The Education Solution: Two Tracks?

Jordan Vocational High School cupola, Columbus, GA

  When I was a student at Jordan Vocational High School, I majored in wood shop. That put me in line for making a living with my hands.  The only time I have used my hands to make a living has been to  operate a radio control board,  play records (that was way before CD’s and iPods),  shoot and edit film and videotape, type news stories, and hold a microphone to do news interviews.  I must admit that wood shop did come in handy decades later when I screened-in a back porch.   However, a lot of other Jordan students did go on to make decent livings using the vocational skills taught there. 

The diploma that Jordan students earned, however, was no different from one earned at any Georgia High School.  It didn’t say it was a technology/ career preparation diploma. And a lot of the students who got them went on to college, with some becoming  teachers, preachers, doctors, lawyers, bank presidents, board chairmen…and, yes,  TV news anchors.

The point is that we had vocational schools in Georgia long before the idea of having dual diplomas was raised. Not only was it raised, but Georgia put it into effect for a few years, but it was recently abandoned.  Now, there is a move to go back to it, which Georgia’s new state superintendent of education believes might not be necessary.

Dr.John Barge, Superintendent of Schools, Georgia Department of Education

  Speaking to Columbus Rotarians,  Georgia Superintendent of Education John Barge said legislators have told him, “This single diploma is not working. You need to fix this or we are going to. And we know that some legislators have written some legislation – the governor has asked them to hold it – that would return our state to a dual-diploma system.  I think we can make the single diploma system work, but the way that we have to do that is through career pathways.

“We have students in our schools that will never learn, let’s say, the Pythagorean Theorem sitting at a desk with pencil and paper. But, if you put those students in a construction lab, building a rack or a tool shed learning the three-four- five rule, they will learn the Pythagorean Theorem. That’s the education of the hands part.  That’s taking the knowledge of the Pythagorean  Theorem and putting it to application.  So, how do you engage students? You engage them with – I think this is important to me – it’s called relevance…making what they do in the classroom relevant.”

He cited the study by the Harvard Graduate University School of Education called the “Pathways to Prosperity.”  It supports the idea of career pathways, and, he asks, “What better economic development tool? There is no better economic development tool than an educated, prepared workforce.”

Naturally, after hearing that, I Googled Harvard’s Pathways to Prosperity web page.  It backs up what Superintendent Barge said.  It refers to the success of the  European model. Lessons from that show that high quality vocational education programs ease the path into the adult work force.  And, more importantly, it says, “Most young people learn best in structured programs that combine work and learning, and where learning is contextual and applied. Ironically, this pedagogical approach has been widely applied in the training of our highest status professionals in the U.S., where clinical practice (a form of apprenticeship) is an essential component in the preparation of doctors,architects, and (increasingly) teachers.”

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