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My wife, a retired school administrator, has been subbing as an assistant principal at a nearby high school the last couple of months. She recently told me she’d had to deal with several kids who had been given infractions for sleeping in class. In each case, she discovered the student had an after-school job to help the family keep groceries on the table and worked so late there just weren’t enough hours left for sleep.
Back in the 1950s when I was growing up, our public school system had a program called distributive education. This program allowed students to attend school in the mornings and then work in the afternoon. Their DE coordinator helped them get jobs with cooperating businesses and kept an eye on their progress as they worked. They got grades and school credits for the work.
This program would have been a real boon to the students my wife was dealing with. They could have started working shortly after noon instead of at 4:00 or 4:30 and gotten off work several hours sooner without cutting their paychecks. And with the supervision of the coordinator, they would have been learning good job skills and attitudes as they worked.
Sadly, she said there was no such program in our school anymore. We spend so much money teaching our kids to pass standardized tests, making sure non-performing students are placed in regular classes so they can drag the rest of the students down to their learning level, and wasting untold money fulfilling federal mandates, we don’t have any money in the budget for programs that would actually help someone.
Our school system fairly screams at the kids, “You’re nothing if you don’t go to college!” We take people who would make excellent electricians, plumbers, mechanics or piano tuners, and we tell them those pursuits are for losers. They need to get a college degree, or they’re worthless.
Rather than actually try to find ways to run good schools, our big-city board of education fiddles while Rome burns. Way back when, we had school board members elected at-large. The entire district voted for each place, and we had some pretty good school boards. Nowadays, we have single-member districts, and each board member is dedicated to getting whatever largesse he can for his own district and not caring all that much about the school system. The bickering has gotten so bad we recently ran off a good superintendent and more recently caused our board president to resign because all the infighting was too much for his health.
Part of the problem comes from corporate America, which places far too much emphasis on degrees. A cousin of mine worked his way up in a large corporation until he hit a glass ceiling beyond which only degreed employees were allowed. Never mind that he was both smarter and more capable than his boss or his boss’s boss. He quit and started farming, and by the time he retired he was one of the most successful cotton farmers in West Texas. So much for the degree.
We MUST change the thinking in our society and our schools to see the value of individuals and their interests and abilities instead of pushing everyone to go for a college degree, causing huge percentages of them to drop out and feel bad about themselves and other huge percentages to graduate with degrees but no usable skills.
David N. Walker is a Christian father and grandfather, a grounded pilot and a near-scratch golfer who had to give up the game because of shoulder problems. A graduate of Duke University, he spent 42 years as a health insurance agent. Most of that career was spent in Texas, but for a few years he traveled many other states. He started writing about 20 years ago, and has six unpublished novels to use as primers on how NOT to write fiction. Since his retirement from insurance a few years ago, he has devoted his time to helping Kristen Lamb start Warrior Writers’ Boot Camp and trying to learn to write a successful novel himself.
Well said – great post!
Thanks, Connie. I appreciate that.
Dave- another excellent piece- resonating with truth.
A funny thing came to mind. Did you ever see the ‘Frazier’ episode when the plumber came to fix Frazier’s toilet and they started talking about Frazier’s fancy new BMW. Snooty Frazier was acting condescending toward what he perceived as the financially inferior plumber. The plumber asked him how he liked the new car, because the plumber had the same model : )
Never watched Frazier, but that does illustrate the point. Thanks, Kathleen.
Pingback: Guest Post by David N. Walker: Our Education System-Part II | Barbara McDowell's Blog
Ah… wait. I was the President of my DECA (Distributive Education Clubs of America) class in 1980. Do you mean they are gone? Oh… so sad!
How can that be. I must investigate.
We must support our kids to find their passion, whatever that may be!
I think they still have them in some places, but apparently not here in Fort Worth and a lot of other Texas cities.
You have some good points, David. I didn’t know that distributive education was not available any longer … at least in our hometown school district. That is sad. And I agree that many kids need to be prepared for job skills that can fit their interests and skills …. not necessarily college.
The above comment was from my sister, but since she was on my computer it looks like I’m tooting my own horn.
You’re right. My dad used to say we need the dustman as much as the doctor. These days they’re termed “refuse professionals” or some such, because society has associated a stigma with jobs that don’t require a large education. I’m at least as glad of someone who picks up my trash every week as the doctor who I see once a year. The whole degrading (for want of a better term) of service jobs has led society to undervalue them, which makes employers pay them less, which make the people who do those jobs feel unappreciated – a downward cycle.
When I went to school you could leave at 16, or stay on to 18. Between 14 and 16 you could spend part of you school time learning a trade. There were colleges where you could learn anything from motor mechanics to hairdressing to book-keeping. Not having those opportunities denies the largest portion of a society from an appropriate education (which they would do well at, because they want to do it) and forces them into a system that makes them do something they don’t want to do, and regards them as failures when they reject it.
Well put, Nigel. I don’t think I can add a thing. From what I know British and European education systems in general are much better at producing tradesmen than we are.
Omigosh! Jane! I’m all about kids, but David said it best when he said I’d like big government to stay out of healthcare. I believe doctors should be allowed to determine the tests they want to give their patients and not get dinged for providing what they believe is the best standard of care. I guess I would say both systems are broken. So much attention has gone to healthcare and, in my opinion, not enough to education reform. Real meaningful reform.
I taught in both Fort Bend CO, TX, and Burnet, TX–both have great work programs for students. I’m amazed they aren’t every place. I also agree that not everyone should go to college. HOWEVER, I don’t agree with Renee who thinks that we should educate children, then allow them to die.
I didn’t understand your last sentence, Jane. Renee doesn’t want to allow the President to ruin healthcare, destroy the doctors and let all of us suffer the consequences. I don’t see where that’s letting anyone die. She wants to prevent that by getting the government OUT of healthcare, as do I and most of the people I know.
You know I am with you on this. I wish that there more prestige attached to choosing to work in of the trades. The college path is not for everyone, yet right now everyone is being pushed down the same chute. It’s considered a sin to NOT be taking at least two Honors or AP level classes. These courses are not designed for general consumption; at least, that was not their intent when they were introduced.
I ‘d like to see our President give more attention to education reform — less standardized testing — and leave healthcare alone!
Thanks, Renee. Always good to hear an educator second my opinion.