30 May 2007

Georgia to Do Away with Two Diplomas

For those who don't know, Georgia high schools have previously offered two different seals on high school diplomas. One is the college prep seal. The meaning behind this seal is obvious: the courses the student has completed courses to get ready for college. The second seal is a vocational seal. Students take standard math and English classes, geography, and such, but instead of going into advanced classes, such as the upper maths and sciences, and some history classes, they take courses in welding, carpentry, auto repair, and computer sciences (to name a few). The seal, at least at my old high school, required that they take three classes from the same group (three consecutive welding classes, for example). Most of my friends who were on this track planned on going on to trade schools and working in construction or car shops.

The two seals had a few basic requirements in common: English composition, basic maths and sciences, and introductory social sciences. They then gradually moved apart as the college-bound prepared for their trek to higher learning and the future manual-laborers learned the general practices of their trade. Obviously, this system was not perfect, as both could probably stand a little more in the way of foreign language instruction and practical mathematics (money management classes, things such as balancing a check book and keeping a budget).

The high school I attended for the first two years, Bradwell Institute, also offered a dual seal, meaning that the recipient took classes in both the upper-level arts and sciences and in technical areas (a fourth seal, the college prep honors seal went to those who took the honors and AP college prep classes).

The state, though, has decided that the vocational diploma discriminates between rural and urban schools, and on account of race and income level. Because of this, they plan to do away with it, saying that students need to be held to the same standard.

I am all for equality. But specialized education is also essential. You don't see them arguing for the removal of honors classes in Georgia. It is not just unreasonable, but also harmful to the students. Instead of wasting the future mechanic or hair-stylist's time with the Calc, Physics, and European History, put them in the classes that will prepare them for what they want to do. We say we want to prepare them for college, but they aren't going to college. We say we want to prepare them for life, but we are wasting their time with stuff they don't need. Our current education philosophy here in the US seems to be get everybody ready to go to Georgia Tech, MIT, and other technology centers, to prepare us for the future and global economy. I first call into doubt the idea of devoting our lives to technology, lest the Matrix come about voluntarily. But I do enough of that in other posts. Here I focus on becoming so single-minded in education that we have tunnel vision. Where will the dreamers go, the philosophers, theologians, and those who practice the arts, the writers, painters, and musicians, the performers and photographers? And those upon whose toil society is built in the most literal sense and whose sweat keeps life running like a well-oiled machine, what will become of them? Our way of life is built upon diversity, starting education. Let us keep it that way.

I have always lifted Georgia's dual-diploma system up as an example of what good education looks like. Teaching students what they want to learn and preparing them for what they want to do. I sincerely hope that this system stays in place.

For those in Georgia, please write to the Department of Education. Let them know how vital this program is.

Rock on.