"As children grow older, parents must give them greater freedom, including greater freedom to make mistakes. "

Bring Back Vocational Education in High Schools

During my sophomore year at Proviso West High School in Hillside, Illinois, my guidance counselor, Mr. Gusloff, refused my request to take auto shop because I was, he said, college-bound and my presence in a vocational program would take space needed by a student who was not so destined. I was disappointed, and I felt then, as I still do, that he was wrong to pigeon-hole me and limit my options, but I had no choice but to accept his decision. I never even told my parents, both of whom held Ph.D.’s. They would have only shrugged their shoulders anyway. This was long before parents were “involved” with their kids.

Back then (1960s), nearly every high school in America and especially those, like PWHS, that served lots of kids from blue collar households, offered vocational education. In addition to auto shop, Proviso offered machine shop, woodworking, plumbing, and other trades. Today, despite the fact that America still needs mechanics, machinists, plumbers, and so on, and despite the fact that (POLITICAL INCORRECTNESS ALERT!!!) some kids, for various reasons, simply are not college material, it is the rare high school that offers vocational education.

Which is one reason why the outstanding bill for government-issued college loans currently stands at, in round numbers, one trillion dollars, a good amount of which will never be repaid. It also goes a long way toward explaining why more than five million jobs are currently going begging in the USA. My solution to this would be to require high school guidance counselors to assume half the college loan debt of former students whom they should have told “Sorry, but you aren’t college material” but didn’t. If their bad advice cost them something, perhaps they’d think twice before doling it out.

Parents want their kids to go to college, two reasons being they (a) like to brag about their kids and (b) believe college equates to success. High school guidance counselors are also incentivized to encourage college and help kids obtain acceptance letters. School administrators like to brag, too. They like to talk about how many of their graduates go to college. They never talk about the number who don’t finish, finish with crippling debt, or can’t find jobs after graduation.

The high school dropout rate has declined in recent years to around 7 percent, but the number is misleading because, let’s face it, a good number of students drop out but still occupy desks. Voc-tech would promote student motivation, increase literacy, and significantly reduce dropout rates. Reducing dropout rates would reduce crime, drug use, and various other social ills.

Then there’s the matter of the jobs that are waiting for the kids in question. Employment opportunities in skilled trades for high school graduates who aren’t college material are the best possible antidote to poverty. Employment further reduces crime, drug use, etc. and also fosters the formation of families, thus promoting responsible child-rearing. In short, the societal benefits of voc-tech are numerous and far-reaching.

Every American, regardless of political persuasion, should get behind President Trump’s plan to reinstate vocational education in America’s high schools. I’m fairly certain that if he was still alive, Mr. Gusloff would.

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