Swickard: The need for vocational education

© 2017 Michael Swickard, Ph.D.  Imagine that a wave of brown smelly sludge starts pouring over the edge of your toilet. Oh no! That is not the textbook way brown sludge should be handled by the toilet. When you press the handle the “product” should just disappear out of sight, mind and smell.
            But it is overflowing and coming down the hallway. There is the immediate necessity to find someone competent in plumbing. We are not looking for conversations about academics. We need plumbers, not professors.
            I was thinking about this because many public schools, starting even in kindergarten, are pushing all of their students to go to college. No exceptions. But someone needs to be trained and ready to fix the biffy along with other repair professions.
            If every child goes to college there will be a huge problem. Millions of young adults can look at the human waste coming down your hallway and comment on the Peloponnesian War of 431 BC which had minor similarities to the crisis you are facing.
            When they are through talking about Greek history you still have a mess unless you find a plumber. The brown stuff will just keep on keeping on down your hallway.
            So many young people will know right where to put the comma, but nothing vocational. When trying to fix things you ask: what about using a screwdriver? No, not the liquid kind. And plumbers are not the political leak finders in Washington, they are those professionals who make the plumbing work as advertised.
            I was lucky that vocational education was for all students in the 1960s so that I am mildly competent in most repair situations. Even better, I know when not to tackle a problem other than tackle it with my wallet and someone who will fix the problem correctly.
            As a society, we are looking down our academic noses at those people who work with their hands and come home occasionally smelling like low tide at the swamp. The only thing we will know in the future is what we know now: everything will break at the least useful moment.
            We should bring vocational education back and put every public-school student through some of it so that minor things can be fixed by each of us. The wave of crud backing up from the toilet will take a real plumber. I hope we still have them in the future.
            It is wrong to push all students to college. Rather, we should make students aware of the possibilities without pushing what we think and let them decide what interests them. I understand colleges are worried by dropping enrollment.
            Partly this is due to the incredible increase in college costs plus a stagnate job market. They need skills that our world will support financially.
            Many young people do not want to go deeply in debt. Be a plumber first and then use those dollars to explore other professions. When the brown sludge overflows you will know what to do other than worry.