What does transformation look like in education?
That’s what I was looking for when I toured two local high schools today. I will present my thoughts about these schools and how they’ve transformed learning in a multi-part series over the next few days.

School #1

A career prep school where students traveled from their main campuses to be trained for service in various industries.

I was very impressed by the learning environment created by this school for its career tech students. The schools had great learning areas for their medical training classes. The classroom was joined to its own computer lab, which was joined to a practical lab. Everything at this school was thought of from a student’s perspective; everything flowed. Student work areas were practical, useful, and aesthetically pleasing. Each content area was interconnected and had a very professional feel to it. If students are expected to act professionally and prepare for a profession right after high school, then their training needs to be set up in the same way. It was.

I feel strongly that not all students should or need to go to college. There is a big push for students to attend college because it is seen as the only way to make a “good” living, but this sends the wrong message to students. You can be an educated person and not spend four years at a university. I don’t mean to say “we need workers in addition to academics,” but instead, we need to value everyone, not just for what they can add to the workforce, but who they are as human beings. This school was a great example of how to meet the needs of the students and provide them with an education that works for them.

But then I found out that only about 20-25% of students who are enrolled in these courses actually work in the industry they receive training in. Only 25%? One of the automotive teachers said he was happy with that figure because everyone should know how to work on cars. As he said it, “It would be good for a lawyer to know how to fix his car.”

I couldn’t agree with him more. I worked at UPS in the automotive area while I was going to school, and I am very grateful for everything I learned while there. I can work on my own brakes, change belts, change my oil, change my spark plugs, and have a much better working knowledge of how cars work than I did prior to working there. But these students are spending two and a half hours of their educational day learning the intricacies of automobile technology. There’s knowing how to maintain a car, and then there’s knowing how to rebuild an engine. In New York, where I grew up, all students (male and female) had to take Home Economics and some kind of technology (wood shop, automobile repair, metal working…). That rounded out my education and I still use what I learned in those classes today. However, I didn’t put in the same amount of time that these student do. I don’t see this as wasted time, but time that could be allocated more effectively.

Some of my colleagues who were touring with me commented that it was amazing to see students being prepared for their futures, that this school was producing adults ready for the workforce right out of high school. Do we want to produce a workforce? Or do we want to produce thinkers? At the risk of sounding overly optimistic (like Walt Whitman), I want my mechanic to be a philosopher in his own right, I want my plumber to see poetry in his work, and I want my nurse to know the history of Ancient Greece and early medicine. If all we do is prepare students to be workers, then we only value them for what they can accomplish, not for who they are and what they think and believe.


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