Edward Snowden: Brilliant “Dropout”

dropout
Screen grab: Kris Bordessa

The source of the recent leaks from the National Security Agency, Edward Snowden, sure has people talking. Should he have leaked the information? Or should he have kept quiet? What was his motive? And those documents!

Rest assured, GeekMoms, I’m not going to delve into the politics of the NSA leak, or the Patriot Act, or Snowden’s travel to Hong Kong. I’m not here to judge whether he’s a hero or not or if the NSA and its contractors should have hired him in the first place. But let’s talk about his education.

The Atlantic wrote that Snowden was a high school dropout, later correcting the story to reflect that in actuality he received a General Equivalency Diploma.

* Update: The first version of The Guardian piece described Snowden as a high-school dropout, which raised a lot of eyebrows as the U.S. Army does not take people without either a high-school diploma or a General Equivalency Diploma, with very rare exceptions. The paper later clarified that he holds a GED.

The Daily Mail wonders:

How did a high school dropout become entrusted with the government’s biggest secrets?

I think a more important question is: Why are we still so hung up on that little piece of paper?

In many of the articles about Snowden, his lack of a high school diploma is front and center. Mother Jones reports that now even Snowden’s community college courses are in question. The fact that he may have lied about this is one thing; but why the focus on whether or not he finished a degree or took cyber-related courses? Clearly he has the skills. Does it matter if he acquired them independent of the school system?

In this day and age, kids with the desire to learn have access to more information than they can possibly process. With free online college courses, e-libraries, and access to peer reviewed studies (to name just a few of the options), a student with a little initiative can easily outpace the typical high school curriculum. A kid with a specialized interest–in programming, say–might find himself in high demand for his skills with or without a diploma.

The roster of successful high school dropouts is a long one, including names like Walt Disney, anchorman Peter Jennings, Frank Lloyd Wright, world chess champion Bobby Fischer, and Albert Einstein. High school dropout isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when you see these names, is it?

School attendance is compulsory in America, but it isn’t for everybody. Some students may simply drop out to pursue their interests on their own terms while others seek alternatives like charter schools or homeschooling. In fact, Education News reported in May of 2012 that:

Since 1999, the number of children who are being homeschooled has increased by 75%.

If you’ve been reading GeekMom for long, you might recall that my own kids were homeschooled. One—like Snowden—holds a GED; the other is set to get his next month. Are they high school dropouts? Are they failures because they didn’t cross that high school stage in cap and gown? Or are they young men who had the opportunity to pursue their passions fully and with abandon? Are they young men with the potential to rock the world in their chosen fields?

We want young people who are supercharged about their education. Kids and young adults who are excited about learning and who can learn using all of the non-traditional methods that are available to us now. To focus on whether or not Snowden has a diploma, to make that the story, is archaic. So what if he doesn’t have a diploma? Snowden is clearly brilliant. I suspect it was his extensive, competent knowledge of surveillance, sophisticated technology, and programming rather than any school pedigree that netted him his job. Whether or not you agree with his politics, you have to admit that he is highly skilled in his field in spite of (or perhaps because of) his unconventional education.

People are curious about this guy, sure. And we’ll certainly find out more about Snowden and his motives as the days pass. But what high school Snowden attended, which courses he took, and whether or not he passed is irrelevant. His transcript from a decade ago has exactly nothing to do with the moral values that seem to have driven him to come forward.

Call him a patriot. Call him a whistle blower. Call him a traitor. But let’s leave his diploma out of it.

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