Tuesday, May 22, 2018
Opinion

Ruth: Creating two types of high school diplomas shortchanges teens

If you're the parent of a teenager as you might be reading this at the breakfast table, take a long, hard look at that mono-syllabic, brooding life form attached to his or her iPhone and ask yourself a simple question.

As much as you love them, as much as they might be really great kids when they aren't regarding you as a complete idiot, is that young man or woman remotely qualified to make a life-altering decision for themselves?

Really now, most of these adolescents barely know how to get dressed in the morning, but the Florida Legislature in its ditzidom, passed a piece of legislation signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott, which will permit teenagers more preoccupied with playing Halo 4 24/7 to embark on a secondary education path of studies that could well influence the rest of their lives.

The new law would create two different diploma designations: one for technical training, the other for those interested in pursuing college-level classes.

At first blush this may seem to make perfect sense. After all, you don't need to be an expert in education to know everyone has different aptitudes, different skills and yes different intellectual levels.

Some people are cut out for college, others are more suited for a career as a computer programmer, or mechanic, or plumber or . . . whatever.

But the problem is at 16, or 17, or 18 — how do you know, how do you really know, at such a young age what you will eventually wind up doing into adulthood? And the answer is — you don't, unless you are Prince William.

By creating an educational system where kids are shunted off into an early career path, Tallahassee has done a disservice to the state's children and completely ignored the intangibles of the high school experience.

Teenagers are cliquish. It won't take long before the technical path students and the college path students forge their own social stratas to the exclusion of one another. High school is more than classes and tests. It is also a place where young people learn social skills — how to relate to different kinds of people, different cultures, different races. That's at risk now.

But by pushing a student to decide between cam shafts or Chaucer when they barely know how to drive, the very real potential exists that a teenager who might well have terrific mechanical skills, might also have made for an even better heart surgeon 30 years from now if only he or she had been given the opportunity and the encouragement to pursue a fuller range of academic offerings.

Conversely, the bookish kid who at 17 spends all of his or her time hanging around the library could turn out to be a superb carpenter.

Did you know at an age when you thought a mullet was oh so very cool, what you would be doing to earn a paycheck? We just don't know. The Florida Legislature doesn't know and certainly Rick Scott doesn't know.

We've all heard the stories of the high school guidance counselor advising a student, who heretofore has shown all the ambition of Kato Kaelin, to consider a career sharpening lottery card pencils, only to go on to become a venture capitalist.

The new secondary education caste system belies a lack of trust in teens to have dreams and ambitions and a vision for the future they have yet to grasp. It pigeon-holes young people in a predetermined career path, they may eventually not want. That's not an education. It's a sentence to a lifetime of woulda, coulda, shoulda.

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