Skilled Trades Are Not Chopped Liver

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Among others, this blog is being written for all the high school students out there who like to work with their hands. It’s for my Tomas M., a small, skinny boy who always seemed too small for his sweaters. Tomas nailed the ugliness of our testing culture and college-for-all agenda with one simple line:

“Woodworking is the only class where I don’t feel stupid.”

I was teaching him Spanish at the time, but I did not take offense. He did not test well and he was being tested all over, all the time.

Our Tomases need to be respected for their talents. If they have reached their sophomore year of high school still operating at a mid-elementary level in mathematics – and our own test scores thoroughly demonstrate this phenomenon remains part of America’s educational landscape – these kids deserve a break. They deserve a set of vocational options that take advantage of their strengths.

American public education has not been supporting vocational education. We have not been supporting our electricians, stoneworkers, masons, glazers, painters, cabinetmakers, machinists, and welders. We have not valued our skilled artisans, craftspeople, and technicians, those men and women who maintain our MRI technology, and keep our oil platforms and bridges safe. An air-conditioning repairman provides a vital, even sometimes life-saving, service in the high heat of summer.

When educational reformers hammer and hammer home the idea that all students must be prepared for college, and insist that all students take a college-preparatory set of courses that don’t leave time for true vocational and technical education,  we devalue the contributions of essential service providers. We subtly and implicitly put down the interests and abilities of students who would rather fix cars than write papers. We add to the confusion and misery of young adults who know they don’t want to go to college, but cannot think of a “respectable” alternative that will not make them feel or seem like underachievers and, eventually, second-class citizens.

P.S. Yes, I know it’s mostly called career and technical education today, but that’s part of the problem. Too many districts changed the name. And then they let the auto-repair and woodworking teachers go.