Blog: Modifying the American Dream?

By Kevin Kuzma, Online Editor

The question is one that we might not care to answer because it involves limiting our imagination — or altering it, to say the least.

In America, we believe that if you have a dream, that dream can be yours through tremendous effort. We often view education as a necessary stepping stone to achieve our dreams. Of course, there are countless examples where this isn’t the case, but for the most part, we continue to see education as being as good as an open door to fulfilling our career goals.

I have three children of my own and I plan on continuing to teach them this principle: dream big, work hard, and in the end what you want most in life will be yours. I also plan to teach them a measure of humility. Where they end up with their lives might not be as they first imagined, but they’ll find their place in life all the same. And if they’re happy with where they are, isn’t that the ultimate objective?

I plan to teach them this despite the findings of Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce. You’ve no doubt seen the results of the organization’s research, most recently published in The Houston Chronicle or elsewhere. The findings are this: about 63 percent of all job openings between 2008 and 2018 — which totals about 30 million — will require some post-secondary education. But of those, nearly half will require an associate’s degree or less.

Those jobs where there will be a need for trained professionals are programs familiar with the sweet spot of career education: paralegals, electricians, medical staff, construction managers, dental hygienists and airplane mechanics.

These are all respectable and important professions. They are not, however, the sort of jobs that our children aspire to – or that we teach them to aspire to. But maybe we should, especially considering the research. A job as a paralegal is not as attractive, say, as a career as a scientist, a fireman, and so on. But a “vocational” career is a much more realistic possibility, and those jobs fulfill essential needs. What better lesson is there for our children today than teaching them how important it is to fulfill a role in our society that contributes to the forwarding of our nation’s most critical objectives?

We teach them the importance of teamwork through athletics programs and group learning. We teach them about civic responsibility and the value of a democratic society. Shifting a focus to vocational career options seems to seamlessly fit the vision we provide them – and we’d be guiding them into fields that stand a chance of offering them successful careers, not the frustration of the unemployment line or Occupy Wall Street rallies.

Our system of education, which we’ve all been told is broken – is broken in the most fundamental way. The K-12 system that is designed to prepare students for college is indeed a complex engine with a thousand moving parts whose purpose and functioning needs to be understood to diagnose the problem. But its real issue is becoming evident. We’re turning out students who are hoping to find jobs in areas where they aren’t needed – or work is hard to come by.

If there is one way our education system should not let students down, it should be in helping them choose a path after graduation that helps them attain careers in which they can be successful. Our high schools, though, are filled with guidance counselors who are compensated for guiding students into four-year colleges and universities (chiefly the public ones.) Such a requirement has a real impact on what they do and who they serve. With the background and training they have, it would seem they would eventually realize that each student’s career path is unique and many are well suited for career education.

You would think the compensation would come from directing students to the appropriate school selection, not 4-year schools. Any other approach is irresponsible to say the least. But that’s not the way the system works anymore.

Not so long ago I was a high school student and at that time, many students who were destined for “technical” education knew it, and they didn’t talk about it. They didn’t need to. The fact was well known to them and, in many cases, they’d begun the path to a technical career while already in high school. These were the boys who repaired junk cars in automotive classes at the high school, or for a few hours in the afternoon left to attend classes at a technical campus – a freestanding automotive repair shop – that functioned more like a business than a school. They worked under hoods, buffed fenders and spray-painted vans.

On any given Saturday or Sunday morning, you could find them in the same place, hunched over a car parked in the driveway at their parent’s house. These are the guys who drove cars to school covered in gray primer, with lake pipes, and boasting insane audio systems. Somewhere in that is their dream. They are content with it. They find possibility, imagination and creativity in their careers.

Somewhere in that is a lesson for our next generation of high school graduates. We need to be more comfortable with it – and use our imagination in creating a new vision.

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