“Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world.”
— Nelson Mandela
You do not know the pressure to choose a college until you have been a student in a public or private high school in the United States.
As early as pre-K, kids are encouraged to pledge allegiance to their future alma mater (usually wherever mom and dad’s loyalties lie). There is nothing wrong with this. It’s adorable and having goals is admirable at any age.
The problem, as I see it, is that our nation’s youth are being tracked, earlier and earlier, into believing that the only way to be a successful adult is to graduate with a college degree.
As late as the 1980s (permit me to pretend this was just last week), even college-bound students of either gender were required to take the ubiquitous shop class. I vividly recall making a wooden race car in such a class in around the 7th grade. This was valuable if only to demonstrate to myself that I am absolutely not cut out for woodworking. Pun intended.
I sincerely hope my long-suffering shop teacher received valuable compensation for his commitment to ensuring my flighty self-graduated with all my digits intact. I do not for a moment regret the experience.
Hard work is a plus. In fact, even if your child is a college track student — and especially if they are — make sure they do some hard physical labor. Dig a ditch. Strip paint in 100-degree heat. Wait tables.
In the interest of full disclosure, I am the parent of two high-achieving college students and I am proud of their achievements and career paths.
I also want to add this: Neither of my children is better than someone who is skilled at a trade. Their peers who worked hard at our career center or went on to skilled trades are to be commended for pursuing a passion.
Even if your child is on a college track, encourage them to try a skilled trade. Teach them to work with their hands. Our son is dabbling in woodworking. He may not ever make a living at it, but he will surely benefit from learning basic skills for repair and relaxation. Our daughter works in a hardware store and waits tables while attending college.
Ours is not a “free ride” kind of family. When it comes to the cost of education, I want them to have some skin in the game. I also want them to understand, deep in their bones, that success is measured by more than the words on a diploma.
We need everyone. People have a diverse range of learning styles and passions — yet we have fallen into a trap of making those who don’t choose the college path as “less than.” It’s not only a shame — it’s causing harm to us as a society.
Our nation is nearly in crisis capacity when it comes to skilled trades. There is a real fear we are all going to admire our degrees as we slowly freeze to death in crumbling buildings while our infrastructure crumbles due to lack of skilled trades. It may not be quite that dire, but it’s not far off.
We are selling our students the idea that there is only one path to success: college. It is unfair and untrue.
The venerable Mike Rowe has been beating this drum for quite some time now, saying we are lending money we don’t have to kids who can’t pay it back to train them for jobs that no longer exist.
On that note, the Bureau of Labor Statistics had this to say in spring 2018: “The latest figures show that about 68 percent of high school students attend college and almost 40 percent of students who begin four-year college programs don’t complete them. Of those who do finish college, one-third or more will end up in jobs they could have had without a four-year degree. In a situation where 70 percent of high school students do not go to college, nearly half of those who do go fail to graduate, and over half of the graduates are unemployed or underemployed.”
Is vocational education really expendable? Obviously, the answer is no.
I think it important that every college-bound high school student be required, at least once, to build, make or do something in the vocational training sector.
As we celebrate Labor Day, let us remember to make EVERY student — and human being — feel appreciated for their contribution to society. We need to celebrate vocational education and make sure that those who seek skills are given the tools — literally and figuratively — to succeed.
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