Monday, November 28, 2005

Walk The Walk

In a story I missed last month from the Los Angeles Times:

Educators across California are grappling with what to do with nearly 100,000 seniors who could be denied diplomas next spring after failing the state's first-ever high school exit exam.

At issue is whether students should be allowed to participate in graduation ceremonies, and whether to offer an alternative certificate in place of a high school diploma — and what currency such a certificate would have in the job market.
Um, it should have no currency since the kids didn't graduate.

Let's leave aside the merit and/or structure of the exit exam for a moment. If it is required to graduate and a kid can't pass it, the kid doesn't actually graduate, right?

Then why let him walk?

Now, full disclosure, last May, I walked with what I consider to be my class during the spring commencement exercises because I certainly didn’t want to hassle with coming back in May 2006 to walk with people I don't know and UCs don't have a problem letting students go through the motions without having accomplished anything except, I suppose, successfully picking up their caps and gowns.

Does that sound harsh? My older sister walked a quarter before she was actually done at UC Santa Cruz (having experienced first-hand the ease - note implied sarcasm - with which UC students get the classes they need, I'm not surprised most UC kids take 4+ years to graduate). I did it. Lots of kids do it.

My college, however, was notoriously hard-assed about graduation. Seniors complete their finals no later than a week before the ceremony and all grades must be submitted and tabulated so that participants know 100% that they have actually graduated. We got our real diplomas when we walked across the stage. No waiting or worrying about the Postal Service losing our $100k+ pieces of paper. If your eyes were bleeding out of your head, you were one unit from being finished, and just couldn't get that last 2 page paper in on time, tough luck, sporto.

Perhaps I was just conditioned to a tradition, but I found my faux-graduation last May to be a pretty hollow, meaningless endeavor. (I guarantee you that somewhere, my mom is getting upset reading this). The sole upside was the chance to have my family come visit and to spend time with my departing friends and meet their families. That was worth it, of course. But since I had accomplished nothing at all save completing my fifth semester of law school - why was I allowed to walk? When I really do finish in a few (blessedly/frighteningly) short weeks, the only ceremony I'll have is the one where I pop open a bottle of Asti in my living room and pass out from exhaustion before I've downed the first mug. I don't regret for a second the decisions I made that have me finishing now, but I wish the cap and gown part were this December.

I think it is inexcusable that so many California students are failing what is - in all likelihood - not a difficult test. But we do them no favors by letting them out in the world unqualified for the jobs they'll need to have. In fact, high school education is pretty sorry even for the passers. But don't pretty up the disappointment with a tinsel-wrapped consolation certificate. Keep them at school and hope like hell it will only take a year to get them out.

Letting students who aren't really graduation walk with ones who are won't make them feel better about failing the exit exam.

I'd say, no diploma, no walk. And it'd be nice if UCs had the same standard.


Anonymous said...

You drink MUGS of Asti! You're hardcore.

I saw a headline a few days (was it weeks?) ago about a loophole in the exit exam law that might allow community colleges to give diplomas without any state oversight. Here's the link:

JB said...

Because of the SELF ESTEEM.

I agree with you Christiana. By allowing what amounts to self-esteem walks they cheapen the ceremony for everyone. Of course I totally don't/didn't mind you walking with us in the Spring, but that's cause you left in the Fall to engage in a highly worthy cause (advancing your political positions, even if we disagree is highly worthy and very law school ish).

Also, it lets the students think they've accomplished something when they haven't (other than happy 18th birthday in a really odd roundabout way). Shame is a powerful motivator, and sadly, our society becasue of the SELF ESTEEM, has chosen to turn away from using it completely. (Not that shame is all good either, but like everything...balance).

Anonymous said...

Thanks for catching the mug comment, jbl. It was half hardcore and half too-poor-for-champagne flutes.

JB - yes, the scourge of self-esteem and its frequent confussion with actual accomplishment stikes again.

On my participation in the ceremony - it kinda did lame-it-up for me, and maybe some others too.

Plus, and while there is NOTHING wrong with taking more than one shot at the Calfornia Bar since that's one hard mutha of a test, people who remember me at graduation might be confused that I'm still at school or that I'm taking the bar in february - like I failed classes or something. Plus, really, it didn't mean anything. But graduation ceremonies are for families (I only mean that for law school, my college ceremony was meaningful and lovely for me as well), and I didn't want to cheat my parents out of the photo op.

It felt really lame though. And shouldn't be confused with an event marking any sort of accomplishment or milestone.

Anonymous said...

The "we have to give them a diploma" school of thought reminds me of the ol' Oingo Boingo classic "Only a Lad" song.