The edublogging technocheerleaders say ad nauseam that the most important part of not just blogging but Web 2.0 as a whole is the “conversation.”
One of the many delights I’ve experienced with this site is coming into contact and corresponding with people I’d otherwise never find. I have to assume this is the “conversation” about which I read literally hundreds of articles a month.
Gary Stager of District Administration is largely the black to my white, but I’ve found that fewer – if any – education professionals are more willing to engage in real debate. And the absolute best part is that he’s secure enough to disagree completely in a blog thread or e-mail and not take it personally. After all, education isn’t about us.
Sometimes we match up philosophically – he raised an eyebrow at the Ed in ’08 Kanye Kampaign, too – but in many matters he’s the Douglas to my Lincoln [I couldn't help but choose the better side].
But we’re at philosophical odds again. This time the issue is the value of vocational/technology education.
In “I’m Worried About America,” Stager comments on three current news stories:
- Yesterday’s Cleveland school shooting;
- Racism and the Jena 6 crimes;
- The debate surrounding the State Childrenâ€™s Health Insurance Program [SCHIP].
I’m not going to comment on 1, 2 or 3 – plenty of other sites address those issues adequately. I’m going to address Stager’s criticism of vocational education.
The shooting in Cleveland took place at SuccessTech Academy, a school in the Cleveland Municipal system that offers technology and vocational training. Stager said:
I do not wish to disparage the SuccessTech Academy where todayâ€™s shooting occurred, but itâ€™s a safe bet that few affluent parents in Shaker Heights would choose to send their children there. Many urban schools are being turned into â€œspecializedâ€ career academies where students are â€œtrainedâ€ for trades and low-paying jobs never contemplated for children in the suburbs. How many SuccessTech students do you imagine go on to Ivy League universities? (Note: USA Today reports that the school has a 94% graduation rate.)
Affluent parents tend not to choose vocational tracks for their children. That affluent parents insist on a wholly academic track – or that they don’t contemplate the option in the suburbs – does not legitimize it as a better option; it’s simply what they prefer for their kids.
Career academies are on the rise for many reasons, one of which is a failure of urban schools to deliver academic tracks through the 12th grade successfully. Vocational programs build on a curriculum of basic skills to offer a student expertise that guarantees them gainful employment after high school graduation.
I’m not sure why Gary put “trained” in scare quotes as if there is a difference between trained and trained. There’s nothing to suggest that SuccessTech Academy’s vocational education programs are illegitimate or substandard. As far as we can tell, a student leaves SuccessTech prepared to develop that trade further once he graduates. A 94% graduation rate is certainly not low, especially in an urban setting.
Stager’s characterization of trade skills as leading to “low-paying jobs” is also grossly inaccurate – I’ll get to that shortly.
After pointing to the school’s typically-vague mission statement, Stager continues:
A slideshow of images is prominently featured on the home page. The following photos represent one-fourth of the images presented. One shows a student welding and other depicts two African American students grooming a dog. DOG GROOMING! That sure is one ambitious educational objective.
Vocational education? An ambitious educational objective indeed.
Dog grooming is a bit suspect, but as Boris Johnson told the world weeks ago, the market has deemed seemingly-odd tracks both economically viable and worthy of study. I’d like to focus on welding.
I received training in welding in high school beginning in the 10th grade. It was one of the most valuable skills I learned in my public K-12 education and it was not training to which I had access or could otherwise afford outside of school. I spent weekends learning fine woodworking and during the week augmented that with metalworking in my school’s technology department. I was able to begin working/teaching welding literally within 48 hours after my high school graduation because of those classes.
I graduated on June 25th, relaxed on my 18th birthday on the 26th and was on a plane to Northern California on the 27th to work. Again, I got that job based on the metalworking education I received in high school.
Stager and others may or may not believe this, but it’s possible to mix technical/vocational education programs like welding with a wildly varied and rigorous academic program.
With students aged 8-16, I used welding as a means to look at everything from chemistry/physics, geometry/trigonometry, principles of design, basic principles of engineering and basic concepts in intellectual property [yes, all of these can be introduced properly to a child as young as 8]. I do wish that Stager and others had the opportunity to sit in on one of the sessions where I explained to 10-year olds the chemical differences between MIG welding and arc welding and its consequences on designing the project we were working on.
Educators are keen on assessment, so it’s important to note that after the design phase of the lesson, not a tyke put forth a proposal for an iron candle-holder that wouldn’t tolerate the weaker joints of a MIG weld. Might that be a 100% success rate using authentic assessment? The Ridgewood administration would approve.
And yes, that came from vocational training in welding, that “low-paying,” shoddy, non-rigorous discipline that a Shaker Heights parent wouldn’t be caught dead suggesting their child explore.
As I developed my skills in high school, I saw with the aid of two solid teachers that welding played quite well with the New York State Regents chemistry curriculum. The connections between that trade and academics somehow managed to penetrate my grimy blue collar and seep upward to mix with the knowledge that one receives as he earns a Regents diploma. I realize only now with Stager’s help that it was nothing short of a miracle.
Though Stager seems to think that a student putting time into vocational study hasn’t a notion of the Ivy League, I stumbled on that, too. After a year of welding one period a day and 3 hours a week afterschool in the Technology Club, I spent a semester studying history and economics at Harvard. If Stager needs an example of one who has sprinkled the salt of the earth on the forbidden fruit that is an Ivy, he need look only as far as the photo on the right sidebar of this site.
Oddly enough, Stager’s argument reminds me quite well of the attitude I encountered time and again on that campus that semester. The other residents of Winthrop House called me “Rube.”
Again: Ambitious educational objective indeed.
Snark aside, the truth is that many trades position those without a college education to earn an excellent wage as they contribute to their communities and the economy as a whole. The average urban high school graduate is, as Stager says, relegated to low-paying positions. There’s simply too much competition for better jobs that require skills many high school graduates don’t have. Trades are an avenue to contributing meaningful, sought-after labor that yields good compensation.
Take a look at this thread on the American Welding Society’s forum – it discusses the pay scale for welders. Although pay varies regionally, this discussion shows the range of wages a welder is likely to earn based on his skills. A quick glance at the discussion shows that a certified welder starts around $12-14/hr. – a solid gain from a minimum wage, “low-paying” job – and a skilled, experienced independent welder pulls ~$70/hr. Shops can charge a bit more and, of course, safety incentives come into play for more demanding jobs.
I’m not sure how much Stager makes, but I’ll freely admit that a welder with as many years of professional experience as I’ve been out of high school makes quite a bit more per hour than I do.
There’s no reason to discount vocational education, consider it a replacement for an adequate high school curriculum or to unfairly categorize trade skills as inferior. It does a disservice to education and ignores the practical application of much of the curricula in which those in Shaker Heights and the suburbs place their unwavering trust.
Those who practice a trade won’t mind if you do, though. They make a good living striking arcs, fixing plumbing and repairing the cars of the pointy-headed. Who did you think pays those $70/hr. bills?
Welders may not be Kant scholars, but they understand that a snob’s dollar spends the same as any other. Then again, they might just be Kant scholars.
11 Responses to “Vocational Education in Public Schools”
- Dog Training Information Â» Vocational Education in Public Schools - [...] Quoted from: Matthew on www.matthewktabor.com [...]
- Pet Grooming » Vocational Education in Public Schools - [...] Matthew wrote an interesting post today on Vocational Education in Public SchoolsHere’s a quick excerptA slideshow of images is ...
- Fallowsteam.Com » Vocational Education in Public Schools - [...] wrote an interesting post today on Vocational Education in Public SchoolsHere’s a quick [...]