GRPS Superintendent Bert Bleke is on the verge of making a sensible decision. He announced on Monday that he is reconsidering the decision to axe the welding program at Grand Rapids Technical High School. Lo and behold, Bleke discovered that teaching kids a skill that actually gets them jobs upon graduation might be something that the Grand Rapids public school system should continue doing. So Bleke has tabled the elimination of welding from the tech school curriculum until he receives a report on the program later this month.
This should have never been a tough call for Bleke. Why vocational training is not part of the core of every student's education is a mystery to me. If the kids get a solid foundation in the Three R's while in elementary school, then college prep and job-training shouldn't be an either-or proposition. Students can learn both, and if there's any doubt about that it should be at the expense of college prep.
A kid who has actually learned how to be useful in the adult world -- i.e., mastering a skill with which he can be productive and land a job -- is also a kid who is probably better prepared mentally and emotionally for college than one who has mastered nothing more than the pap that passes for college prep these days. Instead, the education establishment, with the acquiescence of most parents, has ghettoized vocational training as the track for dead-end students while shunting off any students with "promise" to college prep.
But who's better off? The kid who has spent the four years after high school earning a living in a skilled trade, or the kid who postponed adulthood for four, maybe five or six years, to get a run-of-the-mill business degree and now is burdened at the outset of his working life with thousands of dollars of debt? Of course, there are good reasons to get a college education and vocational training alone does not assure someone of good job prospects, but the contrast I have put forth is hardly extreme. It's a lot more common than the educrats and parents with "buyer's" remorse would like to admit.
It's a shame that Bleke & Company cannot break loose of the groupthink that refuses to question the usefulness of a college education. Most really do not need it. A kid doesn't have to have a four-year degree in hospitality management to break into the lodging trade. Four years as night clerk at a motel will probably yield a bigger dividend, including some savings rather than a student loan come his 22nd birthday. The declining GRPS has little to lose by being a genuine trailblazer and getting its kids on the vocational track. Its graduates can still be ready for college while possessing an employable skill that may help to pay for tuition. Such a change in emphasis would also give the city schools a unique niche for excellence that would make them genuinely competitive with the suburban schools.
But what do I know, folks? I'm just a factory rat with GRPS diploma.