Vocation motivation

Houston-area high schools are trying to prevent drop-outs by offering vocational programs that prepare students for skilled jobs, reports the Houston Press. One local district has built Carl Wunsche Sr. High, a $40-million campus featuring “a medical tower, a technology tower and a professional tower, which is divided into academies for legal studies, business and finance, and child studies and teacher preparation. Each tower serves as a kind of mini-­college.”

Core classes for math, science, English and social studies overlook state-of-the-art laboratories where students spend two-hour blocks every day getting hands-on training in anything from biotechnology to hotel management, software engineering and criminal ­investigations.

The school offers students dozens of career paths and opportunities to gain industry certifications, including as veterinary assistants, Microsoft Office specialists and pharmacy technicians. The course book rivals that of any community college, and includes information on education levels required for each career as well as the average annual salary it yields and an employment outlook, based on state and federal labor statistics.

There’s a working childcare center, veterinary clinic, culinary kitchen and automotive garage as comprehensive as any dealership’s.

Many students plan to go on to college for additional career training or to earn a four-year degree.

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  1. “We are condemned to lives of continued learning,” Klineberg says. “The trouble with vocational education is that unless you’re careful, you’re locking kids into blue-collar careers that are going to be obsolete. There’s no technical skill we can give that won’t be obsolete in five to ten years.”

    “Condemned to lives of continued learning” is sort of a strange way of looking at it. And “There’s no technical skill we can give that won’t be obsolete in five to ten years” is quite an overstatement. If Fred learns to be a graphic designer, for instance, he may need to learn a new computer application at some point, but his basic design skills will still be applicable. If Sally learns to be a pilot, she will need to learn about new avionics over time…but this will probably be less of a transition than the prop-to-jet change that thousands of pilots went through in the past.

    It’s certainly important to avoid locking people in with too narrow a skill base or industry focus–for instance, I’ve heard about colleges that offer “sports marketing” majors, which strikes me as too narrow–but (a)this is not just an issue with technical schools, as the preceding example points out, and (b)people have always had to learn new skills on their jobs: saying that we live in a “knowledge economy” doesn’t really mean everything has changed.

  2. Keeping kids in school through graduation is good, and the theory of action here is plausible.

    What makes me wince as an historian is my knowledge that the exact same argument was used for vocational education 100 years ago, and it was also used in the 1960s, when the phrase “dropping out” first came to dominate how we describe those who don’t graduate from high school (see my book “Creating the Dropout” for that history). It can be used, and has been used, to justify both wonderful programs and mediocre programs, and it doesn’t help us figure out which is which.

  3. speedwell says:

    Wow, Carl Wunsche is in Spring, not too far north of me. Wonder if they’ll take a 42-year-old pre-engineering student…

    What? If I couldn’t read at the age of 42, I’d go to a high school and learn. I really don’t have an adequate math grounding, but I am bright, and I would rather retake precalc with bright teens than a remedial precalc class in college with dumb adults.