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Commentary: What ever happened to Vo-Tech education?

When I came to Minnesota in 1971, as a high school Industrial Arts teacher, this state was a national leader in vocational-technical education. Vo-tech schools were vibrantly operating all across the state - approximately one hour from any community.  Students could receive quality training and eventually sustainable employment in virtually any of the trade industries without incurring staggering financial obligations. These technical schools still exist - sort of! In this writer’s opinion they have been swallowed up by the university/college system, partly due to some implied stigma attached to vocational training - everyone must have a 4-year college education, whether they want it or not. But square pegs don't fit in round holes.  

Through the seventies and pretty much the eighties, public high schools were structured as comprehensive with extensive curricular offerings in: Business and Office Occupations, Home Economics (changed to Family and Consumer Science), Vocational Agricul-ture, Industrial Arts Educa-tion and other offerings. The high school I taught in had at one time: two Ag teachers, two-plus Business teachers, two Home Economics teachers, three "shop" teachers. Now in 2015 this same high school has: no Ag teachers, no Home Economics teachers, two Industrial Tech teachers, one Business teacher. Yet the cry for more skilled workers has never been louder.  

What has happened? Very simply, elected officials have imposed "higher level" academic requirements for all students apparently to compete globally. These have come about through politically inspired transformations like: No Child Left Behind, Profiles of Learning, School Choice (which has become the most effective athletic recruiting since the NFL draft), Breaking Ranks, Common Core curriculum and others, meaning more higher math and science for all students. But money management, technical writing, applied or practical math and science might not be a bad option for some students. Add to this the testing blitz - snapshot, one glance tests used partly to hold schools accountable or to test students' proficiency. Give me a break. Students are literally majoring in test taking. No way does this approach measure performance or value added over a period of time.  

Now we want to create the "world's best work force" to supply business and industry with home grown workers. In today's exponentially expanding, technology driven society we better invest major resources - not token lip service - into a vocational-technical revolution. Also today, we could help meet the needs of health care related support jobs and technician type positions, along with the rapidly changing needs of the traditional trades with an all out commitment to vocational-technical (aka "hands on") education.  You may get your computer fixed via the Internet, but you still need skilled tradespeople to wire or plumb your house, hang sheet rock or any other myriad of consumer services. Or think of all the grocery carts filled with frozen pizzas and other "no skills needed" foods - imagine a basic home ec class helping reduce obesity or promoting healthier eating habits - just ...food for thought....

(Gauldin is a retired Park Rapids Industrial Arts Teacher, retired High School Principal and current Park Rapids School Board member.)

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