Fraudulent high school diplomas

The fall semester has begun across the nation, which means that high school counselors will soon advise nearly all their charges to apply to college.  I believe that essentially amounts to malpractice (“Accuracy in Academia,” the Alex Nitzberg Show, Aug. 21).

When nearly half of college freshmen require remedial courses despite possessing a high school diploma, something is terribly wrong. The truth is that too many students are simply not college material.  Either they lack the necessary IQ to handle college-level work or they lack the necessary study habits.  In either case, professors have had to severely dumb down their instruction or face criticism for their pedagogy.

When Charles Murray made similar points in “Real Education,” he was blasted for being a racist.  But race has nothing to do with the situation.  It has everything to do with the wherewithal that individuals of any race possess.  The problem is that a high school diploma is now considered a right – not a reward.  There is enormous pressure to guarantee that every student receives a diploma regardless of attendance or ability.  The result is a travesty.

I’ll go a step further and submit that a bachelor’s degree is heading in the same direction.  There was a time when a sheepskin meant something.  Today, it is virtually meaningless.  In “Academically adrift,” Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa found that critical-thinking skills of college seniors showed little difference from those of college freshmen.  The situation is only going to get worse.

(To post a comment, click on the title of this blog.)


2 Replies to “Fraudulent high school diplomas”

  1. Re critical thinking skills — speaking from personal experience, college did not do much to sharpen my critical thinking skills. Law school, yes; college, not so much. But, I had a well-rounded and academically very challenging high school (Long Island, NY in the mid-1960s). For me, my freshman year at Cornell was no more academically challenging than my junior year in high school.

    Of course, my anecdotal experience strongly supports your principal argument — that today many high school diplomas are awarded just for showing up (and sometimes even showing up is not required). Perversely, this means that, for those students whose high school curriculum was easy/superficial, college is the place to acquire critical thinking skills. And, if so, it follows that there will be a tendency to dumb down college course work as college replaces high school as the place to teach basic critical thinking skills.

    An alternative explanation for my anecdotal experience: Neither “good” high schools nor “good” colleges do a particularly effective job of teaching critical thinking skills. Instead, they teach knowledge rather than critical thinking. The simplistic nature of the thoughts expressed by many/most of our national political leaders and even by noted op-ed writers is evidence supporting this alternative explanation.

    Listening to the political leaders or reading the op-eds, I often think — even when I agree with what they are arguing — “but wait; you’re completely ignoring mitigating factor X or refuting argument Y”.

    In law school, we learned — often passively, sometimes explicitly — to always look at an argument or situation from all sides and to ask “what’s the downside to that argument” or “what would one argue if one were on the other side of the issue”. This is, in my opinion, the core of critical thinking. And, I — at least — was not taught this in either high school or college.


  2. Labor Lawyer: You express my views perfectly. High school diplomas and bachelors degrees used to mean something. Today, they need to be regarded with total skepticism because they are deemed to be a right. I believe in tracking students at some point in their schooling. This is anathema to most people, but I say it is realistic. We can – and should – argue at what age but not on principle.


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