Dana Goldstein has an excellent article on vocational education appearing in next week’s issue of The Nation. (You can read it online currently, and I recommend it). Before delving into some interesting modern incarnations of vocational ed, Ms. Goldstein discusses a recent study by the Harvard Graduate School of Education, which found that only about 30% of new jobs in America, over the next seven years, would require a four-year college degree. The study serves as a jumping off point for a critical reexamining of the contemporary reformist rhetoric that every student in America can and should attend a four-year liberal arts college. Not surprisingly, challenging that rhetoric generated some vitriol in the online comments on The Nation’s website, but Ms. Goldstein is right to take on these questions; thorny though they may be, they are pressing ones.
Original artwork created for Dewey to Delpit.
Line Drawing: Paris Mancini. Color & Texture: Tavet Rubel
I’ve been concerned about the implications of “college for all” since my first experience working at an inner-city No-Excuses charter school. The school had a motto, which the students were made to memorize and chant often: “Work hard, go to college, change the world.” The first two items in that list formed the driving axiom of the school. What do you need to do? Work hard. Why? So you can go to college. College was presented as the ultimate motivation and reason behind everything we did at the school.
The effort to inculcate in students the bourgeois value of college-attendance was everywhere visible. Each classroom was named after and decorated with the colors and emblems of a different college, and the students in a given homeroom were addressed collectively by the name of the corresponding college. “Wisconsin, I need your eyes on me,” a teacher might say to a class of eighth graders. Teachers went out of their way to refer to their own college experience whenever possible in classroom discussions, and hallway bulletin-boards were often decorated with photographs of faculty alma-maters and accompanying testimonials. Whenever possible, school trips included a visit to a college campus. Students were never referred to as students; they were called “scholars.”