Work prep

Bring back vocational schools, says the Happy Carpenter.

I don’t think there are many students who lack the aptitude for academic courses. But many lack basic skills and motivation. They don’t want to spend more years in a classroom. They do want to qualify for a decent job, and they’ll work a lot harder if they believe school will get them somewhere they want to go.

About Joanne


  1. You know, it doesn’t have to be just a “decent” job. It can be an exceptional job, or it can be preparation for owning a small business. I think us highly educated types keep thinking our highly intellectual jobs are better than “decent” blue collar jobs even when we’re advocating better training for blue collar jobs. Spend a few months with some tools in your hand, trying to make matter do what you want it to do, and you’ll see what I mean.
    Pedro, The Happy Carpenter

  2. Walter Wallis says:

    Amen, I say. A board correctly sawn, a nail truely driven or a wire correctly terminated, these are successes every day denied those who function one or two [three in the case of government] steps away from actual production. I loved my chemical plant where contribution was measured in tons per day. I used to say my happy retirement could be spent as chief engineer at the Scotia lumber mill, but the bastards shut it down.

    Former happy electrician, currently bemused engineer.

  3. When my grandmother worked for her town hall, she told me about a student in the public middle school who wanted to join the vocational program all the suburbs co-sponsored rather than the college prep public high school. The town FOUGHT this student entering the vocational program. Why? He had straight A’s. They just wanted to bump up their own numbers. As my grandmother said, “What’s wrong with having a smart electrician?”

  4. Vocational schools are the worst casualty of the “college for everyone” mindset of school boards, teachers, parents, and governments. With a trade, students who don’t want to go to college can earn a decent living if they work hard, show up, make sacrifices, and plan for the future. Sounds like college skills to me, but success is possible without a college degree.

    And the next time I need a plumber, the cost might be lower if there’s more of them.

  5. D. Cooper says:

    Jon, take teachers off that list … we’re the first to recognize that college is not for everyone, and the first to get hit over the head when we attempt to point this out to Johnny and his parents. Then they run to the administration, who in turn runs to the school board who are also the parents and/or their duly elecetd henchmen!!

    And, I’m sure the other plumbers out there would endorse your last comment.

    But, lest you think I disagree with your condemnation of the ‘college for all’ mantra that is overly endorsed … I don’t, just make sure that you’ve got teachers signed up on the right side of your argument.

  6. Not all parents are on board, either (me, for instance). But the drive/trend/whatever-you-call-it has been toward college for all.

    This is a case of no one really being against vocational education so much as very strongly for college-prep. And with budgets where they are… and testing… and those active gifted program parents… and the school board elections coming up….

  7. JorgXMcKie says:

    I joined the professoriate at an advanced age (50+) and neither of my very bright children finished college. My son finished one semester. He is a journeyman electrician, a certified telephony lineman, and has some sort of certification in cable info transfer. He’s happy and makes a lot more money than me. (He may be more useful, too.) My daughter did about a year and a half, mostly art. She manages a fast food restaurant while pursuing her jewelry making. She is happy and makes at least as much as I do, and she’s half my age. I think she makes her customers happy. They sure seem to come in a lot.

    Why shouldn’t I be happy for them? Good humans, good parents, useful citizens. Not every above average intelligence person should go to college.

  8. Most people need to actually get a college degree before they can see how unimportant it really is. 🙂

    I think university education may be due for an upheaval before too long. The costs just keep going up, and the genuine utility of what students learn just keeps dropping (not uniformly, but in general). There’s some kind of opportunity there, if someone can figure out how to exploit it.

  9. Plumbing can’t be outsourced to India, nor carpentry, nor any other “blue-collar” trade that has to be done on-site. I wish now I had learned something useful in high-school as the whole college-prep route hasn’t really paid me any dividends.

  10. I teach at a “vocational school” that is now called a technical school. Why? We offer college prep as well as the traditional vocational courses. I have had many students state to me that they will use their training to earn money to attend college. Many do, many also stay in their vocation.
    These schools are a great idea, but there is one point to make; the students elect to come here and must apply.

  11. Aside from everything else, having sawn wood and carried water (literally, at a co-op summer camp) helped me with intellectual subjects in high school. Geometry was a breeze for someone who had helped lay out and erect rafters, and later slept under them.

    Onetime blissful blacksmith, now a computer hardware and data technician.

  12. D. Cooper says:

    Both of my children attended and graduated from colleges. One an engineer the other a very successful business woman. When they were in high school they did of course take college prep courses, were in National Honor Society, took AP courses and even one was aPhi Beta Kappa at a major university. I being a teacher always told them one thing about their education … the more you get, the more choices you’ll have later. Education is all about choices. I have no problem with any trade and I endorse them. They however should be filled with people who have chosen it regardless of their education rather than having had to settle for it. Too many kids are not happy in life because they’ve settled … some jobs out there are not the ‘settled for’ type but many are. If you’ve worked reasonably hard for your education and however far it takes you, then you’ll have no regrets. Those who bemoan the fact that they were screwups and who never got it right , are the ones we in education would like to reduce the production numbers.

  13. Cast my vote in for more vocational schools. I went to a regional state college here in Texas. It seems that almost half of the freshman class was either unprepared for college, or only went because it was expected of them. Later on I had many classmates who seemed miserable. The weren’t interesed in what they were studying. If even a few had had the chance to go to a vocational high school, I’m sure the dropout rate would have been far lower.

  14. While I see NOTHING wrong with vocational education (We had it in high school 25 years ago), I do see a serious problem with a lack of basic skills, and the most lacking is math (when you have to build a form to hold concrete and then figure out exactly HOW much concrete to mix to fill the form, that requires some analysis and critical thinking.

    The electrician who doesn’t know math and basic equations is liable to wind up killing themselves or others around them (I like the Nicholas Cage line in “The Rock” to Sean Connery “The moment you don’t respect this, it kills you…”, when working with electricity, there is little margin for error, etc).

    A foreman told me one time, try to do the job right the first time, because if you do it wrong too many times, you’ll find yourself w/out employment (except perhaps for government workers, who can screw up constantly) 🙂

  15. Walter Wallis says:


  16. Steve LaBonne says:

    In my opinion, a lot of the problem comes from not recognizing that much of what is nowadays deemed “college prep” material is simply basic literacy and numeracy that should be acquired by every high school graduate. The fact that these skills are all too often _not_ being acquired (and employers have noticed) is one explanation for why so many jobs now require a college degree for seemingly no apparent reason, and that in turn leads to forcing students into the college-prep track who would be better served by a solid vocational program (and when done well, such programs are anything but undemanding!)
    So this isn’t construed as teacher-bashing, let me say that a major force behind this failure is the existence of so many parents who charge into school ready to kill because the teacher is “expecting too much” of lazy little Johnny.

  17. Walter Wallis says:

    Praise the Lord!

  18. Well, the classic requirements for defining a “college prep” level of course work usually includes 3-4 years of math (through trig), 3 years of science (two of which are lab sciences), 4 years of english (including composition and literature), 3 of government/history.

    However, in reading some stuff in the seattle times a few months ago, a student who graduated 2nd in her class found that even taking these types of classes failed to prepare her for the level of work she ran into in her freshmen year at the Univ. of Washington.

    I would suspect that the points Steve raises are the norm, rather than the exception.

  19. Bring back vocational education? It has never in any true sense existed in this country. That would mean that a heirarchy of apprentice, journeyman,then master might evolve–this means a
    system of class. And well, we can’t have that in this country. That would also mean there would have to be a well thought out curriculum adhered to by all teachers vocational or otherwise. That would lead to a heirarchy of teachers which would cost more money which would cut into the sports. And,of course, it could evolve into children becoming educated mature adults by the age of 18. Moreover, this would mean we would have to look at systems in countries that have had tremendous success. Most Americans think we have a good system or in the “good old days” we certainly did well. That is a myth. Our system of education has always been absolutely terrible
    and the horror of it all is we have paid through
    the nose for it.

  20. I think if you know what you want to do in life then go to a trade school why make students go to school when they have there mind set on what they’ve been wanting to do? its a waste of there time and peoples taxes