The people's voice of reason

Tears and Laughter: What does pretty look like?

To all the boys who don’t feel smart on paper.

I call them the lost boys, these young people who seem in one way or another to be left behind or forgotten by what we tend to consider as traditional school standards. Of course this includes a certain number of girls too.

I overheard one of my son’s friends talking last week. He was talking about his own self saying, “I am so dumb.” I couldn’t help but interrupt and tell him that he most certainly was not dumb, and to not say that.

He told me that I didn’t understand. That he can’t take the advanced classes…that he has tried, and ended up dropped back to easier classes. The advanced classes are too advanced and the easier classes are too easy. And there is a lot of discrimination and stereotyping between these two groups of students.

He had spoken the truth. There was no pretending. No sugar-coating. I told him if he could recognize the divide that educators seem to have failed to see and describe it so accurately that he was anything but dumb.

He laughed. “Yes ma’am,” he said, “I just don’t show it on paper.”

The divide he sees is not exclusive to him or his school. It is a gap that could likely be filled with a return of vocational classes.

The decades long push to remove vocational training from high schools has resulted in a shortage of a skilled labor force.

The vast majority of students today are not even taught to read a standard tape measure. They are taught to read inches and half inches and centimeters and millimeters on a ruler in elementary school, but high schoolers are not taught about the eighths and sixteenths on a tape measure. And this is unfortunate. Any line of construction, maintenance, or machinist work is going to require knowing how to read a tape measure. If you can master a tape measure, you will understand fractions, decimals, and money. Plus, you can get a job that will pay enough to make a living for yourself and a family. But currently…few students are taught to read a tape.

Four-year college opportunities should be available to every child. But it can’t be ignored that the economy has shifted toward manufacturing.

College is not what all young people are planning. A percentage of those who do go to college do not finish. Another percentage of those who graduated are underserved by their education and are forced into jobs they could have been hired into with a high school diploma – many still burdened with student loan debt.

Vocational careers are becoming lucrative career path for high school graduates as well as those who are college educated but underemployed. Many of these jobs can be attained through apprenticeship programs, on the job training, or attending vocational classes at community colleges.

People who make a living by having a trade or working with their hands are far from dumb. They are often the more successful and financially stable among us. Vocational work is no longer looked upon as a dying profession. For many it is the fast lane to a secure future.


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