A front page article in the local paper today tells the story of a protest in nearby Easthampton, where some residents are up in arms about possible cuts in school shop classes. "Not every student is college-bound," one resident was quoted as saying. "I understand they have to cut somewhere, but they would never take away AP (advanced placement?) calculus, for example."
Or football either, I imagine.
In a day and age when I pay the plumber or electrician rates that rival my cardiologist's, I really dislike the cutting of shop or trades classes. I live in an area that is overflowing with colleges and, I have a hunch, is also snared in a free-floating if ill-defined sense that college is what students do after high school ... no one gets anywhere without a college degree, the wispy axiom runs. "The best and the brightest" are all people who have gone to college.
I am not a fan of elevating those who till the soil or build the houses to some mythical heights. But neither am I a fan of elevating those who can think lofty and complex thoughts. Anyone can be an asshole. Anyone can be a genius. Thinking is a wonderful thing to be able to do, but people have different capacities and think differently. I hate thinking that students with an aptitude for or interest in fixing cars or building basements or chopping trees would be cookie-cuttered into learning Latin. True, even those who fix the beamers that internet nerds may drive need to know English and math. But if their capacities lie outside the college realm, their education is being short-changed if those capacities are not encouraged and enriched. And that ain't education.
In a time when the United States, at the behest of the big business that will not take responsibility for its depredations, slips slowly, slowly towards Third World status, those who know how to actually do something, actually create something, are going to be better off. I'm not saying that we should all go out and learn how to wire a house (though that might be useful), but denying the opportunity to those so inclined strikes me as short-sighted and unkind.
I am willing to honor those who can think well. I often enjoy the fruits of their observations. But I am not willing to honor them at the expense of those who, in an academic sense, do not think well. One of the smartest, kindest human beings I know is my car mechanic, Jose. He's just plain a good human being and a good mechanic. Does it get much better than that? I doubt it ... or anyway, I doubt that a college degree would make much difference. Jose knows what he knows and does what he does ... well. I know college graduates who are much the same. It is enough.