A long time ago, when I was in college it was also when I was
in my first job where I had to wear a tie. I found myself as the assistant
manager of Arby’s Roast Beef on Ventura Blvd. in Encino Cal.
I was in my second week on the job and we needed employees to work the slicer. There was almost no unemployment and slicer workers had to be 18 years old in LA at the time so we were really looking. An 18-year-old named Bob came in and asked for an application. He was wearing a dirty shirt; you could see beach sand on the shirt, and cut-off blue jean shorts. He was the stereotypical surfer dude. He asked for an application. I gave him one. Then he asked for a pen. I handed him a pencil. He filled out the application and I hired him.
He turned out to be a good employee, and the next 18 months as I went to manager to area training manager to supervisor to area training instructor he followed me one step behind all the way. After the 18 months, I
left the company for more money, but he stayed and I went to visit him when he
was the manager of the most profitable store in the company. (The store that
paid the highest bonus)
He was the company’s superstar, and would end up being in charge of 100 stores before he was 25. We were standing at the counter recalling old times when a very well dressed young man came up and asked for an application. Bob handed him one. Then the applicant asked if he could have a pencil. Bob handed him one. When the applicant went and sat down to fill out the application, Bob said to me: “I’m not going to hire him.”
I asked: "Why not?" Bob said: “Because he didn’t bring a pencil with him.” I looked at Bob and said: ”Bob you would not have hired yourself!”
The policy going into effect this year this year at the high school requiring 70% on all finals is cruel and foolish. It assumes that all students must be able to pass everything with a C.
That is fine for the universally gifted or the universally mediocre. But my experience is there are many students who learn different subjects at different levels. There are many people who do well in certain fields and struggle in others. The world is full of diverse people -- not one size fits all.
I had a student nine years ago who was struggling to graduate Barrington High School. He found some of the classes (and frankly a few of the teachers) to be boring and unnecessary. I can assure you he was a difficult and annoying
student. I am sure he was not outstanding in some subjects. But he was a very knowledgeable techie. And understood computers like no one I have met.
After graduation his plans were to be an intern in the town theatre summer camp that I ran at the time. This would mean he could go to the camp for free instead of paying $1,200, which was a very big deal to him. I informed him that I did not and would not take someone as an intern who had not graduated from high school.
With this incentive and, I suspect, some lobbying from teachers where he was a very good student, he squeaked by with a couple of Ds. And so he was able to attend a state university, for if he had gotten his GED the university would not have accepted him. There he obtained his bachelor's and master’s degrees and is a year away from his PhD. He teaches junior level college classes.
Now I still speak to him regularly. He still does not understand financial issues and still does not understand how government works. He is no great student of history. But he can make a computer sing! When I had security cameras installed in my house, I called him and he put them in. And when he wanted to get a used car he asked me to come along to negotiate the price. Everyone has their own skills.
He can set up and create a lighting or sound board from scratch. And he is TEACHING college junior year level classes! But none of that would have been possible if there was a requirement back then to get a 70 on all finals. There is no way he would have graduated.
Had he not graduated he would not have been accepted to the university. And he would not be getting his doctorate next year, which by the way will make him more educated than almost every teacher, including those that wanted to fail him and most administrators in the Barrington school system.
Why would Barrington want to consider failing someone who would be capable of getting a doctorate?
Why does getting a D in a high school final mean your life is over?
If Albert Einstein had gone to Barrington High School, would he have graduated?
History tells us probably not. The difference is that after failing courses in high school in Germany in the 19th century, you could still get a job in the patent office and teach at university and get published.. Einstein would not have been published in the 21st century, because you can’t get anywhere today without that high school degree.
I hnow. I know. The schools want a Barrington diploma to mean something. Well it does, because Barrington students have learned skills. That is what it is about. Are we so arrogant that we think that a Barrington degree 100 miles from here to a potential employer means anything more than a Mount Pleasant degree or a Central degree? What matters is what the student knows and is able to do with that. And the difference between a 65 and a 70 in one subject really doesn’t matter.
I Know. The policy line is that if a student does not get a 70 then he will be given several chances to raise it to a 70, but probably after the student misses the chance to walk at graduation. And if we expect almost all who do not get a 70 to eventually get the 70 then why threaten to fail the student? What is the purpose? To give high school seniors more stress?
Because we all know if there is any group that needs more stress it is graduating seniors. They have it to easy. Just going through the college selection process, and do or die subjectively graded senior project isn’t enough stress on a 17-18 year old. Now they have to worry if they are having a good day on exam days and the difference between 65 on a final and a 72 is the difference between a possible PhD and flipping burgers at McDonalds. This is what the school wants to do to students?
Many people learn different subjects differently, and certainly some students should fail. But many who squeak by with a D can go on to succeed and succeed big. Why are we constantly making it harder for them? In the big picture does a 68 or a 72 really matter?
College is very different than high school, and different people succeed. And the real world is very different from both, and high school has as much in common with the real world as a fish does with a bird. They are both animals, but one does not relate to the other, and one does not have to be a successful fish to soar like a bird.
Let’s just have students pass as they always have. Even if some do it by the skin of their teeth.