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Thursday, July 31, 2014

On Socrates and Sockets: The Importance of Career and Technical Educaction

I have always respected people with technical skills.  We recently had particular cause to reflect on the role of the electrician.   One of our neighbors, a contractor, came by to consider a few small jobs.  After learning about the lack of electricity in one outlet, he unscrewed the plate and tested the wires.  The black wire brought in the current, but the white wire failed to complete the circuit. 

With a bit of serendipity, another neighbor, an electrician arrived home at about the same time.  He stopped by to thank us for helping to recover his lost dog while he and his family were away, another bit of serendipity.  When the electrician saw the contractor, unlicensed in electrical work, with sparks flying about him, he told us he would look into the problem.  With the possibility of electrical fires and electrocution seemingly hovering over the contractor's head, I was greatly relieved.

This brings me to my point.  I have been greatly disappointed to learn that the trades have been slowly removed from the Chicago Public Schools.  In 2011, Chicago's Simeon Academy closed its machine shop.  In the last four years, Chicago Public Schools lost graphic design and automotive programs as well.  Now, the last electrical program is closing.  It seems "career" has been redefined in this age of the Common Core to include four years of college, to the detriment of CTE, Career and Technical Education.  

For anyone who belittles trade skills, I would ask:  how much is all the good knowledge of manifold dialogues of Plato and Socrates worth if one is electrocuted playing with electrical plates and testing sockets?  If one wishes to study all subjects, I say, so much the better, but, if not, it is an inescapable fact that the job of electrician can be very practical and well-paying, in and of itself.  As the Chicago Teachers Union would be quick to point out, it takes students off the streets and provides them with skills to become self-supporting.  At a time when the unemployment rate in Chicago is high, it is a path to meaningful employment, with an earning potential well above that of the minimum wage.  CTE programs continue in increasing numbers outside the City.  As long as humans harness electricity, we will need electricians.  I cannot forget how the demand for electricians skyrocketed in NY following Hurricane Sandy.  

It seems part of the problem with CTE in Chicago, but one not without solutions, is that enrollment is down.  Yet, I would argue a little publicity goes a long ways.  In this day and age, if more people realize that meaningful employment does not have to entail huge college debt followed by a period of joblessness, then the trades might look more attractive.  I agree that no one should be unwillingly pushed towards a trade, but I believe if we spent a little more time respecting, and a little less time belittling, all the knowledge and skills necessary to be a licensed tradesman or tradeswoman, we might see a surge in enrollment in these programs and we might see the youth of today with more and varied chances to succeed in life.

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