How to Make This Country a Well-Oiled Machine:
Stop Discriminating against Those
Who BUild and Oil Our Machines
by Emily Fultz
If you were stranded on a deserted island with one other person, would you rather be stuck with a carpenter or an art history major? While reenacting The Birth of Venus on shore may catch the attention of some far-off periscope, someone with the skills to build shelter and create a sustainable existence would be a much more valuable comrade to have when thinking of long-term survival.
When you think about it on a microcosmic scale, it is undeniable how important trade skills are to the success of a society. However, the United States’ education system has lost sight of this reality when it comes to the larger picture. Encouraging high school students with trade skills to pursue their areas of interest is a necessary step to making our world run smoothly. Instead, trade programs in high schools are being cut left and a right. Students are not being properly assessed based on their skill sets and are labeled “failures” in our current education system; our system that equates being a successful member of society to scoring a 30 on the ACT while being shoved down the college-track conveyer belt.
Right now, the situation isn’t looking up either. New education standards are sweeping the nation. Up until this point, individual states created their own education standards (the framework teachers use to gauge student achievement – i.e., by the time a student enters 5th grade, he or she will be able to identify the parts of speech). The incoming education reform, the Common Core State Standards, are led by the National Governor’s Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers (ahem, politicians). By next year, the standards will be in full-effect in approximately 45 states. However, many states are on the fence and a few are backing out of implementation altogether. Our neighbor, Indiana, backed out this past March because state officials felt the standards overstepped individual states’ rights.
Everyone in education has an opinion about Common Core. If you are a parent, I suggest educating yourself about this overhaul in education and creating your own opinion because it will impact your children if it hasn’t yet. Some people argue that the standards aren’t rigorous enough for those going to college. Others argue that they are too “common” and try to teach to the middle, while completely ignoring students who excel and others who struggle.
I argue that while the Common Core Standards claim to be equally geared toward students pursuing a college degree and those planning on joining the workforce immediately after high school, this is not the case at all. For nine years, I have taught in a rural public high school and for the past three years, I’ve been studying these standards for my master’s thesis. My research concluded that over 500 rural Illinois educators, administrators, and school board members agree that over 95% of the standards are solely geared toward students pursuing a college degree.
(Side Note: I know what I’m talking about but refuse to use APA format in this article because I don’t have to. After writing about this topic in soulless technical writing for years, I decided to write from the heart for this article. If you have questions about my data or sources, just Google it yourself. Whatever you want to believe is going to be true anyway. That’s what I learned in grad school and from the internet.)
So the standards are in favor of kids going to college, so what?
Here’s what’s what: over a million high school students drop out each year. Their main reason for dropping out is because of a lack of educational opportunities that involve their actual skills. Each high school dropout costs taxpayers approximately $500,000 over the course of their life time in criminal justice and welfare fees. These kids have skills; they just aren’t being assessed for them and are being labeled failures by the mandated standardized tests in place. The system is screwing itself over and over again while ignoring the needs to the people in it.
Does every human being need to be able to identify the author’s tone in a bone-dry passage about fossils in order to be a contributing member to society?
You know why?
This kid who can’t fully comprehend the symbolism in everything he or she is reading, will still go on to make a fine living as a Union pipefitter or a welder, even if he or she does only score a 12 on the ACT. And if you’ve been out of high school for awhile, just so you know, every student is required to take the ACT now, even those not planning on going to college. Even those who have been diagnosed with severe learning disabilities have to take the ACT. And then the state uses that information to provide funding for schools and continues to use this unreliable and invalid data to label whether or not the school is a failure. The rich get richer. The elite get more elitist. The poor get poorer. The working class gets ignored once again.
Here’s the thing: right now our society is in desperate need of skilled workers. We need people to build roads and fix pipes and grow crops we can actually eat straight from the field. We don’t need millions more college graduates with billions of dollars in student loan debt when there are no jobs available for them. Our society doesn’t need everyone to go to college. (But banks do).
Sixty years ago a person could work in a factory for his whole life and provide comfortably for his family without a college education. Now, two working adults with college degrees can barely make ends meet. Now, we have to outsource to other countries for our manufacturing needs because working a white-collar job in a factory became stigmatized and we’d rather have people who don’t look like us do it in countries far away for a fraction of the wage, while we sit on our asses and hold out for a management position at a distribution warehouse where we push boxes of crap around that was imported from other countries because we don’t even know how to make anything here anymore.
So now what?
This system is broken. It’s shattered. And in order to change it, in order to make anything socially just or logical requires billions of dollars and the backing of even more people with billions of dollars. And we try to speak up when high school trade programs that build houses for communities are cut so administrators can make six figures instead of five. And I go teach in a rural high school classroom every day and tell the kids with 12s on their ACT to not take it personally, to throw themselves into the mechanics or farming that they enjoy doing because that is what matters. I see through the smoke and mirrors and so do they and the first step is to talk about it.
And it feels good to have skilled people on your side. I strongly suggest you get some on your side, too. Because, honestly, at the rate everything’s going, when the ice caps melt or the epidemic breaks loose, I’d much rather be surrounded by people who know how to grow, fix, and build. Those are the skills we’re going to need in order to start over.