Monday, June 01, 2009



At a time when only seven in 10 American students are leaving high school with a diploma, President Barack Obama is demanding that the nation lift its educational sights by asking all Americans to commit to at least one year of education after high school. 

My initial reaction is: So what?! 

Followed by: Why is there such a focus on a diploma instead of on an education?

Frankly, I've reached a point where I couldn't care less if my kids get a high school diploma. That may come across as shocking, but a diploma, at least here, means covering some very specific things that the government has decided upon. It's not so much a high school diploma as a provincial diploma for high schoolers.

There is a mistaken notion that a diploma *means* something more than it actually does; that by having a diploma, you are somehow better educated than someone who doesn't have a diploma.


Thomas Edison never had a diploma. He was probably better educated by the age of 12 than any of our students today graduating with diplomas.

Having a high school diploma provides an indication of having done certain coursework required in your area. It speaks nothing of the actual level of your education.

Not to mention the fact that you can barely pass the courses (which is 50% here) and still get your credits and your diploma. How does that mean you are educated? And what about the fact that so much of the school work is cram, cram, cram for the exam, and forgotten about shortly after? Somebody did a very small study here a few years back taking students who had done very well on their diploma exams. I think it was 4 months (it wasn't more than 6 months) after they did the exams, they were asked to redo the same exams they had done. They had no prior notification and were therefore not able to study. Needless to say, they did not do as well. Most of the exams were barely passed or were failed. What had those students actually learned? Their transcripts said they'd learned the stuff well; the follow-up exams disagreed.

And then, the actual content of the courses can be somewhat pitiful. It's so focused on cramming as many diverse topics as possible within a course that often it doesn't go into deeper detail to provide true understanding. I can't count the number of times the 18yo has asked me some deeper question about her biology. She's got to try to remember a ton of different things, yet would she not actually be better educated if she had the opportunity to really go in-depth on fewer things?

It feels somewhat like the diplomas of today are reflective of our materialistic culture: more, more, more.  It doesn't matter these days if things are true quality (remember how TVs and toasters and toys were QUALITY and lasted for years and years and years?); the focus is that a ton of stuff be covered so that surface-wise, it can appear that our students know oh-so-much, what the government of Alberta calls on their website "high quality curriculum".

Yeah, whatever. Especially since to be grammatically correct, it should be "high-quality curriculum".

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