In Robert Heinlein’s story ‘Friday’, the California Confederacy, noting that Californians with college degrees earn more than those with high school diplomas alone, enacts a law granting all citizens a bachelor’s degree upon graduation from high school.
It’s funny because confusing correlation with causation is the kind of thing real governments do all the time when formulating public policy. But I was reminded of it the other day when listening to a discussion of bullying in government schools.
New Hampshire RSA 189:1-a says that
It shall be the duty of the school board to provide, at district expense, elementary and secondary education to all pupils who reside in the district until such time as the pupil has acquired a high school diploma or has reached age 21, whichever occurs first.
Which is to say, if you want to get rid of a bully, all you have to do is give him a high school diploma. Then he has to leave school. While you may not be able to just kick a bully out of school, you can graduate him, which is just as good. Even better, in fact, since it doesn’t just make him some other school’s problem.
Now, could this really happen? On the one hand, there are supposed to be minimum requirements for graduation. On the other hand, we all know of students who have been given diplomas, but who clearly have not met those requirements. And as the current Commissioner of Education often notes, standardized testing indicates that only about 40% of New Hampshire students are ‘proficient’, even though 90% of them graduate.
So school districts incur no penalties for graduating students who have not met the requirements for graduation. Which means those ‘requirements’ are really just suggestions. A school district can give a diploma to anyone it wants.
Keeping this in mind, we can see that it might also be the solution to another form of school-related bullying — the kind that occurs when towns and cities keep demanding more and more in taxes, to operate schools that return less and less in public benefits.
That is, suppose some enterprising school board decides, on the first day of kindergarten, to award each child a high school diploma. At that point, the board will have discharged its legal and financial obligations towards the child’s education, placing the ball back in the parents’ court… which is where it’s always belonged.
And perhaps more importantly, it will have escaped the current paradox of thinking we can teach kids not to be bullies by forcing them to attend institutions that are funded by bullying.