the shawsheen redemption
so this past sunday's front page of the paper of record (oh where have you gone, mr mill city boys...) has a recap of the contretemps between the tewksbury public schools and the shawsheen valley technical high school over recruiting practices and "fairness" in competing for student registrations.
this is rich.
years ago, before there were vocational educational institutions, public schools crammed every behavioral and other problem that they had into their "shop" program, and they were only too happy to ship the whole sorry mess down the street when the vokes opened up to take them rather than do what it was that they were intended to do, which would be to educate ALL the kids, not just the ones they like best. my personal experience with this was going on 35 years ago when i was told, when trying to sign up for an auto shop class because i had bought a cheap (i.e. unreliable) car in order to get myself too and from the work i needed to help my family afford groceries as well as myself to afford to go to college, and i thought it might be a good idea to learn how to take care of it as much as possible by myself. oh, silly me. "my" guidance counselor, who was really the school's guidance counselor, was only in the business of keeping the "college preparatory" class (yes, that's a double entendre) separate and apart from the "shop" class so that never the twain should meet, and flat-out told me that those programs were not for me. i know first-hand from those on the other side who yearned to get themselves to college only to be shut behind that iron-working curtain and refused spots in preferred academic classes because they were deemed unfit to be there that i was not the only one screwed in this process.
anyway, the arrogance of the public schools now to complain that the vokes are taking "their" kids is making me see that color of red i remember from all those years ago all over again.
is this about the kids and their education, or isn't it???
if it's about keeping money and bodies in fading public educational institutions then you can count me out. there's a reason these kids want to go to shawsheen, and it's an extremely informed and intelligent one. the shame of restricting others' right to information upon which to make an informed decision is galling. don't like it? create a worthwhile program in your own school, and let the kids know about it so they can choose. but sit down and shut up if you can't, don't and won't.
my middle son matriculated to the nashoba valley technical high school. he was an ill fit to the traditional "liberal arts" education in the first place that would have been offered to him in his home town public high school, but more than that, he had and has an aptitude and an interest in what nashoba has to offer him. his chosen program is "robotics", by which is meant a combination of materials science, mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, computer chip design and software engineering. it's an amazing combination to me, and i regret never having had the chance when i was younger to have chosen something like it. i could not be more proud.
my parents? the one employed in the public schools for decades and the other employed at a private university? they were almost speechless when they heard that he had chosen nashoba. you could read it in their faces. frightened that he would "lose out" at a chance to go to a better college. taking a road that was ill-advised. it took me all of a nanosecond to rip them a new one for their arrogance, presumptuousness, and ill-information.
the oldest? the one with the public school sheepskin and the liberal arts program at his chosen institution of higher learning? i lose sleep nights wondering how he's going to find a job. the second one? the one getting exposed to seemingly every hot employment sector that there is, and gaining an education that will qualify him for the top engineering and robotics programs in the country? i'm bursting with both pride and envy and giddy at his wide open horizons.
so, back to the public schools... for practical questions for starters, do they teach kids how to balance checkbooks? understand compound interest and mortgage and other financing? do home, auto and other repair such as those of us living in the real world have to contend each and every day? (i didn't think so). for even more practical questions for follow-up, do they provide kids with access to programs that are in demand by employers? are they aware of the ways the world is changing, and adapting to meet the challenges with their students? do they even have the first clue?
the fallback excuse i always hear is that education is best as a well-rounded pursuit. humanities. arts and letters. mathematics and other liberal arts staples. know what? while my college-bound high school classmates read and did not understand melville, i augmented my education with an "english skills" class that was the one "shop" curriculum item out of which the guidance department could not shut me. i took a typing class that was intended for secretarial types. (the "shop class" women weren't considered suitable for auto repair, so they were shunted into clerical pursuits). i now can spell, write and type on a computer, and hold down a very nice job in the computer industry utilizing engineering and other skills i had to pick up on my own and absolutely not in high school. AND i read melville, as is currently my second son in his academic rotation which he receives every other week, along with the higher math required by his chosen field, at which, quite predictably, he's doing far better now that it's applied than he ever did when it was purely abstract and theoretical.
both tewksbury taxpayers and their student progeny are getting screwed by the public school administration in two ways. first of all, they're not getting the top quality public education they are intending to pay for. second of all, they are at risk to having these same questionably-competent educators create barriers for students that would keep them from the best and most suitable educational options available to them.
grow a clue. build a competitive curriculum. and make it about the KIDS, and their choices, and not your sorry situation of a public school system that has failed to be proactive and give a competitive and useful education that would compel students to want to be there.