Tuesday, October 02, 2007

A Conservative’s Viewpoint
This Isn’t Your Father’s Vocational School

Article by Bob Steinburg - Edenton, North Carolina: Cradle of the Colony

A high school counselor calls a student into his office and informs him that his grades aren’t cutting it. He is recommending a vocational school for job training. Not necessarily a bad thing, but to his folks it may be a huge disappointment. Most parents want what’s best for their children and to provide them with opportunities they may not have had.

The mind-set in the ’60s, which prevails today, is if someone doesn’t go to college he or she will be forever destined to a job doing hard manual labor. But is that a bad thing? A welder can earn up to $16 an hour with one-to-four year’s experience, an electrician up to $18 an hour, a landscaper $11.75 an hour. In time he or she may end up owning their own business where earnings could increase dramatically.

Not everyone needs to go to college to become a success. Somewhere that mind-set has become ingrained and because of it we may be doing our children, communities and nation a real disservice.

One reason that North Carolina schools are failing – particularly in parts of eastern North Carolina – is because schools and parents do not recognize that there are other alternatives to a university education. While there is little deviation in the course work all students take, there are different levels, including honors classes. But one shoe does not fit all. We must provide our students with choices in education and training based on individual abilities, talents and expectations.

What use to be known as vocational high schools are now called technology high schools. There are nine in North Carolina – none of them in the eastern part of the state. These schools offer training in a number of different disciplines, including the graphic arts, networking, computer engineering technology and cosmetology. Most of these career education centers serve several high schools in an area; nobody is turned away. Part of the day is spent at a traditional school, and part at the technical school.

Maggie Thomas, a native of Bethel, North Carolina, outside of Greenville, is principal of the Career Education Center in Buncombe County. She is proud of her students’ achievements. Some get jobs immediately upon graduation. Others, who choose to continue their education, are given an opportunity to use the skills learned at the technical school while earning money for college. These schools, she said, often provide an added incentive to stay in school for those considering dropping out. That’s important because the drop-out rate for parts of eastern North Carolina is as high as 32 percent.

In September 2006, Dr. Linda Pressley, originally from Halifax County, supervised the opening of a stand-alone school in Union County called the Central Academy of Technology and Art. It has taken a different approach to technical high schooling. As a magnet school, everything is offered under one roof. Courses of study include engineering, teacher prep, transportation, information systems, medical science, nursing, and performing arts, which include dance and theatre arts. A bio-tech class is for those considering becoming physicians. This year the demand to enroll in the school was so great that there was a lottery for admission. Not everyone is accepted who applies. Students considered for admission must be at or above grade level. Most of these children will go on to college.

Gaston County has the Highland School of Technology offering three academies.
Both of these schools work with advisory committees comprised of business leaders from the community, teachers and administrators within each school. They integrate and evaluate curriculum on a regular basis, insuring relevance of subject matter related to the on-going and ever - changing requirements of those careers, making adjustments when necessary.

With all of the talk of failing schools in North Carolina, it appears there are solutions. It is going to take community effort to start planning for these changes that are clearly needed to prepare our children for the challenges of the future and the competitiveness of the global market.

These are not your father’s vocational schools; they represent models for success to help reform education in the Tar Heel state and to help meet the expectations we have for our greatest resource – our children.

The death of vocational schools had another aspect to it. Educators have focused on the liberal concept that everyone must get the same education. THE SAME. Vocational schools did have opposition since liberal educators viewed the vocational school as not providing "equality" to "college" students.

Hard labor was not the key issue either. Technology had changed all jobs into "skilled" jobs that require knowledge and not strength.

However vocational schools did not support curriculum such as "tolerance", a favorite course of liberal educators. That helped to end their popularity with educrats. Vocational schools had to teach an ability that could be measured. "Tolerance" of course is not an ability, it is attitude. It is a whole lot easier for a lazy teacher to teach an attitude than an ability because the measure of an attitude is the perception of the teacher. The teacher can just say "you are wealthy and Christian and white and my perception is you are intolerant. I can't prove it, but you flunk anyway."

The teacher doesn't even have to know how to teach. They simply need the ability to express an opinion. Everyone has an opinion. So vocational schools had to go away since they were about topics that could be measured.

Our future is dependent on recognition that jobs of the future will not be unskilled jobs. The jobs that will exist will require technical knowledge at a high level. There is no longer room for people who drop out of school, or get a "liberal" education. There is even less and less room for people who have college degrees about esoteric subjects like (the favorite college course title joke of my day) "underwater basket weaving". We desperately need our vocational schools back.

As in so many other ways, our schools are failing . . . both our children and our society. Two generations of school's failing has not changed the attitude of educrats though. It is never their fault. Why worry when you have tenure. When you cannot be fired you can NOT CARE what parents and children think. Like "tolerance" it is all just an opinion. Tenured educrats don't care about your opinion! Why should they. Their tenure means you are powerless.


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