The Meaning of A Diploma

What exactly does a high school diploma mean? And, how is it different than say, a college diploma? Or a diploma from a trade school? Or a diploma from a correspondance course?

From what I can tell, a high school diploma doesn’t mean anything about what people know. It doesn’t indicate whether a person is qualified to do a job, or to be responsible or even if they know how to read. A high school diploma doesn’t tell me squat about what’s inside a person’s head.

What it does tell me, is that this person is now old enough to no longer be subject to compulsory attendance laws. It tells me that if he is in a class or taking a course, or otherwise learning something, it’s completely his choice. That diploma means freedom from someone else telling him where he has to be, what he has to study and whether or not he’s a success. That diploma is a wave goodbye to a former life. Once a person has that diploma, he has nobody to answer to. He takes all responsibilty and ownership of his own mind.

Our not-schooled kids already have that. When they are old enough to get a diploma from High Bridge Academy, they will already have control of what they learn, how they learn it and when. So what will a diploma mean to them then? I imagine it won’t mean much. But if they need one, to show an employer or to get into college, well, they’ll have one. Because the employer, or the college or whoever needs it will want to know if they have moved past the stage of being told what to learn, and into the stage of freedom. Unbeknowenst to the colleges, they’ve been in that place since they were born.

Maybe that’s why employers and colleges like homeschoolers so much. And why homeschoolers and unschoolers make good workers – they are where they are because they want to be – and that alone is a huge element of what makes a good student or employee.

A high school diploma may seem like it shows that a person has learned what they need to learn, but it doesn’t. That’s not to say that a diploma is worthless. But is it like finishing a marathon. Anyone who can walk or run can finish a marathon if you start the race. But if someone decides half-way through that it’s just not working for them, and they leave the track, does it mean that they wouldn’t finish first in a bike race? Or that they aren’t capable of walking or running? How much would a marathon diploma be worth if everyone was required to run the race, and finish it?

If we want a diploma to mean something – make it a choice. In order for a high school diploma to really be worth something, it should be hard to get, based on meeting criteria (like in a college) and it should be something that only the people who want one get. Not just the thing that happens when there just isn’t any more school left to do. It wouldn’t hurt if there were alternatives either – like certificates of completions or diplomas with emphasis on certain subjects, like a pre-major. That way each diploma says something about the person.

But you gotta take out the element of “this is just what everyone has to do” to make it mean something. And to make it really mean something when someone doesn’t have one.

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One Response to “The Meaning of A Diploma”

  1. Laura in CA :) Says:

    I really like your analogy to the marathon!! For years the UC schools have been complaining that they are having to offer remedial English and Math for incoming freshman. That means the high schools are not doing their job and, in essence, their diplomas are unjustified.

    On a somewhat related note…my niece is entering high school this year. It’s already brought up some interesting conversations with my family. One thing is that they are seeing the high school ‘culture’ in my nieces participation in marching band. Already they are complaining of some of the things she’s experiencing.

    Maybe the diploma should be for enduring 4 years of high school socialization?????


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