What a novel idea, young people should make a decision early on which way they want to go, academic or vocational…

So now some brilliant minds at Harvard have done a study and have come to the conclusion that college is not for everyone and that young people need to decide at middle school (junior high) whether they want (or can) be college bound or vocational bound, the European model as it were.

Pardon the sarcasm, but why did it take a study and what took them so long?

The hard fact in life is that everyone, except those who can enjoy a hefty inheritance, and it would need to be huge, needs a trade in order to do their part in life and get their share of tokens we call wages, money.  And by using the word “trade” I am using that term broadly. Some may eventually wind up in a trade that uses words and ideas and some may use a wrench or pliers or hammer (as examples).

That seems to run counter to the notion touted by the Obama administration and others that everyone should be able to, and in fact, go to college.

Maybe what they really mean, or should mean, is that regardless of what your trade is, in this 21st century, you have to be smarter, know more math and science, be more versed in modern technology, along with being worldly and well versed in the liberal arts.

While having basically a two-track system, academic and vocational, is an old idea or methodology, it could be improved upon with something like a third track, which would be a blend of academics and vocational training.

But the bottom line is that we, in the USA, spend too much time in school going over the same thing and we pass our children on from grade to grade, more often than not, with little to no future planning.

And I think it is a scandal, especially here in California where I live, that our education dollars are eaten up by the fact we have to provide remedial education at the college level. What has everyone been doing all this time? Lack of focus becomes expensive.

Many of us, myself included, find ourselves in college and even in mid life (at 61 I wish I was still there) trying to figure out what we really want or can do for a living. Freedom to contemplate can be nice, but can we really afford it?

(Let me clarify; I am not in college now, that was the past. I spend most of my days out on the road as a long-haul truck driver. Sure glad I got that college education.)

Yes, while I think it is nice we have so much freedom in this society not locking ourselves into a particular trade, I do not think it is always terribly practical. And I think we can and should maintain as much freedom or flexibility, as possible or practicable. No one should be forever tied to a single trade, but on the other hand, one does have a responsibility to one’s self, one’s family, and society as a whole to be productive in order to share in the benefits of society.

There is some concern by some that tracking students into vocational training will return us to the old ways where minorities were shunted into shop class and away from academics. Well, no one should be forced (except by lack of God-given ability) away from academics based on skin color or ethnic or social background, that should go without saying. On the other hand, solid training in usable vocational skills could go a long way towards solving the chronic unemployment problems (overall economic conditions not always withstanding).

But as the saying goes, you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink the water. As a journalist (in my former life), I once did a story about a vocational class at a high school where the students were taught carpentry and other construction skills. These were American white bread kids, not so-called minorities. Teenagers will be teenagers, but these kids seemed to lack much interest, and the teacher said as much to me.

No system is perfect. Germany is often lauded for its two-track academic and vocational approach. But a German school principal, visiting America, once told me that even there they have problems. He said that a lot of children who are supposed to be young academics are not up to the challenge or lack motivation. And we know that there is unemployment in Germany and there is hooliganism.

But I am glad that an old idea has resurfaced and could be spruced up to fit the modern times.


The story that inspired this post is at:


One Response to What a novel idea, young people should make a decision early on which way they want to go, academic or vocational…

  1. Peter E. says:

    My understanding of what Obama is saying is that all should have some post secondary education in this day and age. There will be some who will be unable to accomplish education beyond high school, but thid should be a very low percentage of our population.

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