《全球成就差距》(The Global Achievement Gap)一書與更近期出版的創建創新(Creating Innovators)之作者──托尼瓦格納(Tony Wagner)先生，向我社區內的教師與家長發表演說時提到：「在芬蘭成功的教育系統下，完成基礎教育後，有45%的學生選擇進入職業體系而非學科屬性的普通科。」這使我最近想起這段經歷。
六零年代初期，約翰佳德納(John Gardner)在他的經典著作──卓越(Excellence)──一書中暢談技職教育與我們經濟與社會健全狀況中所需，各種職業適得其所、卓越發展的重要性，不幸的是我們在這些年的干預下毫無進展。在傳統學術領域不擅長的學生、或是對學科知識興趣不大的孩子，不該從師長那裏覺察失望或不滿。而另一位佳德納，霍華德佳德納(Howard Gardner)也已經多次指出多元智能的存在，各種領域的資優特質都有同樣的價值。舉例來說，在許多技術性行業能大顯身手、有所成就的人，往往在身體運動智能與空間智能會有較高的表現水平。當然就全體學生而言，承認與發展這些多元智能，與發展基本語言能力或數學知能也絕對沒有矛盾。
喬克萊恩(Joe Klein)在最近時代雜誌上的文章提到，在美國優質卓越、資金雄厚的職業課程日益漸增。尤其是在亞利桑那州其中兩間──梅薩(Mesa)的東谷科技學院(East Valley Institute of Technology)與凱恩塔(Kayenta)的谷區紀念中學(Monument Valley High School)，其技職教育課程都提供了可適用於許多地區的創新啟發與實用的教學模型。
在美國，還有更多學校建立實習計畫，協助進入普通高中的學生獲得職場經驗。舊金山的市藝高職(City Arts and Technology High)，三年級與四年級的學生會在社區中實習，社區有專業人士臨場提供輔導與其學校顧問的定期訪視。加州奧克蘭的識西高中(MetWest High School)，就是其中一所提供學生實習的學校，此外還有很多地方有實習機會。而南西霍夫曼(Nancy Hoffman)出色的新著作──職場中學(schooling in the Workplace)──著眼於六個國家如何整合學校教育與工作場域，此外也提供在美國地區該教育整合情況的觀點研究。
最後，在一區能開始對技職教育進行立法，取決於一般認為社會地位不高的職業相關議題對父母進行職業價值觀的成功再教育。邁克羅斯(Mike Ross)的衷心於業：珍視美國工人的智慧(The Mind at Work: Valuing the Intelligence of the American Worker)就我們對職業所產生的社會偏見──不論是職業所需智能、與我們社會過去貶抑認知與技能結合所產生的偏誤──已提供了一帖良方。
曾任職於加州大學聖塔巴巴拉分校和舊金山州立大學。退休後現為加州報紙Marin Independent Journal專欄作家。
Why Should We Care About Vocational Education?
Some years ago I was hired by Norway’s Ministry of Education to train vocational education teachers. Having myself attended a comprehensive high school where vocational students were those who couldn’t make it academically, and having taught in a suburban high school where there was zero vocational education, it was eye-opening to be in a country where vocational education had high prestige, was well-funded, and included students who could have gone to medical school if that had been their preference.
I was reminded of this experience recently when Tony Wagner, the author of The Global Achievement Gap and, most recently, Creating Innovators (much more on that book in a future column), spoke with educators and parents in my community and noted that in Finland’s highly successful educational system, 45% of the students choose a technical track, not an academic track, after completing their basic education.
Blue-Collar Stigma in White-Collar Society
I’m sure many high school counselors have had some students confide that what they enjoyed doing most was working with their hands, whether on car engines, electrical circuits in the house, hair, or doing therapeutic massage. I bet that many of these students also confided that there is no way they could tell their parents that they’d rather pursue one of these occupations than go to college to prepare for a professional or business career.
We live in a society that places a high value on the professions and white-collar jobs, and that still considers blue-collar work lower status. It’s no surprise that parents want their children to pursue careers that will maintain or increase their status. This is even more evident in high socio-economic communities. And for most teachers, if the student is academically successful, this will be seen as a “waste of talent.”
The same dilemma often exists for students who are working to overcome the achievement gap. Most schools that are effectively helping kids to overcome this gap and achieve academically also place a premium on college admissions, often the mark of success for these schools. And kids who are the first in their families to graduate high school appear foolish to “throw this all away” by choosing some alternative to college and a blue collar career.
This bias against vocational education is dysfunctional. First, it is destructive to our children. They should have the opportunity to be trained in whatever skills their natural gifts and preferences lead them to, rather than more or less condemning them to jobs they’ll find meaningless. If a young person has an affinity for hair design or one of the trades, to keep him or her from developing the skills to pursue this calling is destructive.
Second, it is destructive to our society. Many of the skills most needed to compete in the global market of the 21st century are technical skills that fall into the technical/vocational area. The absence of excellence in many technical and vocational fields is also costing us economically as a nation.
In the early sixties, John Gardner, in his classic book Excellence, talked about the importance of vocational education and of developing excellence across all occupations for the social and economic health of our society. Unfortunately, we’ve made little progress in the intervening years. Students who don’t excel in traditional academic areas, or who have little interest in them, should not meet with disappointment or disapproval from parents and teachers. As another Gardner, Howard Gardner, has repeatedly pointed out, there are varied types of intelligence, and they are of equal value. As one example, bodily-kinesthetic and spatial intelligence are frequently high in those who are successful in varied technical trades. And there is absolutely no contradiction between recognizing and developing these intelligences and developing basic verbal and mathematical literacy for all students.
Vocational Education Groundswell
While changing societal values will take time, changes can take place on a school or district level more immediately. And the good news is that there are increasing models and resources to guide educators.
Joe Klein in a recent Time magazine article described an increasing number of excellent and well-funded vocational programs in the U.S., particularly in Arizona. Two of these, the East Valley Institute of Technology in Mesa and the Career and Technical Education Program at Monument Valley High School in Kayenta, provide both inspiration and practical models that could be implemented in many districts.
There are also more schools across the U.S. that are creating internship programs to help students gain workplace experiences while enrolled in an academic high school. At City Arts and Technology High in San Francisco, all juniors and seniors secure internships in the community, where they are mentored by an on-site professional and regularly visited by their school advisor. MetWest High School in Oakland, California is one of many that place student internships at the center of their mission. And Nancy Hoffman’s excellent new book, Schooling in the Workplace, looks at how six countries successfully integrate schools and workplaces, while also providing a look at where this is happening in the U.S.
Finally, being able to begin legitimizing vocational education in a district may also depend on successfully re-educating parents regarding the value of occupations that aren’t high on the social status scale. Mike Rose’s The Mind at Work: Valuing the Intelligence of the American Worker, provides an excellent antidote to our social biases about intelligence and an eye-opening look at the combination of cognitive and manual skills needed in occupations that our society has mistakenly devalued.
Vocational education on both a secondary and post-secondary level should be highly valued, well-funded and effectively implemented. The first steps can and should be taken on a local level.
Mark Phillips was a teacher educator at UCSB and then at San Francisco State. Now he retired from SFSU,doing volunteer work with the California Film Institute’s Education program and writing a monthly column on education for the Marin Independent Journal.