I reach for the HIDE button whenever this Facebook share reappears: NORMALIZE SENDING KIDS TO TRADE SCHOOLS WITHOUT MAKING THEM FEEL LESS THAN FOUR-YEAR UNIVERSITY KIDS. Oh, I understand and mostly agree with the sentiment behind the statement. Its irksome aspect is unnecessarily pitting young people trying to figure out their futures against each other as if one type of school or educational decision is superior.
At forty-some GHS commencements, including mine, fresh-faced students clutched long-awaited diplomas as passports to the future. However, I always wondered how clear that future seemed to a bunch of kids suddenly entering adulthood for real. College, military, marriage, employment: were their future plans well-considered or decided by default?
At Concord and GHS, students followed curricular “tracks.” I took Latin, algebra, and chemistry to satisfy Otterbein’s requirements on my way to a teaching certificate. Some classmates became speedy typists and accurate bookkeepers in preparation for office jobs. Other kids who concentrated on home economics, vocational agriculture, and industrial arts often found jobs right out of school – many at factories such as International Harvester – even as marriage and the military offered further choices.
When I returned to Graham as a teacher, fourteen surrounding districts were already preparing to send students to the JVS, a joint vocational school near Bellefontaine, at which juniors and seniors could learn a trade. Established on the grounds of a former early-warning radar installation and the highest point in Ohio, the school opened in 1974 and is now officially referred to as the Ohio Hi Point Career Center.
But the decision-making process remains the same. On what basis does a young person these days choose a career? It certainly benefits no one to say trade schools leading to jobs that require working with one’s hands are second-rate compared to the elite positions available to holders of college degrees. Not one bit better is the opinion that four-year schools are not all that, especially when college attendees are saddled with debt for years to come while trade school grads earn a living wage much sooner.
Career decisions based on image waste time, money, and effort. Taking out huge student loans to attend college for a favorite football team, cool party scene, or alumni parents is as counter-productive as sending kids to pricey, specialized trade schools that make promises not necessarily substantiated by suitable credentials.
The logical solution is to match career requirements with the appropriate learning institution, but even that step can be problematic. As life becomes more complicated with each passing year, young people face an increasingly-dizzy array of possibilities. Choosing a career and the path toward it is unfortunately not as easy as thumbing through some catalog of jobs or waiting for inspiration to strike out of the blue.
Our lumbering, bureaucratic educational system as well as individual teachers who care about their students try to address the choice-making process with legislation, programs, and advice. I think it behooves especially juniors and seniors, to try a few college courses. There are different programs – on campus and right at the high school itself – by which kids can earn college credits free-of-charge. A former student spent his last two Graham years at Edison State, ultimately receiving an associate’s degree and his high school diploma on the same weekend!
By the same token, students should not overlook the myriad of opportunities available at career centers, having progressed mightily from the fledgling joint vocational school that seemed relatively distant and pretty new-fangled in my early years of teaching.
A former student recently dazzled me with her description of offerings at the Upper Valley Career Center near Piqua. Susan Caudill, Interactive Media Instructor there, described the 25 career programs of her school’s curriculum, including veterinary science and a teacher academy. Students fulfill academic requirements as well as learning hands-on the basics and finer points of their chosen career areas. With standards based on recommendations from business and college advisory boards, students graduate with diplomas, applicable career-area certificates (the same ones awarded to community college students), and credits from nearby colleges: all tuition-free, by the way.
Although I find overly optimistic the concept that those who choose jobs they love will never work a day in their lives, there is something to be said for entering a field that at least arouses a sense of enthusiasm. Students need lots of experiences in the world on whose threshold they are standing – activities that provide a new outlook by occasionally removing youngsters from a narrow comfort zone of family, friends, and technological devices. Part-time jobs, community service hours, extra-curriculars including FFA and 4-H, church outreach and camps, hobbies: each experience allows tentative toes-in-new-waters that just may strike a chord of interest, awaken a streak of passion as yet undiscovered, provide a place to start.
As concerned adults, our best help is to expose kids to as multifaceted a life as possible, supporting them with guidance when sought, a kick-in-the-pants when needed. But basically, young people should be permitted to personalize the exploratory period without the undue pressure of someone else’s expectations.
And for goodness sake, we all must stop judging and start supporting young people for the career decisions and choices they make. In fact, I hope in the future to encounter this Facebook share: ANY DEGREE OR CERTIFICATE THAT HELPS YOU FIND A JOB YOU LOVE IS MORE VALUABLE THAN WHERE IT CAME FROM. How about that?