I went to a public junior high school in the late 1970s, where I took one of my favorite classes ever: wood shop. There was something about turning a rough chunk of wood into something beautiful and useful that really appealed to me. I still have a few of my creations, including a cutting board and a lamp.
I didn’t take the class seriously, though. I didn’t realize that some of the kids in “shop” with me were probably learning skills for a future career. To me, it was just something fun to do. An easy “A.”
Because it was implicit to me that I would attend college and have a career shaped around working with my head, not my hands. And there was never a question of whether my family could afford the cost of my higher education.
While I now support myself quite comfortably with my work in the “knowledge economy,” the allure of wood shop remains with me to this day. Few things that I do each weekday are something I can point to and say “I did that.” But I can show someone my cutting board and say “I made that.”
In a previous post, I discussed some exciting new programs that are serving to correct what may be an over-emphasis on college. Now, I’ve come across an article in Slate that reinforces that point, delving deeper into the question of whether college is right for everybody. More importantly, it makes the point that education should serve to prepare people for the future and give them a shot at being self-supporting and having a better life, whatever form that might take.
We need to have “real options for our young people—options that include high-quality career and technical education,” says the author, Michael J. Petrilli, an executive with the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. “We shouldn’t force anyone into that route, but we also shouldn’t guilt kids with low odds of college success—regardless of their race or class—to keep trudging through academic coursework as teens. Yet it appears that we are doing just that….”
Petrilli acknowledges that, by saying some kids just won’t cut it in college, he is vulnerable to accusations of determinism or classism. But he effectively deflects those arrows. “We should build a system that helps many students find another road to the middle class,” he says.
More options are always a good thing.