Manual labor is sometimes portrayed as an inferior occupation, as an option for people who can’t handle the rigors of college. Implicit in that perspective are these two assumptions: first, manual labor careers are not as intellectually rigorous as higher-education based careers, and second, blue-collar careers are not as financially stable as white-collar careers. The career and technical education programs at the school turn both of those assumptions on their head.
Donald Mitchell, one of the tech-ed teachers, hopes that his class does not just teach students skills, but that it augments their character too.
“The biggest thing philosophically would be that they have a good work ethic, and that their quality of work is high, and that when they come out of there they’re proud of what they’ve accomplished,” Mitchell said.
In order to do this, Mitchell mixes collaborative projects around the school, such as the Vikings ship in front of the stadium, with individual, self-selected projects. Mitchell provides his students with guidelines, but he also affords them room to innovate.
“In Tech Ed 2 they give you a basis for a project and then you can either use the model that Mr. Mitchell has, or you can do your own design of the same product,” junior Robert Gugliotta said. “We had an old bench and all the wood was bad on it, so I’m refinishing that now.”
Mitchell hopes his student acquire the skills and confidence to be flexible, so that when things don’t go as planned, they have the ability to adjust.
“I want them to have the ability, if I sum it all up, from a practical hands-on standpoint, to be able to problem-solve something. When a problem comes up that requires practical, hands-on skills, they don’t immediately go, ‘I don’t know how to do that,’” Mitchell said. “[Instead], they immediately go, ‘you know what, I’m going to go ahead and go into my database and see whether or not I can fix it.’”
These skills can be vital, even if they’re not practiced professionally. Mitchell frequently reminds his students that regardless of what they do for a living, they will all eventually own something, such as a house, that requires maintenance.
“[I don’t really intend to pursue it as a career], but it’s more for housework because it’s expensive to hire a contractor, so it’s always nice to be able to do that stuff,” Gugliotta said.
The practical skills students learn don’t just save them money. In some cases, they can also be used to make money.
In his TED talk, “Do Schools Kill Creativity”, the British author and educational consultant Ken Robinson posited that, “The whole system of public education around the world is a protracted process of university entrance.”
This overemphasis on college education is, according to most analysts, one of the main reasons the United States is experiencing a shortage of skilled laborers. Though this doesn’t bode well for our economy, it does mean that “dirty jobs” are becoming very valuable.
“Those kids are coming out demanding money. I mean, it’s remarkable how much. I’ve got two kids right now that did that are pushing $75,000 to $80,000, and they’re eighteen and nineteen years old,” Mitchell said. “It was just a matter of them picking a trade that there was huge demand for, and they were good at it, and now they can have a pretty lucrative and promising career.”
This article first appeared in our November issue of our news magazine.