Thank you for all your responses! As a debate coach, it is helpful for me to use enotes to get background on topics. Some other things we considered is the earning power of a vocational ed student, as opposed to going to college and having to pay off student loans. Vocational schools cost a lot of money, and students can learn much of the same skills for free in public schools!
As someone who worked for 9 years in a vocational high school in New York City, I think it provided an outlet for students who didn't necessarily love the traditional educational path. Some students who had a talent in computer repair, wood working, electrical energy and carpentry had a way for their unique skills to shine. I have been in a traditional high school for the past twenty years and wish there were more vocational type classes for some of my current students. Unfortunately, the economy these days doesn't provide for a budget to subsidize these kind of classes in a traditional high school.
Not everyone should go to college. We need people who are capable plumbers, electricians, carpenters, tree experts, auto repairmen, concrete experts, etc. These are honorable jobs and are much needed in every day life. They work hard (unless they're on a government contract, it seems, then they tend to extend the work as long as possible as in the case of the bridge repair near my town that has been going on for over a year) and most of them are honest, insured, licensed, and credible.
This type of work should be taught to those students who have no desire to go on to another four or six or eight years of schooling. The best vocational schools also offer two-year programs where students can not only graduate with a diploma but also have a certificate or license to work in the real world. It is also good when the program can offer early release to go work onsite and gain the expertise and experience needed to be hired at entry level positions in the field of their choice.
I am very much in favor of vocational education. First, I think that we need to offer as many opportunities for students to succeed as possible. Why are we trying to make all students the same, instead of giving them more options where they can find their natural talents? We all talk about differentiated instruction and Bloom and Multiple Intelligences, well isn't vocational education an obvious application of these ideas. I wish I could offer auto shop to some of my students, because it would give them a place to excel, as well as a reason to do well in other classes (like math, once they see how necessary it is going to be to them)
I also have to throw in that I attended a high school in NY with a very large and very successful vocational education program, much of which has been phased out since I graduated. What I saw go on in those classes was amazing. We had auto shop and cabinetmaking and cosmetology. Each of those classes, part of their projects were to help the Theatre Guild (which I was involved in) work on our production. They built stage extensions and full size scenery pieces. They built a car that was perfect on one side and banged up on the other for Greased Lightning in Grease. Every production the cosmetology girls did our hair and makeup and if it wasn't for all that participation from vocational education students our productions would not have been the successful, professional, well recognized performances that they were. I think it was great that the vocational ed students got a chance to use their skills in one real life application.
Not every child dreams of being a lawyer or a doctor. The car enthusiast should be able to learn how to fix a car. The glamour girl should learn how to cut and style hair. The foodie should be able to learn the science of making amazing things to eat. We always talk about the importance of education, and in many cases we are thinking "college education," but there is a lot more to life than what is learned in those classrooms.
I struggle to think of negatives about it. The ideas that we often try to discuss or bring up in regular school are just abstractions of everything. In a vocational environment, they are real, applicable, and the students are often forced to grapple with them in real situations instead of the abstractions that we are forced to use in a classroom.
I am sure there are legitimate worries about learning skills that won't be necessary but the best part about learning one set of skills is that it makes it easier to learn another. The process is more important in most cases than the end product.
I can think of no argument against vocational education and many that support it. I've seen lots of students stay in school instead of dropping out once they had access to vocational classes that addressed their interests and gave them a chance to work "hands on." Through vocational programs they found a direction and a reason to study in their academic classes; also, many of their vocational classes gave them authentic tasks that required that they actually apply what they had learned in their academic classes. Many high school vocational programs introduce students to vocational programs in college, as well.
We need people with all kinds of knowledge and skills. We need people who know how to do things--not just know things. When the car breaks down or the heating system goes out or the plumbing needs repair, who are we going to call? A psychologist?
Pro: John's dream is to become an electrician or a carpenter.
Con: John is not allowed to study electricity or carpentry.
In general, I think we should accept that the students that we teach are individuals. When we give them options in their study, they can follow their individual passion. I wouldn't go so far as to say we should throw out all standards, but I would say that narrowing the curriculum will create a group of people who cannot be connected to their dream while getting an education.
I have to disagree with some of the cons raised in #2. I think that the wider skills that students learn in vocational education, such as having to deal with customers in the "real" world and the way that concepts such as literacy and numeracy are applied to real life situations like taking payment and giving change are vital to help students see the link between what they are doing and life in general. I see vocational education as something that can really help prevent students from maturing in an academic bubble world that has little relation to the real world of work.
I'm of two minds.
Pro -- I think that there are a lot of kids out there who are not really college material and a lot of jobs that don't need college education. It seems to me that teaching that group of kids the skills they need to get and hold jobs would serve them better than trying to fit them into the college prep mold.
Con -- it's hard to know what job skills are going to be needed in the real world. What if the vocational program teaches them a bunch of stuff that won't be useful -- like preparing them for some field that gets offshored? I'm not completely sure that schools can anticipate and react to the changes in demand for various kinds of work.