Arguments concerning vocational education have come and gone. In an era characterized by the push to getting all students to college, critics view this push as detrimental to the value of a college degree and, most importantly, to lives of the students. College isn’t for everyone, they say, and we’re wrong to assume that.

As such, the current argument for bringing back woodshop, autoshop and welding classes goes a little something like this:

What is the role of schools, but to prepare students for jobs? We should re-delegate that responsibility to the high schools and trade schools, where job training belongs, rather than impose that on colleges and universities.

Moreover, students who won’t go to college will just tune out school. Bringing back vocational programs will keep the bored students from skipping classes entirely.

My master teacher and I had a lengthy discussion about this idea, and we came up with no answers. I suppose if we did, we’d be busy writing some groundbreaking doctoral dissertation, earning the appreciation of all teachers ever along the way. We aren’t.

Sure, we could bring back, say, welding. But eventually, all the welding jobs will go to robots. They won’t need, or need as many, professional welders. We’d be preparing our students for jobs that won’t exist.

There’s always information technology. Google is making a few billion dollars, isn’t it?

But what is a Google? What does it Google produce? Can you go to a store and buy a Google?

That’s what I worry about with our economy. We used to have a lot of manufacturing jobs, but we don’t, anymore. Our economy is leaning towards companies like Google, which have no tangible product.

Google is an extension of information services and the advertising industries, two industries which, frankly, aren’t going anywhere.

How much of our economy could be information services and advertising, though? Those industries can’t keep growing forever; our entire economy can’t be based on marketing.

We left it at that. Vocational education can’t stick around with the tentative and unstable waves of the future, and it can’t go ahead and stick with the echoes of the past.

We agreed on this: Vocational education should exist, and should be an integral part of the high school curriculum. We just don’t know how.


  1. dkzody

    >>We just don’t know how.<< I do, and fortunately, you have a VP over there who sees things in a similar light. You combine academic with vocational and it works. Has for us for 18 years.

  2. But what brand of vocational? Which jobs should we prepare students for, given that the manufacturing jobs just aren’t out there, anymore?

    That’s the issue that was dogging myself and my master teacher.

  3. Jen

    Carpentry, line work (power lines), construction (crumbling infrastructure much?), electricians, etc. And those jobs can’t be outsourced. No one can sit in another country and perform them on the phone or over the internet.

    Classes teach the skills (including the related science) and they teach the skills (and math) needed to run or start a new business, estimate supplies, costs, write letters about proposals, etc.

    Sure there’ll be other jobs that come and go too, and we should have parts of vo-tech that are flexible and can ramp up and down as the need comes and goes.

  4. After asking around my teacher roommates, clerical and medical seem to be practical fields, also.

    The point, though, is that the backbone of our economy has been industries. Services fields like clerical, medical, construction and electrical maintenance won’t replace manufacturing jobs.

    Maybe our problem was trying to connect vocational ed to the essential parts of our unpredictable future economy, rather than feed them into existing fields whose future is dependent on the economy.




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