It’s the learning, stupid

Giving diplomas to slacker students is a shortcut to a dead end street, writes Ms. Cornelius of A Shrewdness of Apes. She links to a Salt Lake City Tribune story about students who cut classes then “make up” a quarter’s work in a few weeks by doing study packets provided by a private company.

By the time Spencer Taiti graduates from Woods Cross High School, he will have spent hours of school time doing everything but learning. An inveterate class-skipper, the junior guesses he has failed or will fail as many as 10 classes, often because he didn’t bother to show up.

But he will graduate, the teen says. If he has his way, Taiti will make up all those failed classes by completing packets provided by private companies such as Layton’s Northridge Learning Center. The course packet his friend Meleana Otukolo completed in about five hours earned her the credit she should have gotten attending nine weeks of class for about 90 minutes every other day. At Northridge, that “quarter” credit costs $45.

“I want to get done with school the easiest way possible,” he says.

True slackers copy their friend’s packet, ensuring they learn nothing — except for poor work habits.

A new Utah law requires schools to accept unlimited credits from accredited private programs.

A counselor defends the private programs as an option for students who can’t or won’t attend more rigorous school-run make-up classes.

“If a kid can get out with a diploma, the rest of their life is better for them,” said Orin Johanson, a West counselor. “If we have to send them to some less-than-appropriate make-up [program], I, for one, think it’s OK if a kid is dealing with certain circumstances.”

That attitude drives Ms. Cornelius up the wall.

The door may initially open for these ersatz high school graduates, but as soon as it becomes obvious that the “graduate” does not possess basic skills, unless their family owns the company, they will be shown that very door out in the real world. And besides content knowledge, there are other skills that are valued in the real world, like: showing up on time, showing up regularly, being willing to do mundane tasks in the achievement of a greater goal, and being able to sustain effort for longer than a session of DOOM on the ol’ Playstation.

When I did a series on “Learning to work” about 10 years ago, I interviews many employers who complained that young high school grads didn’t understand that they had to show up every day — even Monday morning when they had a hangover. They complained about graduates’ reading and math skills too, but it was the not showing up that drove them nuts. A guy who ran a machine shop told me he loved to hire Vietnamese immigrants. They knew math and his bilingual Vietnamese machinists could translate for them while they were learning English. They show up every day, he said.

About Joanne


  1. I would really like to be able to get a copy of that series you did. In fact, I would like to post it in the hallway on the bulletin board.

    The example you cite about the employers really makes me shudder to think of what these kids will encounter. Talk about finally learning the hard way….

  2. I have some reprints of the series — somewhere. I’ll dig one up and mail it to you if you e-mail me — joanne at joannejacobs dot com — with your address. The series also is online via the Mercury News archives, but it’s much easier to read in the reprint.

  3. OTOH, it is possible that this kid skips class because the classes are far below his abilities and incredibly boring. I never skipped a class, but I could have learned everything some classes took a year to teach (about 160 hours)in under 10 hours.

    But you are right that he will come out of this without the work habits needed to keep a job even at McDonald’s, let alone the study habits to tackle difficult college classes. I learned good work habits by growing up on a farm, but the first challenging college class was a shock.

  4. Markm: That could be the case, but his comment in the article (“I want to get done with school the easiest way possible”) makes it seem less than likely, in my opinion. I too think that much of what constitutes one semester’s worth of HS work could be compressed into a much shorter time span (note: I still showed up everyday for school), and if anyone were to ask me my thoughts on compression, I would say something more along the lines of, “It’s not challenging enough, so I’m bored. That’s why I skip.” That’s what most too-smart-for-school students say, in my experience.

    Anyway, grrr…with kids like these being my competition, why the heck am I having so much trouble finding a job??

  5. Are we being serious here? For at least a couple/few decades, a high school diploma (except NY Regents’ perhaps) has meant nothing. Increasingly, a college diploma doesn’t either. Most employers for entry level positions don’t check diplomas and certainly not transcripts. And they’d learn little if they did.

    Further, whether a kid really remembers any geometry has little to no predictive value as to whether she can sell copiers. Can we not stop worrying about whether a student has “earned” a high school diploma?

  6. “whether a kid really remembers any geometry has little to no predictive value as to whether she can sell copiers”…it certainly has predictive value as to whether she can work at the higher levels of the machining trade, to use the example Joanne mentioned.

    The metaskills learned in studying geometry are also of use in sales, which often requires making quantitative arguments about the benefits of one’s product or service.

  7. Prof210 wrote:

    For at least a couple/few decades, a high school diploma (except NY Regents’ perhaps) has meant nothing.

    You think maybe that’s got something to do with the blasé attitude of so many kids towards education? Why so many kids, and parents, view an education as just the inescapable preliminaries to getting your passport stamped?

  8. Catch Thirty Thr33 says:

    I can find for you, no problem, my associate’s and bachelor’s degrees. But for some strange reason, I cannot find my high school diploma. (Nor can I begin to understand why I am occasionally asked about my high school education on applications that are occasionally turned in with resumes.) I probably won’t be able to find it even if I turn my house insiude and out. Perhaps that is because I couldn’t begin to take high school seriously, then or now, while I view my college degrees, even the associate’s, as testimony to my accepting an academic challenge, and conquering it.