RE: DSM: Diploma

From: Joe Jackson (shoeless@jazztbone.com)
Date: Mon Dec 10 2001 - 23:44:21 EST


Thanks so very much for all the wonderful feedback on the diploma
question. I'd still like to hear from some of the lurkers out there, as
this is a very important issue for us and the more viewpoints the
better...

I thought I would float my actual position and some of the arguments
behind it.

I believe that the word "diploma" has many meanings depending on the
institution from which it comes (whether from a university, a public
high school, or a kindergarten class). I believe there are generally
accepted boundaries of the word's meaning. While I agree with Scott
that part of that meaning is that there is a certain endorsement implied
by the document, I think there are many factors which go into that
endorsement that are exclusive of a thesis defense or any other
examination. I do not think the generally accepted meaning of the word
has to include an external evaluation.

So what does our diploma say? Excerpts from Fairhaven diplomas over the
last two years:

- has honorably completed the course of study that she has chosen
- completed a self-directed educational program 1995-2001 and is awarded
this diploma

Sudbury's stated thesis defense is (roughly) to prove that students can
become effective adults in the world at large, and their graduation
procedures are set up to do the best job they know how of establishing
this. But what if Fairhaven's Assembly decided they cannot be the
arbiters of whether a student is ready to be an effective adult, and
decide that the only criteria for a diploma is to have completed their
self-directed learning at the school?

While a student at Fairhaven can ask to be evaluated by staff or other
students, it is ultimately they who can only make the decision to start
or end a learning process. I believe that the curriculum, the "series"
or "course" of study in a Sudbury model school is determined only by the
student. Only the student can know what they need to learn, and only
the student can know when that is learned.

It has been mentioned that there is an expectation when a person sees a
diploma that the diploma was awarded as a result of tests. I will not
argue that there are those who would make this assumption. There are
also those who assume the word "school" automatically indicates bells
and report cards. I question the idea that we should let the
assumptions of some in our society decide for us what the word "diploma"
means, much as I question them deciding what the word "school" means.

But when our diploma clearly states that for which the diploma was
awarded, I hardly think fraud can be alleged.

Some have asked, "Why award a diploma?" My answer is, if we are forming
the structures of Fairhaven around what is expected by some in the
public at large, why call Fairhaven a "school"? The answer is that we
call it a "school" in order to give the public a point of reference for
what we are. The same is true of the diploma. Regardless of what kind
of criteria surrounded the awarding of our diploma, the people who would
question the lack of an external examination would question the
legitimacy of a Sudbury school in the first place. Suggesting we should
not offer a diploma is buying in to what many in the public would have
us be.

And finally, I mentioned that there are many factors that go into the
endorsement a diploma holds in the minds of many, but there is really
only one factor: trust. Trust is what the members of SVS's Assembly
must have in order to vote the affirmative for a graduation. In our
case, the trust is that if a student has spent a substantial length of
time in full-time attendance at Fairhaven (arbitrarily, our Assembly
voted three years), we have enough trust in the model that the student
got what Fairhaven has to give them.

So to me, the diploma's not about the school attesting to a student
having mastered a set of skills or a body of knowledge (and note that
conventional schools won't say that either!) or ready to be an adult,
it's exactly what it says: that the school, confident that any student
within its walls for a substantial amount of time will have the time and
space to rediscover her "internal voice", trusts said student to know
when her self-directed studies at the school is complete and is ready to
continue her journey outside our walls.

Scott writes:

> the school
> starts to attract people who are _not_ interested in its
> programme, but only in an easy diploma.

Can you imagine someone thinking coming to Fairhaven for three years is
an "easy way to get a diploma"? Well, I honestly believe that it is
almost impossible for a person to attend Fairhaven and not ultimately
come to grips with the ownership of their life, and on that basis I
think they deserve a diploma. I have always figured it would be
extremely satisfying to attend Fairhaven as a student, but I don't know
if I think it would be "easy". And, as you know, for some it is
"impossible".

> I'm forced to ask myself what could possibly be the
> value of a diploma which is _not_ an endorsement of the
> holder given at the end of an evaluation.

An endorsement of the *intitution* and a statement of trust in the
process by which the holder came to the completion of her time there.

OK, that's me. Fire away. :)

-Joe

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