There are bad ideas and there are ludicrous ideas. Last week we and the millions who watch ABC’s World News Tonight or read the New York Times were treated to a doozy. Both newssources ran pieces about an experiment in 8 states to end high school (for a self-selected group of students) after 10th grade. These students, whose goal (it appears assumed) is to enter the workplace quickly, can simply test out of the last two years of high school and go on their way. Of course, these students’ reason for leaving school could be anything, including a desire to drop out without appearing to do so. But advocates for this idea appear unconcerned about this or about any other of the many potentially harmful ramifications this idea could have. Those include reducing the college-going population to a richer and less diverse group of students, namely those who know as high school freshmen that they are going to college. And creating within high schools a very clearly defined two-tracked system (basically two schools in one) populated by two rather starkly separated classes of students. Also – and this, fundamentally, is what bothers us most – embracing the idea that people who go from high school into the workforce do not need to possess a rich base of knowledge in a range of subjects.
We are all citizens. And we are all learners. No matter what we become – professors, small business-owners, burger-flippers or “just” moms or dads – possessing knowledge will help us to do what we do well, to enjoy our lives, and to exercise the responsibilities of citizenship. To say, as states would be if they made 11th and 12th grade optional, that only the college-bound need to know anything beyond possessing basic reading and math skills is essentially to give up on the education of a huge portion of the population. Yes, this is a pilot program, and it is likely – like most dumb, faddish ideas – to fail. But we should recognize that the widespread adoption of anything resembling this program would be tantamount to giving up on providing many American children with anything beyond a bare-bones education. And we just can’t do that.