Sunday, May 24, 2009

The road to success after high school includes . . .

I learned of this article from Sunday’s New York Times Magazine entitled “The Case for Working With Your Hands” at AssortedStuff. It is written by a man with a Ph. D. in political philosophy who shares his work history that has resulted in the enjoyment he now has in his motorcycle repair business. The article brings home the world we live in where so many parents and other adults believe that the only path to success in the future is through a four year college degree and see the trades as demeaning or something done by those that couldn’t make it in the academic world. Crawford explains it with these words.

"The trades suffer from low prestige, and I believe this is based on a simple mistake. Because the work is dirty, many people assume it is also stupid."

He goes on to make an important point that most of today’s adults don’t think about as they plan their children’s futures.

"But there are also systemic changes in the economy, arising from information technology, that have the surprising effect of making the manual trades — plumbing, electrical work, car repair — more attractive as careers. The Princeton economist Alan Blinder argues that the crucial distinction in the emerging labor market is not between those with more or less education, but between those whose services can be delivered over a wire and those who must do their work in person or on site. The latter will find their livelihoods more secure against outsourcing to distant countries. As Blinder puts it, “You can’t hammer a nail over the Internet.” Nor can the Indians fix your car. Because they are in India."

I am certainly not suggesting that the traditional college degree is not important or useful. It is not, however, the only way to achieve success in post high school learning and work and it cannot be the path that all should or can take. Crawford suggests, however, that most parents do not see it this way.

"A gifted young person who chooses to become a mechanic rather than to accumulate academic credentials is viewed as eccentric, if not self-destructive. There is a pervasive anxiety among parents that there is only one track to success for their children. It runs through a series of gates controlled by prestigious institutions. . .If the goal is to earn a living, then, maybe it isn’t really true that 18-year-olds need to be imparted with a sense of panic about getting into college (though they certainly need to learn). Some people are hustled off to college, then to the cubicle, against their own inclinations and natural bents, when they would rather be learning to build things or fix things."

What do you want for your children? What do we want for those young people that attend our schools? When and how should we factor in the aspirations of these young people?


Anonymous said...

I am excited by your post Mike. This is at the heart of the efforts of Career and Technical Education. We have maintained this set of beliefs and carry the banner high that every person should not have to go to college to gain the experience they need to be able to make a living for themselves. The trades are just as rewarding for some as quantum physics were for Einstein. I agree with the article that dirty does NOT equal dumb. :-)

crystal said...

Mike, I also think this post is great.

I have to admit that before Tahoma and teaching in a CTE classroom, I sometimes thought that a four year college was the only way to go. I grew up in an environment where I took all IB and upper level classes and don't honestly even know what kind of trade classes were offered at my high school.

Teaching in the CTE department at Tahoma completely changed my perspective. There are so many classes at Tahoma that I wish I had taken when I was in HS. I wish I had seen their importance and understood the different dimensions of the world.

During Oral Boards Friday, one of the students was talking about his project. He had built a rain shelter (or was it the kid that fixed up a car?). Anyway, the kid had done something that would fall under the "trades" category and he mentioned in his presentation how although he planned on attending a four year college he was glad that he explored the possibility of doing something with his hands, that he had a better appreciation for people who did (because it's hard work that requires a lot of precision and planning), and that he thinks it's important to have different sets of skills. I was impressed by the lessons he learned and felt confirmation of the Tahoma school district sending students messages that encourage them to try different things and explore all their possibilities.

One of the reasons I love teaching AP Computer Science is because I get such different types of students in my classes. I get some four year college bound kids and I get some two year CC kids and I get some that will just get a job straight out of HS. Regardless of their academic background (I have students struggling to graduate as well as this year's valedictorian and salutatorian), the student's are hopefully able to see that computer science is used everywhere (not just at Google and MS) and that information technology and the problem solving skills needed to be successful can be learned and applied in so many different environments. I think it also opens the kids eyes to the different paths that are out there and that the path they are on isn't the only one out there.

LoomDog said...

I find it interesting that this has been discussed on the national stage as well. As we see white collar execs garnering MILLIONS in bonuses (many while ruining their own companies...completely disconnected to performance) the blue collar folk (like those working the factories that build American cars) are scolded, the unions told to cut wages to be competitive. As the pundits have put it, "there's a huge difference in how Congress (and in many cases the public) treats those that shower BEFORE work with those that shower AFTER. They hand the buffoons on Wall Street billions in bailout but tell the laborers it's their fault Chrysler went bankrupt." Excellent post...grounds for healthy discussion.

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