The Importance of Vocational Education by Arthur Posey

Posted on June 23, 2013
by FeliciaOctocog

Thank you to Arthur Posey for posting this blog

Arthur Posey is a retired high school guidance counselor and freelance blogger specializing in issues that relate to education (including education reform, TEFL and the importance of vocational schools. When he’s not writing, you’ll probably find him rafting his favorite rivers or fixing up his motorcycle.

My uncle Dan was top of his class in high school, with excellent grades and promising SAT scores. Most of the colleges he applied to offered him full-ride scholarships. He went to the University of Colorado for about a year, got straight A’s and became increasingly frustrated and disillusioned with the world of higher education.

At the end of his freshman year, Dan dropped out of college (throwing away large amounts of scholarship money in the process) to pursue his dream of becoming a carpenter. He paid his way through a 2-year vocational school, apprenticed with a friend of his father’s and never regretted his decision to trade his white-collar income potential for a blue-collar career that he genuinely enjoyed.

My uncle Dan used to say that there’s dignity in all labor, as long as it’s preformed honestly. It sounded simple, and even obvious, when he said it, but it’s something that many people working in education sometimes seem to have a hard time remembering.

There’s a stigma associated with blue-collar jobs, created in part by the over-emphasis that American high schools place on the importance of 4-year colleges. We tell academically successful students that <a href=””>vocational schools</a>would be a waste of their talent. We tell them that they’ll have more opportunities if they go to college. We tell them that they’ll make more money if they get a degree.

Are these really things we should be telling them? Whatever happened to the idea of doing something because it makes you happy? Some people like working with their hands. It doesn’t make them less intelligent or academically deficient. It just means that they’d rather spend their time tinkering with wires and engines than sitting in a classroom. When did that become a bad thing?

Parents and educators sometimes forget how much we need skilled workers. A highly-trained workforce is the backbone of a strong, diverse economy. Not everybody wants to be a doctor, a lawyer or a business executive—and that’s a good thing, because society couldn’t function if they did. Think about it: how many of Harvard’s magna cum laude know how to repair a motorcycle? How many of them know how to build a house? And why is an MBA considered so much more impressive than the ability to do either of these things?

The cultural narrative surrounding the American education system propagates the myth that 4-year degrees are the only route to a respectable career. While college is a great option for many students, emphasizing it at the expense of all the other options does our students a great disservice. Our job should not be to shepherd as many students as possible into 4-year institutions. It should be to provide them with information about all of the available options so that they can decide for themselves what they want to do with their lives. As teachers, we need to remove the stigma surrounding vocational education by letting our students know that trade schools and vocational schools are a viable option for success.