Tuesday, July 15, 2003

Education: Closed Shops

Joanne Jacobs highlights another failure of the government-run education monopoly:
With a few years of experience, an auto mechanic at a dealership can earn $80,000 a year. But high schools are eliminating auto shop classes. The equipment is costly, industrial tech (shop) teachers are hard to find and students' schedules are filled with college-prep classes. Students assume the only way to make a living is to go to college, but many don't have the motivation or the academic skills to earn a college degree. Only about half of students who enroll in college ever earn a degree; most of those who graduate won't be earning $80,000 a year.

Community colleges are picking up the slack. But students often enter with no hands-on skills: They don't know how to change the oil, or how big a 13 mm wrench is. And many can't read well enough to understand the manual or use the diagnostic data on the computer screen. Qualifying for a skilled trade is more demanding than qualifying for most colleges.

Many slacker students, bored and frustrated by college-prep courses, would work much harder on reading and math if they knew what they had to do to get an $80,000-a-year job. But the snobbery of the times tells students they have to sit in a classroom for 16 years -- with or without learning anything -- to earn a living.
There are two factors conspiring against the skilled trades: the teacher unions are dominated by, well, teachers who themselves are the products of many years of (fairly worthless) higher education, contributing to an elitist scorn of tradesmen; and second, schools are often measured by the number of kids they get into college, not the number of kids who find gainful employment. Indeed, the kids who learn a trade and never go to college are likely more successful and financially stable at 25 than the English majors who graduate from the middle of the Ivy League pack.

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