Are The Trades Becoming The Phoenix?
In mythology, the phoenix is a bird known for its longevity, whose life is extended by a cyclical resurrection from its own ashes. It has many historical origins in Egypt, Greece, Persia, Christianity and the Orient. Though its lifespan and the details of its longevity vary a bit between the different cultures, it is noted as a constant in life, outliving times of war and conflict in the Orient, and bringing prosperity to those who touch it in Persia.
Our own country’s experience with labor is a bit like the phoenix. There have been times when it was heralded in all its glory, like during the Industrial Revolution, and times when it has languished in a death throw. The trades have been in a decline since the 80’s when we began the push for more kids to go to college. Classes in the trades have been phased out of many high schools as the schools, predictably, focus their limited resources on college prep coursework to meet the demand for higher numbers of high school graduates going on to college. The campaign to demean the trades was all too successful. When it comes to career, students have been encouraged to shoot for the white collar, not the blue one.
Common Core is practically bi-polar when it comes to career. It purports to be preparing students for the rigors of college work by delving deeper into a few key areas in language and math. It focuses on the soft skills of career like collaboration and dealing with frustration. But as we have heard Jason Zimba testify, Common Core only prepares you for a two year college. This is where someone in the trades might go to get just a little more math and communication skills work under their belts. However, they will get there with none of the hard skills for a particular field because those courses have been dropped from high school because everyone else is thinking college readiness means selective liberal arts colleges who focus on professional degrees and white collar jobs. Common Core advocates sound a lot like my grandmother who used to tell her kids that liver was “pressed beef” to get them to eat it. They may believe in the value of their program but they are afraid to call it by name and sell it on its actual merits.
Good thing we have someone like Mike Rowe, former Dirty Jobs host, to help polish the image of a career in the trades. His Mike Rowe Works foundation is “concerned with promoting hard work and supporting the skilled trades in a variety of areas. Primarily, we award scholarships to young men and women who have illustrated both an interest and an aptitude around mastering a specific trade. Qualified candidates include those students who want to advance their education through an accredited trade school or apprenticeship program, exhibit high work ethic and need financial assistance.”
The Foundation has been working to amass a large scholarship fund to help education in the trades, working with schools around the country to match students and training. They also support SkillsUSA, a national nonprofit organization serving teachers and high school and college students who are preparing for careers in trade, technical and skilled service occupations (formerly known as VICA [Vocational Industrial Clubs of America]). MikeRoweWorks covers travel costs for competing students who could otherwise not afford to attend SkillsUSA and provides tool stipends for top students that have graduated from accredited AED schools.
The American Diploma Project, which is the foundation for Common Core, looked at businesses in growth areas in five states to determine what skills were going to be needed in those businesses and translated those skills into teaching standards for k-12. Their findings are repeated in common core’s standards. Those key business growth areas did not show a need for Algebra beyond a little Algebra II. They were fields where you needed to be able to read or create an instruction manual, hence the focus on informational text. Department of Labor Projections match this outlook. These are jobs more closely related to the trades than the white collar fields of most 4 year colleges. It appears, however, that the developers of Common Core were too afraid to be honest about what industries they were preparing students for. Those industries didn’t really need the advanced college degrees that the entire education system has been pushing for two and a half decades. They forgot to tell the President that getting Americans working wasn’t really going to rely on everyone getting a four year degree. Meanwhile, k-12 education continues to eradicate classes and opportunities in the trades. We are in a downward spiral due to a tremendous lack of honesty combined with a healthy does of snobbery.
The reality is that the snobbery is highly misplaced. The skilled carpenter is ultimately more valuable than the US marketing manager for IKEA whose furniture is being mass produced in China. Shoddy quality or materials means higher incidence of breakage with no one here who can fix it. We keep IKEA in business by having to repurchase furniture every few years because of this. In the long run we would be better off buying higher quality stuff made here that can be fixed here if the need should ever arise. Everyone knows how valuable the plumber is when your toilet hookup valve has broken off and water is flooding your bathroom. According to Profoundly Disconnected, Rowe’s other site, there are three million jobs out there waiting to be filled because no one currently has the skills to fill them. [A note to Mike Rowe here. Perhaps you are in the midst of a transition, but can you straighten up your two sites so navigation is easier and less confusing?]
In the Judeo/Christian tradition, after eating the forbidden fruit, Eve tempted the other creatures to do the same. All of them succumbed to her temptation except the phoenix. Rabbi Shlomo Yitzhaki commented that death has no power over the phoenix, “because it did not taste the fruit from the tree of knowledge.” The phoenix already knew what it needed to survive. And though it may grow old an tired periodically, it rises again reborn with new purpose. Lets hope this is the case for the trades which may enjoy a rebirth because of the failure of the public school system to provide what parents want from education. Even if parents just wanted school to guarantee that their children are ready for a job, which from my talks around the state does not appear to be the greatest desire from the average parent, the nonsense math, hidden social agendas and lack of a voice in the public school system are not going to deliver that outcome. If your child is part of the 60%+ of students who are not destined for college, now is the time to start looking into programs like Mike Rowe Works.