Late for Graduation?

Stop WatchThere is an article in September 3 online edition of Education Week magazine, “Why Not Count Them All”, addressing the issue of whether kids who are a year or more “late” graduating from high school should be counted in school graduation statistics. For me, the whole idea that the process of formal education encompassing generally over a decade of one’s youth leading hopefully to high school graduation has a high-stakes “schedule” makes no sense. It is an unfortunate remnant of the industrial era in which public schooling flowered and unfortunately a residual but inappropriate conventional wisdom of that era.

On every youth in the country going through public school, a schedule is imposed with such high stakes that to fall “off schedule” in any year is considered a serious aberration and a mark against your character that you were “held back”. This is considered so onerous by the school and wider adult community that there is tremendous pressure towards “social promotion” so kids aren’t disheartened by their failure to keep pace with what I see as a very arbitrary standard.

On the flip side, to try to shorten the schedule can be a complicated bureaucratic exercise in gaining authorization to “skip a grade”. It can give one the student cache (inappropriately I think) of being super-smart or some prodigious oddball, and subject the parents of such a student to second guessing that they are removing their youth from the “natural” community of kid’s their same age. Where in the rest of life, outside of school, is it natural to be around only people the same age as you?

In my thinking, it is only “natural” in the context of an OSFA (one size fits all) education system, conceived in the mass production paradigm of the early industrial age, to have every kid the same age learning the same thing at the same time. It is certainly not a humanistic way of supporting each unique person in the path of their individual development. What hubris to think we can mandate the pace at which people develop!

We certainly do not mandate the progress of adults! We don’t set national standards that every one has to have a full-time job by age 23, move beyond an entry-level position by age 26 and be in a management or technical position by age 30, and then make people feel like failures if they are not. Every adult is given the freedom and respect to proceed on their life’s course at their own pace. Even college students are not shunned for taking more than four years to finish college (of course that means more tuition money for the college…*g*).

But not so for youth! They must be carefully externally managed and “herded” through their developmental process at an arbitrary pace based on some sort of time fetish of bureaucratic thinking.

I personally think that the heart of real education, self-motivated learning is hampered by all this standardization. But if you are going set a threshold for knowledge and skills acquired to merit “high school graduation”, why not offer an array of courses that young students can take at their own pace and in their own time. Like college, you could still set sequences with prerequisites (or the permission of the instructor). There would be no time pressure to take something when you are a certain age or to finish “on time”. This approach could allow a more truly natural mixing of ages and remove the constant anxiety, adult and peer pressure to “stay on schedule”.

Last I checked, life is not supposed to be a race to the finish line (which is death after all) or one journey shared by all (which would be pretty boring).

I am in the last throws of finishing the book From Dawn to Decadence: TBD by Jacques Barzun. From his perspective writing this tome in the 1990s, Barzun creates a narrative arch for the “Modern Era”, which he posits began with movable type, the Guttenberg Bible and the Reformation in the 16th Century, reached a peak in the early 19th and decayed in the 20th as exemplified by two horrific world wars.

If Barzun is right, then the remnant institutions of that era need to be allowed to crumble and replaced by something completely new and vital in a forward-thinking and liberating sort of way. With the completion of the “Modern Era”, we need to launch our new era with our equivalent of Luther’s TBD leveraging our technological equivalent of the printing press. Let us create our own reality and imagine a new way!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *