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Front Page » January 23, 2007 » Opinion » Education is more than academics
Published 3,185 days ago

Education is more than academics

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A long, long, long, long time ago, when I was in high school, my school counselor said, based on my test scores and grades, I should go to a technical school rather than to a university or college setting. She felt I would never make the cut in academic life.

At the time I was appalled. The public schools had drilled into our heads that if you didn't go to "college" you were basically a loser. You would never be anything, have anything or do anything important.

At the time I was in public school, high schools still had auto shops, wood shops, machine shops, electronic shops, welding shops, etc. But fewer and fewer students were signing up because they were directed away from those programs. Consequently as I entered the University of Utah and began years of working at a school district at night as a custodian to get myself through school, I saw the demise of many vocational programs at the high school level. Soon auto shop programs and a small wood/crafts shops were all that were left at many schools.

I have never regretted my path into a more academic than vocational world of work, but today we are paying a large price for that reduction in vocational training. As the shops went away, American industry also was sinking quickly, with a lot of heavy manufacturing went overseas.

As I wandered my way through college, I would always hear comments from prior graduates saying things like "I got my bachelors in liberal arts and now I am working in an auto shop." Like there was something terribly wrong with that. Anything that takes away from lifes ambition can be devastating, but don't deride the hand that feeds you, even if it isn't permanent.

I was also taken back one time when a professor of mine at the U told a group of us after a practicum in a laboratory that none of us had done very well because "we were acting like a bunch of auto mechanics" in performing the tasks assigned. I was taken back by that comment, because at the time I was working as an auto mechanic putting myself through school.

The elitism that existed (and still exists) in some circles concerning vocational and industry related education created an atmosphere in this country that almost poisoned it out of existence. In recent years, however, that type of education has made a great come back. While many in public education still think that their charge is to send all the kids they can to a four year college, higher education itself is waking up to the fact that for a society to operate properly, and even to flourish, it must have educated technical workers to keep the machinery of civilization running.

All one has to do is to look around and see that none of us can survive without all kinds of workers and talents. To me the skilled diesel mechanic or carpenter is no less knowledgeable than a highly educated professional; they have different charges to be sure, but are just as important in keeping the wheels of our world greased.

In the last couple of years statistics are showing that nearly 80 percent of graduating high school seniors are not going to college. Most are entering a workforce that is crying for bodies to fill positions. However, those of us who are of an older age know this employment situation will not continue. The job market ebbs and flows and someday many of those jobs that presently require no further education that look so great coming out of high school will evaporate. Then those people will be going back to school, to get some kind of training. And many will not want a four year degree, but will want pertinent, relevant industry related training that they can use quickly and effectively.

Our hats should be off to those educators in our higher education system that see the value of vocational and technical training at their institutions and are doing something about it.

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January 23, 2007
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