College seems broken. Huge sections of students never graduate, and most students end up being burdened by massive student debt. As the flood of recent graduates have entered the job market, we’ve created tremendous credential inflation that pushes up the educational requirements for jobs regardless of the actual required skills for the job. Year-after-year college degrees become less of an effective investment.
Despite all this, the entire K12 public education system is hellbent on college prep. Every student has to learn the same broken curriculum all because our sclerotic institutions haven’t decided to majorly change arbitrary college entrance requirements for 60 years.
As a public high school math teacher, I feel uniquely qualified to confirm that most high school math has no use or application outside of getting a good ACT score. In the short-term we have to teach our kids as much as possible so they can enter college with a good ACT, but on the long-term we must think about alternatives.
That alternative is trade education.
Trade education has been largely defunded since the ’90s. Where we once had optional programs to teach high-schoolers valuable and high-paying trades like carpentry, auto maintenance, and welding, we’ve now mostly replaced our shops with college preparatory classes that are unlikely to greatly improve the lives of students.
A robust re-investment in trade education — one committed to getting students high-paying certifications in construction, carpentry, welding, auto maintenance, truck-driving, cooking, power-line maintenance, etc. — could provide students with high-paying CAREERS while filling American trade shortages and giving options to students who would otherwise drop out of college.
The trouble, though, is that there is a large group of educators and policymakers who weaponize social justice narratives in order to attack any attempts at investing in career tech. They say that career tech education is racist and that it’s built on the idea that people think some students aren’t capable of college and that we want second-best for our poor and POC students.
Could you imagine having the audacity to think that the trades are second best? Do you walk around and think that the men and women who build and maintain our cars, houses, and infrastructure are beneath you?
Opposition to career tech education is built on assumptions that are classist and elitist. It’s built on an implicit contempt for the people who hold our country together.
There is nothing special about college and there’s no reason to hold our educated elites in veneration. A real egalitarian restructuring of our education system will have to be built on an equal treatment of the trades and the typical college-preparatory path. We have to show and teach students that all citizens in this country can have a positive impact, and that no profession or person should be held above any other.