by Thomas Hawk
The country has for ages been lamenting the low achievement rates in our high schools – as it is evident when you compare the high school graduation results we get, with that ones they have come to take for granted over the rest of the developed world. The nonprofit group The National Center on Education and the Economy has proposed a new system of high schooling – something as they’ve discovered from the way they go about things in Europe. The thing is, students in this country, whether they want to go to trade school or community college to become carpenters or plumbers, or they want to head to Harvard Medical School, are put in the same high school with the same courses they should complete.
What this ends up achieving most of the time, is that students show up at college, completely unprepared, and having to take remedial courses. The new system (or the old European system) will be that if the student really knows that he or she will not be really heading off for a regular four year degree in college, can choose to get their high school diplomas two years earlier. They will need to submit to a thorough series of tests to ensure that they have learned their high school lessons; if they do not pass those tests when they’re in the 10th grade, they can take them again later. The aim of this all is to just not put children through unnecessary education, but to just give them what they actually need and will use.
As we lament the high level of underachievers our schools seem to produce, we must not forget how the American education system is more humane in many ways. Nowhere else do children get so many chances if they are not ready at the right age, to stay in step with their age group. And of course, American colleges produce more inventors and scientists than any other comparable country. Is this new system even a good idea that tries to remove the humaneness, the flexibility and the room for maneuvering that our established system gives late bloomers? The humaneness of the system has always been that we don’t go and pigeonhole children for this or that career when they are 16 and completely clueless. Our tradition has been always to allow children to put off to the very last minute as far as possible their decision of what they want to major at in college. Even community colleges so far have allowed pupils a great deal of time to commit to some course or to choose to go over to a traditional college. Of course this is a somewhat wasteful way, but it is humane. Giving children high school diplomas as soon as possible and being done with them is hardly the way.
Getting children to decide right away at such a tender age as 16 where they want to wind up in life, may certainly on paper, reduce the failure rate we have; but it does this by shanghaing young children off into the labor market where they will not have to achieve as much. It may certainly give us fewer high school dropouts in the last 11 and 12th grades, but in the end, we become a country with fewer true college graduates. What happens if those students regret their decision later on? And what use is it giving them high school diplomas and calling them “college-ready”, when the in reality, they’re only ready for community college?
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