Thursday, June 2, 2016
The Anti-Vocational Education and 'College For All' Ideological Harvest
Back in the early 1990s, I was enrolled in Lehman College working on my Master's degree. During one of my more interesting classes, I had a professor who became very angry with me when I told her I disagreed with her. She had stated that all vocational high schools in NYC should be closed. She had asserted that vocational schools were racist facilities that were being used to keep minority students out of college. She maintained that all students should be sent to college. I, of course, said that was ridiculous. She asked me how old my son was (3, at the time) and said, "So it's ok for your son to go to college, but not the Black or Latino kid?" I replied if my son had the inclination toward the trades, I wouldn't stop him and that tradespeople can make very high salaries. (There is and was a subtle snobbery with many intellectuals that view skilled labor as a demeaning way to make a living. My son did end up going to a vocational high school. I should mention that this professor was a very attractive, nice Jewish lady.)
As the years went by, I saw a lot of chipping away at the notion of vocational schools. First, as I've mentioned, from education professors; then from teachers and administrators, and finally from our beloved Mayor Bloomberg. Right after the No Child Left Behind Act, my AP went around to all the CTE teachers in our school and told us we had to get another license. She explained that the increased push to get all students into college and the end of zoned schools would mean the demise of vocational schools. The kids had to take newly required classes and tests. These classes left very little to no time for vocational classes. Most kids in the school were now taking 9 to 10 periods a day with no lunch. (We had to have the parents sign a waiver allowing it.)
Next came massive amounts of kids being placed in our school with no interest in vocational classes. These kids used to go to their zoned schools, (and we used to send the ones that showed no aptitude to those schools). These students were now destroying every CTE class. The final nail in the coffin was of course, the completely diabolical 2005 contract. It allowed failing schools to be closed down and the veteran staffs to be turned into babysitters. Vocational schools were sent high need students and the resulting falling stats used as evidence for their closing.
Now all students are being sent to college, regardless of academic readiness. (The Regent exams were supposed to ensure this.) Many former public school students can not pass an introductory class. Some spend all their financial aid on remedial classes. They then go into the world with no skills and no degree.
I was recently at a play at SUNY Purchase. During intermission, I started talking with a semi-retired lady that seemed very familiar. She was telling me horror stories of the students she was teaching in a community college, as a adjunct English professor. "They're all so entitled! They expect me to spoon feed everything to them. They have no social skills, no vocabulary and can't write. Why don't they go out and learn a trade?!" Yes, you guessed it - my former professor from Lehman. I reminded her of our former conversation so many years before - which had left a lasting impression on me, but none at all on her. She eventually did however, admit that she did feel that way once upon a time - but had been wrong. The crop of anti-vocational education and "college for all" ideologies, sown so long ago, is now being harvested by the very same people and institutions that planted it.