Chicago Students Won’t Be Able to Graduate without the Government Approving Their Plans

Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel (Reuters photo: Jim Young)
‘Graduating high school’ always has and always should mean simply that you have completed the required coursework — and we should keep it like that.

Beginning in 2020, Chicago high-school seniors will have to prove that they have a government-approved post-graduation plan in order to earn their diplomas.

Yep. Rather than allow its young people the freedom to approach their futures creatively, Chicago will force its students to choose from one of just five government-approved options: College attendance (note: verbal vows of attendance are not enough, students will need to present actual acceptance letters), a gap-year program, military service, a trade apprenticeship, or a job. According to Reason, the official description of the demand claims that the city is trying to raise $1 million for career-counseling efforts to help students make their decision.

Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel told the Washington Post that the aim of this new policy is “to help kids have a plan, because they’re going to need it to succeed.”

So — is Mayor Emanuel right? Is it better to have your next steps planned out before you graduate high school? The answer: It doesn’t matter, because it’s none of his f*&#@&$ business.

Perhaps this policy is well-intentioned, but do you know what? I don’t care, because it’s still an absurd government overreach that has absolutely no place in a free society. It might be true that more young people would have better lives if only they’d start planning for them before graduation, but that still doesn’t change the fact that it’s not the government’s role to force them to do so.

We are supposed to have freedom in this country, and that includes the freedom to not live up to our potential if we don’t feel like it. Newsflash: Most people are 18 (read: adults) when they graduate high school, which means that they should have every right to completely waste their own lives if that’s what they want to do. A high-school graduate has no plan? Fine. A high-school graduate wants to sit in his grandma’s basement for a few years and watch cartoons? Fine, as long as Grandma says that’s cool. The point is “graduating high school” always has and always should mean simply that you have completed the required coursework — and we should keep it like that.

The reasons for keeping it like that, by the way, go far beyond the ideological. As Reason’s Scott Shackelford notes, there are plenty of potentially fruitful post-grad options that might not fit into the government-shaped mold:

If your kid is a wunderkind in crafts or 3D printing and is making bank on Etsy, that doesn’t satisfy the Chicago school system. Will administrators see private contract work as a “job” under this system?

We are supposed to have freedom in this country, and that includes the freedom to not live up to our potential if we don’t feel like it.

Now, to be fair, Chicago Public Schools chief education officer Janice Jackson claims that no student will actually end up being denied a diploma for missing this requirement, because school faculty will be seeking out any students who haven’t complied and pressuring them to figure it out before graduation. It’s not clear what would happen, though, in the case of any student who may not want to comply — and it does seem pretty likely that at least a couple of these students might not be ready to make that kind of decision before graduation — nor is it clear just why in the hell even a single one of them should have to.


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– Katherine Timpf is a reporter for National Review Online.

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