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Is School Only About Vocational Preparation?

In an article in The 74, writer Jeff Murray rebuts a blog posted by Lakota Local School District English teacher Ian Avery on Ohio Governor Kasich’s ill conceived idea that teachers be required to spend time shadowing someone working in the private sector. At the root of Mr. Murray’s rebuttal is the notion that everything in high school prepared him for work:

Everything about my high school and college experiences helped me to become a successful employee. Math teachers gave me the skills to measure work areas and assist in computing price quotes. History professors helped me understand why a developer was converting this former manufacturing plant into apartments. Communications instruction helped me hone marketing pitches to boost business. And, yes, I used every ounce of wordcraft I had studied and obsessed over in Brit Lit and Sonnet Seminar to write newsletters, clarify job specs, and interact with customers. It wasn’t Fitzgerald, but it was clear and direct and helpful to business. They didn’t know they needed an English major until they got one.

After reading Ian Avery’s lament about the implicit requirement that school be about careers and not “…about art and beauty, words and meaning — an abstract pursuit in opposition to career tech or vocational education”, Mr. Murray contends this opposition

…appears to embody the disconnect between teachers and the working world that Kasich was trying to address. The externship proposal may not be wholly practical as pitched, but there’s nothing wrong with the motivating sentiment.

But here’s are some questions Mr. Murray needs to ask himself— or if possible— ask the teachers who taught the courses that he ultimately found so valuable:

  • Would they have benefitted from an externship?
  • Did they never work outside of the classroom?
  • Did they lack the skills needed to succeed in the private sector, or did they choose a career that is devoted to helping others?
  • Did they view teaching as “career preparation” or did they aspire to passing along the “..art, beauty, words and meaning” of their subject area?

As I wrote in an earlier post, teachers would be unlikely to benefit from an externship, especially since there are unlikely to be enough externships to go around given the reality of the patterns of employment in Ohio. Moreover, most teachers had to work outside of education at some point in their lives. Indeed many work part time or over the summer to make ends meet. And most teachers could succeed in the marketplace but instead chose teaching out of a desire to help children succeed. Finally, most teachers know that their students want to pursue some kind of career when they graduate from high school… but they also know that during their time in school they should learn how to learn and gain a love of learning so that they can become like-long self-actualized learners as adults. I think even Mr. Murray would agree. Midway though his essay he wrote:

A great school, to me, is one in which every adult involved — the PTA, the cafeteria staff, the guidance counselors, everyone — shows up early and works to their fullest to teach young people (and to show them by example) how to reach their highest potential.

Mr. Murray’s ideal “great school” doesn’t do anything to help a child learn a vocation.

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