The Need to Validate Vocational Interests

Nov 6, 2016

By Ashley Lamb-Sinclair

At a recent conference, I listened to a university president boast about a program she had developed in partnership with several local high schools. She told the story of one teenager who lived in a rural area and worked full time on his family’s farm in addition to attending high school. The university president explained that the young man had little promise for attending college because of his circumstances. But through the dual-credit program, he was able to gain college credit while still in high school, which gave him the confidence to seek an associate’s degree in agriculture and return home to work on his family farm. I listened as she proudly told this young man’s story and the audience cheered for both of them, and all I could think was: What an extraordinary waste of time.

It may be shocking for a veteran high-school teacher to feel that a student gaining any kind of degree is a waste of time, but considering that 44 percent of recent college graduates are underemployed, and many employers such as Deloitte are now completely ditching college degrees as a requirement altogether, it is becoming increasingly difficult to sell the same old story—working hard to make good grades to go to college to get a good job—to millennials. When I think of the young agriculture student in the aforementioned anecdote, my heart hurts for him because I believe the system misled him. I wonder if he acquired any college debt during this journey, why he didn’t feel the need to continue on to attain a bachelor’s degree, and why it was necessary for a young man who grew up on a family farm to learn about agriculture miles away in a community-college classroom. I would feel a bit better if he wanted to be a teacher, or photographer, or engineer, and that’s why he went to college, but he didn’t. He went to learn something he probably already knew, but chances are no one had ever validated his expertise, and no one had ever found a way for his secondary education to be integrated into the work he loved.

Obviously, the counterargument here is the largely touted maxim that people with college degrees make more money than those without them, which is statistically true. But this idea is misleading: Crushing student-loan debt increases yearly and ethnicity, class, and gender factor into salary levels, regardless of education. And low-income kids can become “targets for diploma mills that load them up with debt, but not a lot of prospects.” Additionally, the average American worker will spend 90,000 to 125,000 hours working during the course of a lifetime, as Bill Burnett and Dave Evans write in Designing Your Life: How to Build a Well-Lived, Joyful Life, so the greatest portion of a person’s life is often spent at work. Although it is easy to proclaim to students coming of age that “you will make more money if you get a degree,” it is much more difficult to shed light on the intricacies of such a claim. I believe students should hear the whole story and more than one traditional path should be laid out before them.


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2 comments on “The Need to Validate Vocational Interests

  • Is a series of anecdotes and opinions lauding the student alone as client of institutions of education a good basis for considering the value of education?

    My answer is no.

    … only 14 percent of Americans believe that college adequately prepares students for success in the workplace, and only 11 percent of business leaders agree that college graduates are adequately prepared for the workforce …

    … and the point of those statistics would be?

    The obvious assumption, which is going unquestioned here, is: The primary purpose of education is to prepare children to enter the workforce. I find it difficult to put into words just how patronizing that is – particularly of those who seek a vocational education.

    This piece is prettily presented with phrases such as:

    … [all] students [deserve] an education that [is] personalized and empowering, and that is what any [education] program should offer every kind of learner

    It sounds supportive, flexible, achievable.

    But the reality is that the Author has another agenda:

    … why … was [it] necessary for a young man who grew up on a family farm to learn about agriculture miles away in a community-college classroom … He went to learn something he probably already knew, but chances are no one had ever validated his expertise, and no one had ever found a way for his secondary education to be integrated into the work he loved

    These phrases are loaded with unsupported assumptions and hasty generalizations. In addition, though touted as an opinion piece on vocational education, it mixes in a lot of research that includes, or is focused on, academic education.

    Perhaps my own paranoia is showing, but it seems to me that the result is a text that is ostensibly about ‘what do we do about kids who are not academic’ but is actually a screed that sells anti-intellectualism – and is anti-education in particular.

    I’ve heard a lot recently about how the Net is – supposedly – the driving force behind a downward trend in the dissemination of falsehoods at the expense of truth and the creation of paranoia. The Atlantic is to be applauded for so clearly demonstrating that traditional media is perfectly capable of doing these things … alone.

    Peace.



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  • Stephen of Wimbledon #1
    Nov 7, 2016 at 8:27 pm

    … why … was [it] necessary for a young man who grew up on a family farm to learn about agriculture miles away in a community-college classroom … He went to learn something he probably already knew, but chances are no one had ever validated his expertise, and no one had ever found a way for his secondary education to be integrated into the work he loved

    These phrases are loaded with unsupported assumptions and hasty generalizations.

    I would have to agree on that!
    Going back to my own student days studying environmental biology,
    I did some short “hands-on” courses at a university college of agriculture.

    Their full time students study farm management, innovative equipment and methods, seed-trials, stock management, feed, and housing, horticulture, etc!

    Well run school Rural Science Courses, also look at current and innovative methods, across a wider range than on an individual farm.

    In addition, though touted as an opinion piece on vocational education, it mixes in a lot of research that includes, or is focused on, academic education.

    Comments like He went to learn something he probably already knew, appear to express the ignorance of an academic based author, rather than the content of courses on agriculture or other practical subjects.

    People working on individual farms, do not experience the full range of options available, and without supervised research into comparisons, or opportunities to experiment, are in no position to judge the merits and risks involved in innovation.

    Accident statistics on farms, also suggest that training in health and safety for young people in the proper use of machinery, chemicals, and proper handling of livestock, are also important, and that they do not, “already know this”!



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