A conversation yesterday about a relative I dearly love reminded me once again of one of the major mistakes we make in educating our youth. We rob our society of a lot of potential and punish many young people through this.
The young man I’m speaking of has an I.Q. well above average, but he always struggled in school. He made decent grades through high school, but he had to work so hard in his subjects it was never enjoyable to him.
Trying to live up to what he perceived to be expected of him, he enrolled in college after he graduated, but his first semester showed him he didn’t really belong there. He tried to transfer to a different college, but some bureaucratic snag kept his transcript from getting to the second college, and he ended up missing the semester.
Back home and out of school for the first time since he was five years old, he had time on his hands and wanted something to do. After considering several possibilities, he found a job with a plumbing company as an apprentice.
Although his intention was to work at this company to bring in an income while he figured out what he wanted to do next, he made a some important discoveries. He found that he enjoyed what he was doing and that he was good at it. More importantly, he discovered that doing this job made him feel good about himself, a feeling college didn’t give him at all.
Almost from the first day, his employer was impressed with his work. It’s a large enough company that there are several difference crews which work different projects, and the leaders of all the crews ask the owner to assign this young man to them, because he is such a good worker and does his job so well. And the owner is paying his tuition to attend school to become a journeyman, and ultimately a master plumber.
He will earn the journeyman designation in a year and the master three years later. While he’s working on these designations, he can earn anywhere from $20 to $27 an hours, depending on the job—while a lot of people who graduate from college with BA degrees end up working at McDonald’s or Wal-Mart starting at minimum wage.
He has learned something else about himself in the process. He struggled and made mediocre grades in school because a learning deficiency keeps him from being able to grasp intangible things. Whether it’s the Pythagorean Theorem or the War of 1812, it wasn’t something he could see, and he just couldn’t quite get his mind around it.
Plumbing pipes, on the other hand, are very tangible. When an instructor at his school discusses them, his mind’s eye sees a clear picture of what’s being discussed. It makes sense to him, and the results are there. He has had one exam so far, and he made 97 on it—a score he never achieved going to school.
Our society places a high level of importance on a college degree, in the process placing a tremendous pressure on a lot of kids who would be better served pursuing something else. I’ve thought for a long time we hurt both our kids and our economy by pushing so many to undertake college, where they end up either in failure or frustration, when we have a desperate need for skilled craftsmen.
Wouldn’t we better serve the needs of our youth, as well as those of our society by identifying these potential craftsmen in junior high or high school and encouraging them to pursue trade schools to prepare them for successful careers instead of pushing so many of them into college experiences where they will likely fail? What do you think about this? I’d love to hear your ideas.
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