One of the criticisms of high school is that it doesn’t prepare students for the real world (“I learned nothing at one of NYC’s elite high schools,” New York Post, Mar. 31). There is some truth to that complaint, but it confuses education with training.
Although they sometimes overlap, they are not synonymous. Education is concerned with concepts; training is concerned with techniques. If students want to learn the skills and knowledge that are immediately useful for getting a job, they should choose a vocational curriculum. I’ve long maintained that many students would be better served not going to college. Apprenticeship programs would be a far better fit for them. A new kind of post-secondary education is also proving popular. It’s billed as a college alternative for the digital age. Students enroll in a one-year program requiring 40 to 50 hours a week of studying. They agree to pay the school a percentage of their income for three years after graduation.
Whether a traditional academic education is worth pursuing depends on personal factors. Students have been brainwashed into believing that without a four-year degree from a marquee-name school they have a bleak future. That is a total distortion of reality. Welders, for example, are in short supply and earn close to $100,000. I had students in my high school English classes who were clearly not college material. Those who went on to learn a trade today make a solid middle-class income. I question if a degree would have made any difference in their satisfaction.
Germany and other countries are more realistic than we are about sorting out students. As a result, they have the lowest unemployment rate among young people in Europe. Only the most intellectually able are admitted into university. But this differentiation is anathema to our belief in democratization. I say we do our young people a grave disservice by persisting in the fiction that college is for everyone.
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