If you earn a diploma when you’re younger than 18, you gain freedom from the law that compels you to go to high school, you also get out from under the laws that restrict your hours when you work and require you to have a work permit, and you gain independent access to community colleges. (You gain these advantages when you turn 18 just because of your age.)
You can earn a diploma by submitting a portfolio. I’m using the word “portfolio” here to refer to the collection of things you submit, not necessarily to refer to documents enclosed in a fancy leather binding.
Here are two basic combinations of things that can make up your portfolio. Each of the items is explained further on.
Write an essay and get a letter of support.
Answer four questions and get a letter of support
and submit two other items.
What follows are descriptions of things I’d like you to include in your essay if you write one. If you don’t write an essay, please read all of what follows anyway because the essay description tells you more about where I’m coming from and may even give you ideas about what you do want to present.
Include in your essay the following:
- Your past educational experience. This can begin with the utterance of your first word, with a description of your wonderful fifth grade teacher or your terrible eighth grade English teacher, with an account of a trip to Australia, or at any other point in your life. It should include those parts of your education that you think are the important ones; they can be experiences in school and/or outside of it, they certainly don’t have to be limited to the narrow academic areas that school deals with, and they can be positive and/or negative.
- Your goals for the next few years. You do not have to have a lot of specific plans, but to the extent you do I’d like to read about them.
- Your skills. There used to be sections here on reading and math, but I’ve come to the point where I believe there are more important skills. To successfully get on with your life, you need to be able to seek out necessary information, deal with people you encounter, and set up opportunities for yourself through planning, job interviews, college applications, and so on. Reading and arithmetic at a very basic level are important for everyone, but only as two skills among many. As I was thinking about writing this section, it occurred to me that food handling is more important than math; if you don’t know which foods to put in the refrigerator, you might kill yourself. Reading and mathematics–especially reading–do take on added importance if you want a lot of formal academic education. Please write something about the degree to which you possess each skill listed above in bold type, and any special difficulties you may have (learning “disabilities,” etc.). Also, write about any special skills you believe you have.
- Your emotional sturdiness. Of all the characteristics that will make you successful, I believe that emotional sturdiness is most important, and that self-knowledge and confidence are two vital components of this. If you are clear about what you are capable of doing and are confident of your success in your chosen endeavors, you will be successful. Do you feel you do know your own capabilities well? Are you confident in yourself? Are there any emotional issues in your life that are problematic? Can you deal with these issues?
- Your passions. What do you do that allows you to concentrate fully, to become completely absorbed, to lose track of time and all your worries? Sing? Hike alone in the woods? Volunteer at an animal shelter? Play chess? Throw pots? Write poems?
- Your intelligences. Read the section titled Seeing Your Intelligence before you write about this. What activities do you engage in that allow you most fully to express yourself? The same question can be asked this way: How do you demonstrate your strongest intelligences? Are they related to your passions? Did you get to use them fully in school? Did the fact that school typically focuses only on the use of words and numbers cause problems for you?
- Any specific life experiences you’ve had that have enabled you to grow into a more mature, stronger, wiser, more knowledgeable, and more accomplished person: working, learning to set tile, traveling, living through a divorce, caring for a sick family member, becoming an accomplished dancer, facing a tough life issue, etc. Again, don’t limit yourself to the narrow academic concerns of traditional schooling.
- And, finally, why you deserve a diploma. Be very specific and detailed about this. Make it very clear why you’re finished with high school and, in a concrete way, tell me what you’re going to do next and how you’re going to get started. You don’t have to have elaborate plans–just a direction and a starting point. It isn’t appropriate to write, “I deserve a diploma because I want one.” You deserve a diploma if you have the interests, talents, skills, and confidence to move on with your life beyond high school.
- If you’re well into adulthood, click here to read how your essay should have a somewhat different focus.
You don’thave to write an equal amount about each of these items; focus on those that are most important to you, and give minimal attention to the other topics, but please do cover all of them. You can write about them in any order, and you might wind up writing simultaneously about more than one of them.
I don’t want to specify a length, but obviously you can’t deal with everything with a total of three sentences. Most students who write an essay need 1500-2000 words to do a thorough job; your essay should be something like this in length. It can certainly be longer, but it shouldn’t be a lot shorter.
Do notbelieve that your life isn’t interesting or valuable enough to write about. There will never be a valedictorian at Beach High School because I don’t believe there is any possible way to decide that one set of accomplishments is more significant than another. Many BHS students who have written essays have won awards and scholarships, traveled extensively, or reached high goals at a young age. But you can write a wonderful essay too, even if you’ve never won any contest or been publicly recognized in any way and all your friends live within six blocks. A single moment in your life when you’ve recognized a humble but important truth can be just as important to you as anything else that anyone has ever done. “Any life explored in depth is unique, even extraordinary, and if told at all well anyone’s story is unusual.” (Charles B. Strozier, Apocalypse,p. 23.)
Once in a while someone writes something like, “I want a diploma so that I can say that I got a good education.” This worries me. Your diploma will not come with a pre-packaged education; by itself it will not make you a better-educated person. I mean a BHS diploma to acknowledge and support your belief that you are in a good position to get on with your life without spending additional time in high-school-level classes. I do not think of obtaining a BHS diploma as a significant accomplishment in and of itself. It is significant because it recognizes what you have achieved already and because it puts you in a better position to reach future goals. I intend a diploma to honor who you already are, not to make you into someone else.
Now that I’ve rambled on for a while, I’ll say that what all this comes down to is, Who are you, where are you headed, and why do you believe you’ll succeed?
LETTER OF SUPPORT
You must submit one letter supporting your getting a diploma from someone who knows you reasonably well. This person can be a parent, relative, teacher, employer, friend, or anyone else. Your supportive letter writer should (1) explain what his (or her) relationship is to you and state how long he’s known you, (2) describe what he sees as your strengths, interests, talents, and accomplishments, and (3) state clearly why he believes you will do well beyond high school and why you deserve a high school diploma. Your letter writer should understand that excerpts from the letter will most likely appear on your transcript. Make sure whoever writes for you knows everything in this paragraph; if necessary, photocopy this paragraph and give it to the person who is supporting you.
Please ask your letter writer to include her or his name in legible form and to sign and date the letter.
You must do some writing for your diploma. If writing isn’t one of your strengths, you may answer these four questions instead of writing an essay.
1. Why do you want to be done with high school? If you’re older than traditional high school students, this question becomes: Why do you think you’ll be successful without having done all the usual classwork of high school?
2. What are your plans for the next few years? You don’t have to have everything planned out; just tell me what plans you do have, even if they’re very vague.
3. Do you feel you know your own capabilities well? Are you confident in yourself? Are you reasonably certain you can follow through with the plans you wrote about in the previous question?
4. What do you think your diploma should be based on, and why do you think you deserve a diploma?
OTHER ITEMS TO SUBMIT
You must submit one letter of support (see section above). Two additional items are required along with answers to the four questions, and one or both of them can be additional letters of support. If you have an equivalency certificate, earned through the GED or the CHSPE, submit a copy of it as one of your items.
The point of your portfolio is to present yourself and your interests, strengths, talents, accomplishments, and goals. Anything at all can be submitted toward earning your diploma. The basic requirement is to submit a letter of support and two other items along with your answers to the four questions, but if you have, for example, an extensive collection of stunning photographs and you want to become a professional photographer, this with a letter of support would be enough to accompany your answers to the questions. (You are not required to submit anything except a letter of support along with an essay, but you can provide additional items if you want to.).
Here are some other suggestions.
- What amounts to an essay, but recorded on audio or video tape.
- A tape of music you’ve created.
- A portfolio of your art work.
- Photographs of the dogs you breed, your travels, the kids you work with in day care, the garden you’ve planted, etc….
- Your scores on tests like the GED, the CHSPE, the SAT, etc. (I offer this possibility somewhat reluctantly, because I’m not sure such scores have much to do with living your life.)
- Your accomplishments at work.
- Your accomplishments in school–even a traditional high school. If your grades and credits in school are a reflection of work you’re proud of and if they represent who you really are, by all means submit them. Whatever coursework you’ve done can be submitted; you need not have met another school’s graduation requirements.
- Evidence of successful completion of college work.
- Add your own items–please.
In some cases you will need a transcript that goes beyond the narrative transcript I usually provide. Since you’ll tell me about your future plans when you enroll, I’ll let you know if you need a more detailed transcript and what you may need to give me to base it on.
When you submit your portfolio, I’ll evaluate it and possibly ask for additions or modifications. Most people take their work very seriously and put together a portfolio that is readily acceptable.
You’ll receive a framed diploma and three copies of a narrative transcript that includes excerpts from what you’ve submitted.
Minimal graduation requirements–Why?
I’m often asked a question like, “How are you able to award a diploma on the basis of nothing other than an essay and a letter of support?”
The answer to this very reasonable question has two parts. First, I’m in a legal position to offer a diploma on this basis simply because there are no mandated requirements, in California law or anywhere else, for graduation from a private high school. (California law sets many subject matter graduation requirements for public high schools.)
The second part of the answer is the important part: I will provide a high school diploma to anyone who is able to look me in the eye, outline her (or his) plans for the next few years, tell me sincerely that she has the capacity to pursue these plans to their realization, and then make her claim in some detail in writing. I’m willing to do this because I’ve supported hundreds of kids who have skipped much or all of high school They plunge into their chosen endeavors with confidence and enthusiasm, and they succeed.
I do not believe that formal academic studies are for everyone, but academic goals might appear to be most difficult to reach without preparation in high school. The fact of the matter is that I’ve been able to see no connection between how much time people spend on coursework at the high school level and how well they do in college. People who skip all of high school do as well as people who skip just a year of it. This is the most intriguing lesson I’ve learned in forty years in education.
Since young people are able to succeed without completing traditional high school coursework, I do not require it.
I believe what makes my students successful are personal traits like self-knowledge, confidence, and a sense of autonomy. They skip much or all of high school and find themselves sitting in college classrooms filled mainly with people who have experienced a traditional high school education that, because it is so rigidly prescribed and insistently delivered, has prevented them from making a deeply personal investment in their own learning and thus makes their high school education largely empty. It is this emptiness that my students skip, and their personal sturdiness more than makes up for what little they miss in high school.
If you’d like to read a more extensive discussion of this topic and stories of successful Beach High School students, ask for a printed copy of a long version of this section titled “Beach High School’s Graduation Requirements–Why?”