Friday, September 21, 2012

A cartoon to educators

A cartoon sent by Gov. LePage to various education officials has caused some of those officials questioning the accuracy of the cartoon.  Some have even said they didn’t understand it.  I laughed when I saw it and said silently, “Right on, Gov.”

The cartoon by syndicated San Diego cartoonist Steve Breen of the San Diego Union-Tribune shows a student telling a teacher, or perhaps a guidance counselor, “This fall, I’m going to trade school to be a welder.”  There’s a block pointing to him that says, “Starting salary upon graduation $50,000.”  The school person is thinking, “Loser.”  The block point to that person says, “Starting salary upon graduation from a pricey, 4-year school with a liberal arts degree $25,000.”  There’s another parenthetical phrase in that frame I cannot read.

The cartoon was an attempt by the governor to show educators that everyone doesn’t need a college education and society does need some of those trade people.  I agree with the governor except I’d add that at least some college work wouldn’t hurt anyone.  Let me just pop this in here:  I did graduate from one of the South’s best universities, the University of Florida, thus the Gator designation.

Way back in the early 1960s I was teaching in a Portland school when one of my students was telling his friends he was quitting school to become a bulldozer operator.  Believing in the importance of at the very least a high school diploma, I tried to talk him out of quitting.  As I recall, it really was a good, non-confrontational conversation as he explained how he simply couldn’t stand the learning stuff at all and could make good money in the trade.  I tried to explain to him that how income grew with each level of education and that dropouts were at the bottom.  It meant nothing to him.

A few days later he was not in class.  “He’s gone,” a friend of his told me and already is working on a job.  I was disappointed.

Several months went by and one afternoon, the young man appeared in my classroom.  “Are you coming back?” I asked.

“Oh, no!” he smiled.  “It’s just you tried to talk me out of quitting and I liked you so I thought I share where I am with you.”  He was really happy and confident at his success.  We talked for a while before he offered, “I happen to have a pay stub with me and thought you’d like to compare yours with mine.”

He was earning twice as much each week as I was earning bi-monthly.  “As soon as I’m 18,” he said, “I’m going to buy my own machine and then I’ll be able to earn some real money.”

It’s true; this fellow’s experience was not typical of high school dropouts.  Also, I have no idea what ultimately happened to him so it’s possible he never did get his own machine, it’s possible he no longer drives one, it’s possible he ended up on the low end of the wage scale.  Sure, but it does illustrate that not everyone, at least in their teens, didn’t need a college education.

Before she retired, my wife worked many years in the office of Portland Regional Vocational Technical High School which became Portland Arts and Technology High School.  She was saddened when the change took place because, as she said then, it marked the beginning of the end of vocational education. Fewer and fewer young people graduated from the school as excellent mechanics, machinists, brick layers, small engine repairers, electricians, and the list could go on and on.

She told me that “sending schools” were discouraging students from attending or putting other roadblocks in front of them.  Instead, many students attending were encouraged to take what they called general trades.

Meanwhile the emphasis was placed on college preparation.  I think even the SAT (Scholastic Aptitude Test) was adopted as the Junior Year standard test to measure progress.  It’s hard to accept the schools’ challenge to the assertion that preparation for college had become the prime goal of schools when a college entrance test was used to measure the students’ achievement.

Yes.  Every student should be encouraged to accomplish goals as high and perhaps higher than that person is capable of achieving, but the schools should also have strong ways for those wishing to study for a trade to also achieve at the top.

After all, where would we be without plumbers, electricians, engine repair people, roofers, mechanics, constructors, you name it.  I think that’s the purpose of Gov. LePage’s plea in his use of the cartoon.


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