9) Vocational School or Trade School
Vocational schools or trade schools teach students skills for particular jobs in the trades. They are usually considered post-secondary schools, but sometimes take the place of the last years of high school. Some of these are public schools, while a good number are private. Also, some two-year community colleges offer trade classes as well.
Our administration’s orientation would be that as many high schools as possible offer comprehensive trade school curriculum. A significant percentage of students know rather early on that they want to pursue a trade. For these students – besides a wide array of “shop classes” – apprenticeships with community people working in the trades should be part of the curriculum as well.
My wife Liz has studied various educational approaches at length in developing her homeschooling curriculum for our children. (Because we are on the road so much, we home school.) In these studies, she came across the writings of John Taylor Gatto. He was named New York State Teacher of the Year in 1991 and is the author of Dumbing Us Down.
As a high school teacher, he believed strongly in experiential learning. And he would regularly allow his students off school grounds to work with, say, an uncle who had a bakery, or with a father who was a mechanic, and so on.
We think there is tremendous merit in working side by side with parents as a youth grows up, as it was in the “old days.” For instance, we’ve done a lot of research in Amish communities across the country, and Amish children are raised working side-by-side with their parents on the farm (or in the wood shop, machine shop…).
What’s more, these youth later in life have a tendency live close by the parents (or continue to live on the parent’s land), continuing to work side-by-side. This adds tremendously to family solidity and tremendously to community solidity. Often youth are given the same talents, the same vocation, as the parent(s), in part, to help keep families together.
However in our fast paced, modern society, a lot of this has gone away.
To go back to the Amish in relation to the trades, they put a premium on craftsmanship. As we’ve traveled, we toured Amish woodworking shops in Arthur, Illinois and West Union, Ohio. In Jelloway, Ohio, we toured an Amish metal working shop. The common denominator seemed to be a tremendous attention to detail and durability of an item.
Conversely, our society at large has become a “throw-away” one with a glut of assembly-line, mass produced items that are often quite inferior in quality than, say, an Amish product. We believe we have to recapture the art of quality craftsmanship across the board in America. And the education system needs to be retooled, so to speak, to foster this.
10) Quality Craftsmanship
What author Mathew Crawford believes is that the quality of craftsmanship has declined considerably in our society. And what’s more, the impetus to be good at our work has commensurately declined as well.
Crawford is the author of the book From Shop Class to Soul Craft. He uses the example of an assembly line. Workers on the line are often responsible for only one small, repetitive (and often mind numbing) job. And not only don’t they see the finished product, but they don’t see who the finished product goes to either. And this is the same for cars, furniture, appliances, bicycles…
In the old days, for instance, there was a bicycle shop in every town that manufactured, sold and repaired bicycles. The community was dependent on the bicycle merchant’s craftsmanship. And the merchant was motivated to make the best product possible because he/she was selling to his/her neighbors.
In South Bend, Indiana, I interviewed Daniel Baker, who was in the formative stages of starting a small auto-mechanic shop based on the principles of Crawford’s book. Baker said the interdependency between craftsman and local community is key. And, unlike the relative anonymity of the assembly line worker, his work will be open for criticism and critique. Which, ultimately, will make him a better craftsman, he said.
Again, our trade school curriculum should reflect this ethos, including exposing students to apprenticeships with people like Mr. Baker at his auto-mechanic shop.
11) More Physical Education
Physical education classes in the American School system is often, in essence, a perfunctory after thought. We would see it taking a much more significant role.
Our society has a 33% obesity rate and 66% of people are overweight in general. This, in turn, has led to a tremendous amount of health problems. Some of this is attributable to a more and more sedentary lifestyles.
On a campaign stop in Thorp, Wisconsin, we met with Thorp High School Phys-Ed. teacher Bernie Stuttgen. He’d taught Phys-Ed for 31 years. He said Phys-Ed classes are vital (he proposes two or three a school day) because kids these days “just aren’t exercising their bodies like they used to.”
He said in the old days, for instance, we had much more of a small family farm agrarian based society. Kids grew up shoveling, throwing bales of hay and doing all sorts of other physical farm activity. (Stuttgen grew up on a dairy farm.) There was a lot less obesity with youth then, he said, and a lot more a work ethic. [Part of our platform proposes a shift back to a small farm, agrarian based society.]
But in the interim, we believe we would do well to have at least two Phys-Ed classes in a school day. And incorporated into these classes, besides the straight physical activity, would be nutrition classes and “life-time sports” segments. Students would be taught about distance walking, jogging, bicycling, canoeing and kayaking.
For instance, I once interviewed the director of Ohio City’s Bicycle Co-op in Cleveland. He goes into schools and Rec. Centers, not only teaching about bicycle riding and bicycle safety, but also about the mechanics of various bicycles. The co-op also sponsors a Build Your Own Bicycle Class for Cleveland youth. The Co-op provides mentors and bicycle parts, and youth spend Saturdays there building a bicycle for themselves.
There’s no reason this couldn’t work in mainstream schools as well, maybe as a specific kind of shop class, for instance.
Also, at Miami College in Oxford, Ohio, we researched a relatively new trend in campus life: Wellness Dormitories. That is, these dormitories attract more wellness minded students and feature exercise classes, nutrition seminars, quite healthy fare in the cafeteria…
And that is, indeed, a huge component in wellness: nutrition.
In Wisconsin, Fred Wittig told me his health food store has been part of an Appleton, Wisconsin Schools nutrition project. The schools here have replaced refined sugars, starches and other cafeteria fare with salad bars, whole grain food and natural juices. Wittig said without all the refined sugar, etc., not only did the student health improve, but behavior and ability to concentrate also improved.
Note: When it comes to after school sports (especially in the bigger schools), schools could consider two or three teams for many sports (basketball, volleyball, baseball). The first teams may be made up of the school’s best athletes, but the second teams – just like farm teams in Major League Baseball – would be made up of the next tier of athletes. This would give way more kids the chance to participate. And for some, it might be the impetus they need to keep striving to make the first team, as opposed to being just cut outright and losing enthusiasm. And in the cities, it would keep more kids off the streets and involved with a positive pursuit.
12) Multi-Cultural Education
At a stop in Spokane, Washington, I talked with Gonzaga University professor Bob Bartlett. He had developed the course Race & Ethnicity. He said because America is such a melting pot that if we’re really interested in strong community building, many of these types of courses should be introduced at elementary and high school levels.
In Piqua, Ohio, I talked with retired high school teacher Larry Hamilton. He taught African American studies here and liked the idea of promoting more cultural studies around such peoples as Native Americans, Latin Americans, and so on.
Minnesota State University at Mankato offers both minors and majors in multi-cultural studies. Some of the core courses include: Perspectives on African Americans; Perspectives on Latin Americans; Perspectives on Asian Americans, Perspectives on African Americans…
We would push for these types of courses being injected more at the elementary and high school levels. Preferably many of them would be taught by people of the particular culture. For instance while traveling through Wyoming, we learned that school trustees in Ranchester approved a class aimed at promoting a greater understanding of American Indian culture and the board hired an instructor from the nearby Crow Reservation to teach it.
Taking a step beyond the classroom, we believe there’s more room in the American curriculum for “emersion experiences.” For instance, while doing some research at Bluffton University in Ohio, I learned about this school’s Cross-Cultural Program. To better understand other people, other cultures, students here travel around the country (and all over the world) for immersion experiences.
During a seminar I attended at the college, I listened to Simeon Tally talk about going to Kentucky’s Appalachian Mountains where he saw abject poverty in the extreme (something before he’d only read about) in the dying coal mining towns there. Likewise, Ellen Scott said she went to the border towns of Texas to work among Hispanic immigrants. She now has a student teaching position in Leipsic, Ohio, where she works with migrant workers’ children who are there for the growing season. They then return to the types of poverty-ridden settlement Ellen experienced during her Cross Cultural Experience. The Bluffton student said the experience has increased her empathy for the plight of the migrant worker’s family, which she said she often sees as “wrenching.”
And this, we believe, should be the essence of cross-cultural education: Putting one’s self literally into another’s shoes.
13) Work / Study
Common sense says some students won’t go on to college, for any number of reasons. We believe high school should be a time to help these students make as smooth a transition as possible into the work force. And we would look to models like Ohio’s Vinton County High School.
While in this part of the state, I interviewed Tabatha Sexton. She was a senior enrolled in a stream at the school where part of their school day included working part-time in area businesses. What’s more, part of the core classes in this stream includes topics around various fundamentals of running a business.
At a collegiate level (along a somewhat similar vein), we would point to Antioch College’s “Work / Study” Program. In a stop at Antioch, in Yellow Springs, Ohio, I met with Eric Miller, assistant professor of Cooperative Education. Miller explained students at Antioch go to school for a term, then go to work as an intern or an apprentice, in their field of interest – with businesses Antioch has developed a relationship with over the years. They alternate this each set of terms throughout the four year education.
This, we believe, is a tremendously sane approach because it gives a student a good hands-on-feel for the field they’re considering. And it gives leeway to switch and try others. How many billions of dollars are wasted on a specific stream of education, when someone after graduation out in the work world – determines the field they studied for wasn’t for them?
We would also propose high school students, and college students, for that matter, take courses in general “life skills.” These would include such basic classes, like: How to Budget; The Dynamics of Home Ownership; The Fundamentals of Insurance; How to be a Good Employee…
14) Career as “Vocation.”
At the University of Dayton, in Dayton, Ohio, we researched the “Chaminade Program.” The program is oriented toward getting students to look at career choice as a “vocation choice.” That is, the student is to weigh how they can best use their talent, not just to make the most money, but to benefit the “common good” of society.
Program Director Maura Skill told me the students visit St. Meinrad Seminary in southern Indiana to learn about centering prayer and the discernment process; they get credit for service work (homeless shelter, community garden, Boys & Girls Clubs) in Dayton’s inner city.
Some of the students in the program had recently spent their Spring Break volunteering in an economically depressed area of Lumberton, New Mexico. In this whole process, said Ms. Skill, the student learns more about their “God-given talents” – and about the needs of the world.
Chaminade student Allen Schulze had recently learned about the needs in rural Guatemala. A third year engineering student, Schulze passed up the chance to hone his skills (and make some good money) the summer before in a high tech factory in the U.S. Instead he volunteered with Ethos Engineering doing something decidedly more “low tech.” He went from home to home in Guatemalan villages helping people put in small, vented ceramic ovens. Most villagers in this poverty-stricken country, he explained, still cook with a non-vented, open flame pit inside the home. This causes all kinds of respiratory damage and severe burns to young children.
It is this kind of focus that can so dramatically change the world.
15) Trust and Conflict Resolution
As families become more and more dysfunctional, this often gets transposed into schools. And at the far end of this dysfunctional continuum are the school shootings that seem to be incrementally increasing.
I once told Ohio Magazine that my wife and I used to be worried about our kids doing okay in English class. Now we’re more worried about them being shot to death in English class.
During a tour of Michigan shortly after the Columbine High School shootings, I told a newspaper in Cheboygan that Columbine didn’t “happen in a vacuum.” There were all kinds of precipitating factors (bullying, teasing, peer group divisions…) leading up to it.
At the front end, there needs to be much more of a focus on healing the family in this country. I am a former counselor who worked with dysfunctional family systems. And I’ve seen time and again how the dysfunction in the home gets transposed into society (including schools). For instance, say one of the “jocks” at Columbine had a consistently abusive father. This boy, more often than not, would hold in the anger – then look for somewhere else to release it. For instance, he might release it on members of another peer group at school. And from here, things domino, and domino… until, in some of the worst cases, someone gets shot.
We have devoted another position paper on this site to many of the dynamics of healing the family. Beyond this, or in tandem for that matter, a number of models have developed to help promote trust building and navigate conflict resolution in the schools.
One such model is “Challenge Day,” a non-profit group out of San Francisco, which is trying to change “the growing culture of hate in our country’s schools. The group organizes day-long events that include 100 high school students, some 20 adults and a couple staff members from “Challenge Day.”
I was an adult volunteer facilitator at John Marshall High School in Cleveland recently. One of the “Challenge Day” staff, Sean, said America is in a tremendously bad state because of the anger, resentment, and violence that is escalating in the culture in general. He said it comes from years of repressed anger, sadness, and fear that build up in people from dysfunctional family environments, dysfunctional peer environments, etc. He said the key is to start to tap into and vent these feelings in a supportive and loving environment.
And that’s the kind of environment these “Challenge Day” people created this day, as students (and adults) talked – sometimes for the first time – about parental abandonment, physical abuse, sexual abuse, peer intimidation, fear of the streets…
Sean pointed out that people who are abused have a strong tendency to turn around and abuse others – which is at the root of a lot of the problems playing out in our schools today.
Once students open up during events like “Challenge Day”, there needs to be supportive networks in the school to help them work through these things in an ongoing basis.
For instance, I attended a talk by Morris Ervin. He is a teacher in Los Angeles who stresses non-violent approaches to conflict resolution. He works with Black and Latino gang members in Los Angeles and has been featured on several documentaries. To short circuit some of the violence, Ervin said he teaches healthy coping skills and shows the gang members (and others) how to properly vent their feelings.
This talk was sponsored by Kathleen McDonell, who has set up peer support groups for students dealing with these issues at Euclid High School in Cleveland. She facilitates a group once a week at the high school to help students process feelings around their home life, problems in school, and so on.
One of Ms. McDonell’s students explained this night that he used to be “really mean” at school, a direct result of anger he was feeling from a tough home life. He’d take his anger out on peers, or out on the football field. However, after being involved with the group at school for awhile, a good deal of the anger has subsided. He said he’s become a lot more relaxed, friendlier and has volunteered to be a peer mediator at school.
Our administration would push for these types of peer support groups in every school in the country. As we would push for more trust building and peer mediation between various school peer groups.
At a stop at Wilmington College’s Peace Resource Center in Ohio, I met with director Jim Boland. He said the center has designed various programs to help break down barriers that exist between clique groups in school communities.
For instance, there’s a two and a half day retreat held between various opinion leaders from various clique groups. They are, in essence, brought together with students they would never affiliate with. With the help of trained adults, team building, problem solving, and “attention to put downs” all become part of the experience.
The Center also train students to be peer mediators, for groups similar to the one just described at Euclid High School.
16) Farm School
Part of our platform calls for moving America back to a small family farm, agrarian-based society. That means, among other things, that there needs to be a tremendously stepped up educational focus on small scale farming.
In Ohio, I interviewed author/farmer Gene Logsdon. He has written a good number of books on the dynamics of small scale farming. Logsdon told me that the way to place more importance on this area, is to start to teach farming, starting in grade school curriculum, and up.
Greenville, Ohio, for instance, has the De Colores Montessori Farm School. Tabitha Fletcher from Arcanum, Ohio, sent her son Anthony to this school. She told me she was tremendously impressed with the hands-on experience the students get. For instance, the school rents the field next door, and students are involved with the planting and harvesting processes.
Carla Smith, from nearby Yorkshire, Ohio, had just graduated from this farm school. She explained to me that the students were responsible for sheep, chickens and other farm animals. They also regularly worked in a big garden on the property, did barn chores and other farm related things.
What’s more, there were Farm Micro-Economy classes to teach the students about the financial aspects of running a farm. As there were Science Classes to understand about the anatomy of, say, farm animals.
During my interview with Gene Logsdon, not only did he say farming classes of some sort should be in every school, but some of them should be taught by local farmers.
17) School Hubs
The current Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, believes some schools should be open 14 hours a day, doubling as community centers.
Our administration would agree.
Having spent time in the inner city of Cleveland, for instance, we saw how after school latch key kids fall through the cracks in so many ways.
It only makes sense, common sense, that schools in the city stay open much longer each day for sports (and not just team sports – but for everyone), for Chess Clubs, Art Clubs, Debate Teams, tutoring, mentoring activities…
End note: The essence of this paper is that education in America should be much more well-rounded. And every student should have access to quality education, period. (Every school, for instance, should be “Charter School quality.” What's more, the community at large should be much more involved with the local school system, not just financially, but in a real hands-on sense. Trade school craftsmanship, farm schooling, service learning, cultural diversity education, peer trust and conflict resolution, etc. should all carry the same weight as the current mainstream core curriculum studies. That is, if we want a saner, more well-rounded society, we will need saner, more well-rounded youth.
18) *Update Addendum In recent years, the Obama Administration replaced George W. Bush's "No Child Left Behind Program" with "Common Core." Common Core, like No Child Left Behind, grades student and teacher performance on a series of standardized tests. But Obama claimed that Common Core's tests were "smarter tests" than the No Child Left Behind tests. In our opinion, this was again hamstringing educational professionals to "...teach to the tests." In turn, this was also again tremendously limiting individual, local teacher creativity to "...teach to the students (they had)."
What's more, the Federal Department of Education received $100 million from the Federal "Stimulus" package in the wake of the "Great Recession." The Education Department used the promise of some of these funds, and they were substantial, in return for adopting Common Core curriculum from state to state. This was tremendously manipulative andtremendous overreach.
Also during this time, there has been a push for more Charter Schools across the country. This has been promoted on 'both sides of the isle,' Republican and Democrat. As mentioned earlier, with our administration there would be atremendous push to have every school in the country be on a par with the best of the Charter Schools. This would be our 'No Child Left Behind' focus.
The Obama Administration has also used the presidency as a "bully pulpit" to push for more affordable higher education so more people had access. Obama, for instance, pushed his belief every student should have at least one year of college education and he also proposed the concept of "free community college." [Bernie Sanders would up this with his proposal for free college, period.]
While neither concept was actualized, it moved the conversation to another level. And Obama did ramp up federal subsidies for community colleges, as he initiated a program to grade higher education affordability levels from college to college, and used that metric to commensurately use federal funds to help those colleges that were doing better with this. [The Obama Administration also promoted more alternative higher education -- like more online education -- and expanded Pell Grants.
Our administration, too, would push for higher education being more affordable. But, as explained earlier in the paper, push for more some more streamlined college curriculum (focused much more on classes just specific to one's major). This would cut costs for students, in tandem with getting them into the workforce quicker. So, for instance, a two year degree would be half the cost and those two extra years in the workforce on the front end of a career would be more cost effective still.
Our administration would also highly tout attendance at community colleges and would build on what the Obama Administration has done in this area. As we would also be supportive of online education and expansion of Pell Grant help.