What a High School Diploma No Longer Means

Sadly, the only thing that you can consistently say about someone who holds a high school diploma, especially one issued in the last few years, is that they come from a family stable enough to get them to school most days for 12 years.

A lot has happened recently to make us understand that the high school diploma isn’t especially useful anymore as a certification.  What do I mean by that?  What it comes down to is what does a high school diploma mean?  What does it certify?  There was a time when we thought a high school diploma certified that you had mastered the basic competencies to be a competent adult who’s a part of a community who’s ready to learn whatever was necessary to earn a living.


There was a time when a high school diploma meant that you were ready to move on to college and get additional higher level training to pursue a career or to explore ideas at a different level.  But unfortunately neither of those is true anymore.  Most of the kids who get a high school diploma, especially in urban districts, are not ready to do college level work as evidenced by the fact that they need remediation in college in reading, in mathematics or in both.

If you ask anyone who hires entry-level employees they will tell you that the existence of a high school diploma does not mean necessarily that the employee is trainable, that the employee has a basic grasp of math or communication skills either.  And if the diploma doesn’t mean that anymore then I think the time has come for the society to ask what it does mean.  And sadly, the only thing that you can consistently say about someone who holds a high school diploma, especially one issued in the last few years, is that they come from a family stable enough to get them to school most days for 12 years.

That’s not enough.  That’s not useful to institutions of higher learning.  It’s not useful to employers.  It not useful to fellow citizens.  And so I think that the time to think about what we expect of someone at that level of education has come. 

In Their Own Words is recorded in Big Think's studio.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock

A still from the film "We Became Fragments" by Luisa Conlon , Lacy Roberts and Hanna Miller, part of the Global Oneness Project library.

Photo: Luisa Conlon , Lacy Roberts and Hanna Miller / Global Oneness Project
Sponsored by Charles Koch Foundation
  • Stories are at the heart of learning, writes Cleary Vaughan-Lee, Executive Director for the Global Oneness Project. They have always challenged us to think beyond ourselves, expanding our experience and revealing deep truths.
  • Vaughan-Lee explains 6 ways that storytelling can foster empathy and deliver powerful learning experiences.
  • Global Oneness Project is a free library of stories—containing short documentaries, photo essays, and essays—that each contain a companion lesson plan and learning activities for students so they can expand their experience of the world.
Keep reading Show less

Artist rendering of a supervolcano.

Getty Images
Surprising Science
  • The supervolcano in Yellowstone National Park could cause an "ultra-catastrophe," warns an extinction events writer.
  • The full eruption of the volcano last happened 640,000 years ago.
  • The blast could kill billions and make United States uninhabitable.
Keep reading Show less

Ashamed over my mental illness, I realized drawing might help me – and others – cope

Just before I turned 60, I discovered that sharing my story by drawing could be an effective way to both alleviate my symptoms and combat that stigma.

Photo by JJ Ying on Unsplash
Mind & Brain

I've lived much of my life with anxiety and depression, including the negative feelings – shame and self-doubt – that seduced me into believing the stigma around mental illness: that people knew I wasn't good enough; that they would avoid me because I was different or unstable; and that I had to find a way to make them like me.

Keep reading Show less

Sexual activity linked to higher cognitive function in older age

A joint study by two England universities explores the link between sex and cognitive function with some surprising differences in male and female outcomes in old age.

The results of this one-of-a-kind study suggest there are significant associations between sexual activity and number sequencing/word recall in men.
Image by Lightspring on Shutterstock
Mind & Brain
  • A joint study by the universities of Coventry and Oxford in England has linked sexual activity with higher cognitive abilities in older age.
  • The results of this study suggest there are significant associations between sexual activity and number sequencing/word recall in men. In women, however, there was a significant association between sexual activity in word recall alone - number sequencing was not impacted.
  • The differences in testosterone (the male sex hormone) and oxytocin (a predominantly female hormone) may factor into why the male cognitive level changes much more during sexual activity in older age.
Keep reading Show less
Scroll down to load more…