Vocational Education and the Voices of Workers: Blast from the Past #2

Rocky Mountain News, 15 October, 1896.

The Clash – “Career Opportunities” (click to listen or download).

This is the second in a new series on AMPS: Blasts from the Past.  The series is devoted to historical materials that comment on or illuminate contemporary issues in education.  Today’s is about education, work and vocational education.  There is so much going on in this area, especially here in Wisconsin, that I am sure there will be future posts, Blasts from the Past, and others.   Today I just want to look at the how the voices of workers (and to a lesser extent teachers and students) were present and are now absent in discussion and governance of Vocational Education.  Rebecca Kemble at the Progressive has been doing an amazing job covering this in Wisconsin; see these articles to catch up:

“Wis. Committee Says High Schools Need to Serve Business.”

“The Corporate Rot Eats Away at Wisconsin.”

“Walker’s Workforce Czar Wants to Make It More Expensive to Get a Second Degree.”

Cronyism and Corruption Define Walker’s Reign.”

In 1911, Wisconsin passed a pioneering Vocational Education law.  It was far from perfect, but in two places the law made sure that in making public provision for explicitly preparing students for employment our state was not simply turning education over to businesses and employers.  This was done by guaranteeing that labor had an equal voice in the programs that were created.  On the state Board:

and on local Boards:

This has not been the case with the recent planning for expanding vocationalism in Wisconsin public education.

There are three state groups working to expand vocationalisn:  The Special Committee on Improving Educational Opportunities in High School, The Governor’s Council on Workforce Investment, and The [Governor's] College and Workforce Readiness Council.  The first has 19 members including 4 representatives of business and none from labor.  The second has 44 members, at least 23 from business (including the Widow Hendricks of “divide and conquer” fame, and two from labor unions (both from unions that have been relatively supportive of  Scott Walker’s agenda).  I can’t find a member list for the last (how’s that for open governance?).  The proclamation creating the Council called for 15 members  with one representing employees and two from employers.  The news release announcing Scott Walker’s appointments lists three business people and no workers.

The never-been-elected-to-anything, Walker appointee, Special Consultant to the Governor on Economic, Workforce and Education Development,  dissembling Tim Sullivan heads the last two and you can see the details of the plans for education (and more) in Wisconsin in the recent report issued by him.

The Career Academies in the initial Madison Metropolitan School District Achievement Gaps Plan (now on hold),  seem to have been planned with no role or contemplated future role for labor, but much input from employers and business organizations.  This despite the record of the Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce run Youth Apprenticeship Program’s record of doing fine spending MMSD money, but not so well serving our students.

Preparation for employment is certainly one function of public education, but in 1911 and in 2012, it is far from the only function.  As Wisconsin recognized over 100 years ago, allowing business to dominate this or any part of public education increased the risk that vocationalism would dominate, that the interests of employers would be put above the interests of students and workers.  By providing formal roles fro labor to balance the interests of business, in 1911 Wisconsin attempted to make sure that vocational education empowered students and future employees via an education that gave them broad knowledge and flexible skills, and that vocational programs did not simply become employee training done at the expense of taxpayers.  In 2012 we need to heed that lesson.

Thomas J. Mertz

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Filed under Accountability, Best Practices, Blast from the Past, education, Gimme Some Truth, Local News, National News, Scott Walker, Uncategorized, Vocationalism

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