Merriam-Webster defines diploma as people involved in education might expect:
1. A document issued by an educational institution, such as a university, testifying that the recipient has earned a degree or has successfully completed a particular course of study.
2. A certificate conferring a privilege or honor.
3. An official document or charter.
There is a nod to the word's Latin etymology: a letter or introduction and a mention of the word's original western civilization derivation from the Greek: folded paper.
If classical language wordsmiths had seats on today's public Boards of Education, they'd be adding a lot more folds to the name of those pre-college graduation certificates. It would make it easier for the rest of education to ball them up and throw them all away.
What has happened to the value of a High School graduate? Has it gone the way of the now symbolic but once revered 8th grade diploma?
"Once considered a springboard to success, the high school diploma now has little meaning in determining whether students are ready for college or work, a coalition of education groups contends.Only comprehensive change, including more rigorous English and math requirements for all students, would restore the significance of a high school graduation, according to a nearly two-year review by the American Diploma Project."
Since World War II, the emphasis on early twentieth century education techniques has been gradually marginalized. A new wave of GI Bill enfranchised professionals grabbed the Bull of the New Age by the horns and began to write a new approach to a new curriculum. Many of these new professionals came from backgrounds that were not shaped by the classic education opportunities that pre-WW II professionals enjoyed. The ideas that these new professionals had were innovative, exciting and largely disconnected from earlier educational methods. The educational emphasis became, for this new middle-class, on higher education and the deisre to impart the new opportunities they enjoyed to an expanding population.
The problem of this expansion of opportunity and its focus on illuminating the higher goal of higher education began to erode the relevance of a successful High School education as a terminal accomplishment. As students were encouraged to reach beyond a high school education the significance of their high school diploma was diminished. As the diploma was diminished, the high school curriculum changed to help lower achieving students to earn their diploma. That these students were, at best, marginally qualified to attend college was addressed by the emergence of a great number of community colleges. Those institutions could take the under-qualified high school graduate and address their educational deficiencies through remedial classes and further move them along towards an Associate degree and, if successful, could move them into a 4 year college to continue their studies.
So what has happened to our high schools since the new educational paradigm has been implemented? While they tend to move most students from a ninth grade entrance to a 12th grade exit, their ability to provide an educational that results in a meaningful diploma has largely failed. We produce students less qualified to go out into the workplace and more qualified to take remedial programs at a community college.
Has this transition in education improved learning and the independent critical thinking skills so important in the workplace (and in life)?
Like the soldiers on the rifle ranges training for combat in World War II who fired and missed the target, the trends in modern public education run the risk of seeing the same results --the waving of Maggie's Drawers:That big orange banner, swiped from Maggie in an old drinking song was the military's signal that the attempted shot missed the mark and scored a zero.
If the significance of a high school diploma trends to nothing, then public secondary school education has effectively missed it's mark. If we slip for a moment into a more classical education mode, we find the Greek word hamartia --literally, to miss the mark. But it is also interesting that the same word is used in the Greek New Testament to indicate sin, and if we do diminish public secondary education completion to the point it becomes completely meaningless, then we have missed the mark in also a Biblical sense.