Sometimes OPPORTUNITY Whispers, We Just Have to Have The Courage To Answer
There is a moment in time that someone or something makes a profound impact on you and it becomes apparent to you that you have no choice but to speak out. Mine came watching a show on ESPN. The content of that program personified the state of affairs of our current education system in this country is in, and the rippling effect it has on our citizens, our economy and how we perceive our self-worth. It was story about the public high schools in Philadelphia and a parent stated “if our schools don’t have football then there is nothing for my son to go to school for” This kind of thought process must change, and it must start to change now but, it is not just this kind of thinking that is misguided. The snobbery of a 4-year college degree that pulsates through our society is not just antiquated it is wrong. Education comes in so many forms; like a farmer, a carpenter, secretary, a mechanic, a cook, a rancher, and so on and so forth. These people are educated in their craft and are needed as much or more than someone who buries themselves in books, learning other people’s theories and opinions.
In Germany and Switzerland they educate roughly 53 percent and 66 percent of their students, respectively, in a dual-system of education that combines apprenticeships with classroom education. It’s no wonder that these countries have a 7 to 8% unemployment rate for young adults from 17-24 where the U.S. sports (no pun attended) an unemployment rate of 17.8% for that same age group even when the demand for skilled labor is at its peak. This dual system produces other economic benefits as well, according to Stefan C. Wolter of the University of Bern, and Paul Ryan of Cambridge University, in an article in the Handbook of the Economics of Education. These pluses include a closer match between the requirements of the job and lesson content, better school-to-work transitions, and an opportunity for employers to assess potential future employees thus creating a more fluid and productive work-force.
The Swiss and German systems are widely cited as successful bridges to several hundred occupations in multiple fields. At ages 15 to 16, in Switzerland, about two-thirds enter an apprenticeship in high school, Wolter notes. Apprentices in fields from health care to hairdressing to engineering attend vocational school at least one day a week for general education and theoretical grounding for roughly three years. On other days, they apprentice under the supervision of a seasoned employee.
In contrast, the parents in the United States still largely champion college for their children as a path to higher lifetime wages and the flexibility to retool skills in times of economic change. Why? Why are we so entrenched in an antiquated system when a Daily News poll of the 1050 college graduates that graduated within the last 12 months of the poll that 40% have yet to find employment? Yet American companies, in a multitude of industries, are clamoring for skilled labor. In addition, just 58 percent of the 53 percent of college-goers in 2010 who started at four-year institutions finished within six years. Moreover, 25 percent of those who enter two-year community colleges don’t finish. Only about 28 percent of U.S. adults over age 25 actually have a bachelor’s degree. What about the rest? What’s their path to the workplace? The numbers reflect, for the most part, that the current path our public education system is on does not prepare our high school graduates for college, nor does it prepare them for work; then what are we doing, and why are we doing it? China has overtaken us as the largest economy of the world, but yet we hold onto a thought process for our youth that ill-equips them to handle the needs of a changing marketplace. We spend billions to retain our military superiority, but if that is all we have, a bigger stick, to remain a super-power, then one day that stick will falter and we will have nothing left. We love our Marines, and our education system needs to embrace a Marine slogan, which is: “Improvise, Adapt, and Overcome.” It is apparent we have met the enemy and it is us. Being entrenched in a system that put’s our youth in enormous amount of debt, it does not allow our students to prosper; actually it impedes them from doing so.
The definition of education is the act or process of imparting or acquiring general knowledge, developing the powers of reasoning and judgment, and generally of preparing oneself or others intellectually for a mature life. So why do we continue to hold on to the belief that a “college education” is the only education that creates a productive person or a worthwhile person? There are people who do fascinating and impressive things with their hands and minds who do not need or have a conventional college education, but they are “educated”. But, for some reason there are those who look down on them because they have chosen a different path of “education”, or if we do not look down on them we will look up to others because they have a college degree, but yet their accomplishments may only be achieving that degree with no purpose or end. This thought process is illogical and unproductive.
It is not realistic to expect everyone to go to college nor should they want or need too. Nor, does graduating from college represent a greater level of education or intelligence; it is just a different facet of education. Nor, does college actually prepare students for specific labor skills needed for a lot of today’s manufacturing, industrial, tourist or agriculture job needs. It is self-evident that most students will need more than the “traditional” high school education. As jobs become more complex, technical know-how, interpersonal skills, and adaptability will become more prevalent as part of the job descriptions of companies. We need to show the respect and admiration for all facets of education whether it is the more traditional path, or a path that creates job skills used for specific job needs that keep this country going.
Some companies are trying to implement the vocational programs of Europe here in the United Sates. So what does that mean for our country? OPPORTUNITY! An OPPORTUNITY to nurture families and how they look at their child’s education. A system where their child’s success isn’t predicated on whether a school has a football program or any other sports program. It is an OPPORTUNITY for our country to revamp its school systems that will give our children in the lower grades a well-rounded Renaissance education that leads to a high school agenda that becomes geared towards creating an educated person prepared to go and actually graduate from college. Just as important it creates a needed, and impressive education geared towards specific skills needed in manufacturing, industrial, agriculture and/or tourism. What does this mean to our country? It means OPPORTUNITY to give the resources of skilled labor that is very much needed to companies, small and large in and around all of the United States so places like are own Pierce County and North Dakota can thrive rather than be impeded by a lack of a skilled work-force. This kind of education will synergize with our local companies allowing them to prosper and grow along with the students, and without an avalanche of debt. What does all this mean? OPPORTUNITY!
This has started with seeds planted all across this country with magnet schools that concentrate on tech, culinary, agriculture, manufacturing, and nurtured by local businesses and communities. We need to continue to nourish that branch of thought and to accept that someone who works with their hands is just as learned as someone who works with their minds. If we can start doing this it will be the first step of really becoming an educated society.
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