Northeast Oregon needs trade school

By Mike Shearer May 29, 2012 11:47 am
Well, once again not one high school anywhere asked me to speak at commencement, so Bric-a-brac readers get my speech. 

I like the concept that everyone should be able to go to college, but that has sometimes been changed into everyone SHOULD go to college. 

The biggest proponents of not going to college right out of high school were some of my non-traditional college students --- that is students in their 30s or sometimes 40s or 50s --- who told tales of their earlier, straight-out-of-high-school attempts at taking on college. 

While they were more than ready for college when I knew them, they had been pushed (maybe bullied) into going earlier and failed — and run up some pretty good student loan debts in some cases.

A four-year degree can cost $40,000 to well over $100,000, a debt that many workers die still trying to pay off.

A college history professor I know is in her mid-50s and still saddled with debt as she attempts to play mom to her two grandchildren while her daughter, the children’s mother, serves in the military overseas.  

In some cases, a few years of working and growing up make for a better plunge at the persistence that a college education takes.

In fact, one can even save up a little money to minimize those loans that hang over so many workers’ heads like a dark cloud.

I interviewed a judge once who talked about the “criminal years.” She said statistically most criminals she saw in her courtroom were well under 30. She said something seems to happen to even the rowdiest people to settle them down somewhat with just a little age, and that is as true with students as with law-breakers. 

And what if someone never went to college? Propaganda would have us believe everyone who bypasses college ends up stuck forever in an entry-level job at a fast-food restaurant or pan-handling with a tin cup just outside that restaurant’s door, and it’s just not true. 

As maybe you’ve read in the news, Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook fame is not struggling to get by, nor are Rachael Ray, Steven Spielberg, or Bill Gates. None of them have college degrees.

True, it was easier to break into the news business without a degree back when Peter Jennings, a high school drop-out, did it, but people often train by other means.

When I used to have my students write 20-minute essays on why they were in college, almost all of them would start off talking about money and jobs. 

Approaching the daunting task of acquiring a college degree with money as your primary motive is a bit worrisome, but approaching it with money as the ONLY motive is deadly to the learning process.

If you only want wealth from what your college teacher is attempting to convey, you’ll have a hard time concentrating on all of the wonderful things involved in an education that you can’t see as directly profiting you.

I had a college student who was forced — as he saw it — to take an English class, and he asked, sincerely, “If I’m going to be an architect, why do I need to know what this chick Emily Dickinson is trying to say?”

(I don’t even remember how I replied, but I do remember I started with, “First of all, Emily Dickinson is no chick.” The real answer, of course, is Emily Dickinson might make his life richer, not his bank account.)

That colleges and universities should be training schools for the marketplace is a fairly modern concept. Originally, they were where students were made into well-rounded citizens, capable of critical thinking --- people who just might be challenging and defying a boss as often as obeying.

There is no reason colleges and universities can’t help students eventually fit into the job market, as long as they continue to make them well-rounded critical thinkers as well. 

But there are multiple ways to make money and fit into the job market.

That’s why I think the proponents of developing a vocational school in Northeast Oregon are on to something. 

A vocational school provides professional and technical, career-specific educational programs. It focuses on job-specific training, not a broad, liberal arts education. (They can read Emily Dickinson on their own or wait until they go back to college when they’re 40.) 

Vocational schools have declined in number in modern years, many of them morphing into community colleges. This has happened at the same time our secondary schools have cut back on their vocational offerings. 

Many trades are paying very well right now, partly because nearly everyone is being shoved into other fields, and we desperately need people who know electricity, welding, plumbing, animal care, cosmetology, etc. 

Everyone would benefit from a vocational school in Northeast Oregon: the young people looking for a way to make a living, the consumer looking for an electrician, the community needing the income a vocational school would generate.  

Every graduate is different, and we need as many different options as possible to ready each for the world. Many need to jump right into college, some need to work a few years first, some need to learn a trade that may satisfy them for life—or until they’re ready to tackle college.

The high school graduate’s responsibility right now is not to ask what career choice will make him or her rich but rather this question: What kind of work would I actually like to do 40 hours a week?