Reading the article got me thinking about career technical education; thinking about career technical education got me reflecting on what I've seen this year in my first year at a career technical school.
I've watched students dissect hearts and walk me through what they were looking at and what function each part of the heart served in our Health Services shop.
I've watched students in the Plumbing shop build a fully functional bathroom meeting all handicapped accessible regulations from scratch.
I've watched students in the Painting & Design shop transform a school cafeteria into an elegant ballroom for a dinner reception. I've watched our Culinary Arts students prepare a six course meal for hundreds of guests for said dinner reception; they built the menu and venue from scratch.
I've watched students from the Drafting, Electronics, Machining, and Welding shops collaborate in the design, construction, testing, and editing of functioning robots.
I see on a daily basis HVAC students fixing heaters or replacing filters on the roof; I see Construction Tech students building stages for the school art show; IT students fix staff computers; the Plumbing students laid the pipes for the renovations to the examining area of the Dental Assisting shop; I've dropped my car off in the Auto Tech shop at least 5 times.
Thinking about what I've seen our students do has got me thinking about why career technical education works.
"School is no longer about the 'quick right answer' but about the ongoing mental work of understanding new ideas and information." - Ritchart, Church, Morrison, Making Thinking Visible, p.28It works because the learning is embedded in action; I just read in Educational Leadership that the best kind of professional learning for teachers is job embedded; the same holds true for everything that we do; career technical education works because it's what's best aligned to how people learn things.
It works because the students and instructors care for the building inside and out. Ownership is more than a figure of speech.
It works because the acquisition of transferable skills is prioritized. Our Business Technology students will leave Office certified, and soft skills such as professionalism, effective communication, and healthy living are embedded in our Career Enrichment classes.
It works because professionalism is the norm; our Cosmetology students work in a live salon with paying customers. There was a BMW in the Auto Body shop a few weeks ago. Expectations are high. Anything less than professional really can't be an option.
It works because academics are embedded in production; the applied mathematics in our Electrical or Drafting shops makes abstract concepts tangible. I never truly appreciated the Scientific Method until I saw it applied in front of me on so many walkthroughs and classroom visits this year alone.
It works because with mastery comes creativity; I've seen our Auto Body students paint family crests on hoods of a car, Welding students sculpt art, and Multimedia Communication students design brilliant public service campaigns.
Thinking about all of this brought me back to the article linked at the top of the page; the argument goes that if a student spends 3.5 school years in the cosmetology shop every other week alternating with academics but does not enter the field of cosmetology as a profession, then their high school experience was the "kiss of death;" the time was wasted.
The argument is wrong. The argument ignores the transferable skills and habits of mind the student learns in the career technical model that puts them a leg up no matter what path they pursue after high school.
The student learned that skills aren't acquired just by showing up; one doesn't learn how to do an updo by sitting there and watching. Learning is about getting in there and performing what needs to be done; whether it's comparing and contrasting poems or building a circuit, action is required to learn how to do it. Action is embedded in the career technical model.
The student learned that hours of practice go into mastering one thing; they learned that mastery is a marathon not a sprint.
The student learned how to learn something beyond knowing it for a day or two.
The student learned what it takes to be able to perform something successfully on demand with different variables over and over.
The student learned how to make their learning visible.
Many still look at career technical education and academic education as an either or, zero sum game; they see it as students are on one path or the other. It doesn't have to be and, furthermore, shouldn't be that way.
Career path or kiss of death? There are a lot of other possible outcomes.