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A Texas Two Step

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College is not for everyone

By SHEILAH PEPPER

The Gazette Staff

In today's education system, we put a blanket emphasis on academics – that is – book learnin' much to the detriment of a whole segment of our student population.

It has become a mantra - "Everyone must go to college."

Yet, over the past several years, I've run into both parents and students, especially students, who didn't want to go to college and, once in, hated every minute of it. I'm speaking about four-year programs.

I am somewhat biased as I grew up in an environment where college access was limited, partly by economics but certainly by academic achievement. Most universities would consider only the top 25 percent of a high school graduating class.

However, the high school system I attended in Canada offered three streams. Two were academic and could lead to college. The third included the basic core academic subjects plus an array of vocational training options. The people I knew who were in the third stream got jobs as soon as they were out of high school. Granted, this was 1960 and the economy was humming.

I ran into a jewelry designer, about my age, who was bemoaning the loss of various vocational schools. He would take people on, fresh out of vocational schools that taught jewelry design and they would work with him for a period as apprentices. He said that since the push for college, there had been a demise of training for those who wished to work with their hands. Training in jewelry design, furniture making, carpentry, and many other skills had become almost non-existent. Adding to the problem, he said that most of the people he took in nowadays were even deficient in basic reading, writing and simple math skills!

Some enjoy academic pursuits. I majored in English because I loved literature. My minor in history was equally enjoyable. To my surprise, I discovered a passion for military history. But I can readily understand that someone would prefer learning how to make fine jewelry or furniture over reading about famous battles.

In the past, craftsmen and artisans enjoyed respect within their societies. Stone masons made cathedrals into places of great beauty. Talented trim carpenters can turn ordinary spaces into something very special.

Obviously, doctors and lawyers, accountants and engineers need specialized and advanced degrees. But relative to the garden variety bachelor's degree, we are finding that the idea that the mere possession a piece of parchment will not guarantee a job upon graduation. New graduates are finding that this is a myth. Some of those who actually find work are working at jobs at or close to minimum wage, while carrying a load of college debt in the five and six figures.

People who can work with their hands (and their head) contribute to needs we face every single day. It's time to revive quality vocational training and time to bestow respect on our artisans and craftsmen.

Copyright©2011SheilahPepper