Saturday, November 27, 2010

What Does a Diploma Mean? Just Another Sheep Skinned?

Some people are born on third base and go through life thinking they hit a triple. --Barry Switzer, US football coach (1937 - )
We’re very proud of ourselves when we, or those we love, earn an educational certificate or degree. It’s just so coooool, great, wonderful, awe-inspiring, etc, to parade up onto a stage to be handed a diploma – or reasonable facsimile thereof – whilst wearing a medieval gown with accompanying mortarboard or tam and multicolored hood. Even kindergartners do it.

The diploma is supposed to represent skills achieved, attitudes inculcated and knowledge acquired – or some reasonable facsimile thereof. We don’t really look too hard.

But would you choose to go to, or take your loved ones to, a licensed physician who got through school by cheating, sleeping through classes, copying other’s notes, and memorizing test preparation booklets the way that a large minority – I am being optimistic here about numbers – of students in higher education do? (In ancient times when I went to high school we read Arrowsmith by Sinclair Lewis: a source, no doubt, of my worries.)

Everyone “knows” that where you go to college gives you a status advantage in the competition for jobs. But do you really get more from third-base universities? Does status indicate anything more in the practitioner in skills achieved, attitudes inculcated and knowledge acquired?

To examine these issues further, see Educational Assessment: 
confusing status with achievement.

--- EGR