With a major Republican presidential candidate sneering at the idea of education past high school, this seems an opportune time to get out a few thinky thoughts about a different kind of education.
I heard an interesting story on NPR recently, in which they discussed how other countries handle what we used to call vocational and technical education when I was a young ‘un. In this country, alas, vo/tech education has tended to be treated as the place to stick kids not “smart enough” for college.
I remember when I was in high school, hearing adults talk about kids who’d gone down that route and it tended to be in a patronizing, condescending tone. “Well, they decided he would be best off going to Vo/Tech, you know.”
I think this is a crying shame for several reasons. One, of course, is that intelligence is a complicated thing and simply saying “this kid doesn’t do well on standardized tests. so he must be a dummy” is ridiculous. But that’s really an entire separate post, so I’ll let that issue go for now.
The second reason is that there shouldn’t be anything shameful about wanting to learn a trade!
Lemme tell you, I have great respect for my car mechanic, who knows a great many things that I do not. He has knowledge and skills that he’s acquired over many years of hard work. I have no idea if he attended college or not, nor do I think that matters. He’s amazing at fixing my car and I’m happy to pay him whatever amount of money he considers fair.
Carpenters, plumbers, and HVAC techs might not know a participle from a predicate, but they sure as heck can do things I can’t.
Third is that we need people to learn these trades. I dare you to try and fix your own car, do your own plumbing, wire your own house…and still hold down a job. Have fun. Let me know how that works out for you.
According to the NPR story, other countries treat vo/tech education as just another branch of their educational system, rather than a stopping point. Kids who go down that path still learn reading, writing, and arithmetic, along with their chosen trade. And it seems to me that it shouldn’t be that difficult for us to do that and it would be of benefit to everyone. Kids in the vo/tech branch should be able to get into college at the end of their education if that’s what they want, or head straight into their trade if that’s what they want.
To sum up: We shouldn’t view vo/tech as a dead end and it shouldn’t be a dead end.