is not enough, not nearly enough. Remember the 40%. How much more would it cost to make sure that every student stayed in school? The answer is, you wouldn’t believe it, not a dime. How do I know this? Because you and I graduated when someone planted a seed in our brain that told us we needed to graduate and it didn’t cost anyone anything to say it over and over and over again.

Beltrami County has a goal of a 100% graduation rate, which is unique and potentially, earth shaking. (What if every city and county in the state had the same goal?) To have that goal didn’t cost the county or the city a dime and if we really, truly believe we can do it, think of the millions and millions of dollars this county could save to invest in more ideas and in people. Remember it doesn’t cost a dime to tell someone, “remember to graduate,” and to do it again and again.

Does the world really evolve around dollars and cents? Yes, but it doesn’t have to. It can be both with an emphasis on love. Having a graduation rate goal of 100% is all about helping everyone and that translates into "love." I know it sounds corny to some of you but it’s true. If we love our neighbor as we love ourselves, we could and can graduate 100% of our kids. Don’t you think it’s worth a try?

Riddle: What is the next letter in this sequence? JFMAMJJASON (Answer: "D." All of the letters represent the first letter of each month. “D” equals December.) What other words in a sequence can you think of to make an interesting riddle?

100%

Thanks to these fine organizations, we now have 361 supporters for Project Graduate and its goal of 100%. Rodgers Law Office, Focus Financial, Country Financial, Barritt Law Office, Red Lake, Inc.

You can help kids graduate when you:

  • Challenge them with riddles that make them think.
  • Expose them to a wide range of activities.
  • Participate as much as you are able in these same activities.

John R. Eggers of Bemidji is a former university professor and area principal. He also is a writer and public speaker.