Technical/Vocational Training is not Back. It Never Left.
In opening, I will admit my bias toward William M. Davies Technical High School and the hundreds of students with whom I became partners in education. These young men and women inspired me in ways that are almost impossible to explain, but because I love words so much, I will offer a few:
Inspired (yes, I know that I already stated this), Inspirited, Enlivened, Affected, Invigorated, Sparked, Instilled, Influenced, Heartened – to name a few of a million.
I taught English and Reading at Davies Tech, a State of Rhode Island managed high school serving northern Rhode Island, for nearly 30 years.
What surprises me about this Wall Street Journal article is that its writer, Michelle Hackman, seems to have researched nothing about this school, its history, its great and sustained success at vocational/technical training and its student placements in/at businesses/companies throughout Rhode Island and beyond for decades.
There was a vision for this school facility.
Davies Technical High School was founded in 1971, 47 years ago, and in that time period, hundreds upon hundreds of students have not only been successfully placed in cooperative work settings, but have excelled at them. Many Davies graduates have become owners/proprietors of their own successful companies, or worked for/managed successful companies, and this is a mere snapshot of the past 5 decades:
Instead, the writer speaks of (currently) Rhode Island partnering with companies like CVS and governors “clamoring to work with their states’ companies to shape curricula” as if this partnering is a brand new idea, a revolution in vocational education. Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo is specifically cited as saying, “For a long time, there was a little bit of a stigma around vocational training.”
This vocational “stigma” perception is not just very old thinking and old news in the arena of vocational/technical education in Rhode Island, but it speaks to elected officials’ lack of information/knowledge, as well.
THERE IS NOT ONLY NO STIGMA around vocational/technical training, but students of all ranges of abilities are on waiting lists to be enrolled. Davies’ curricula was and is shaped by leading educators and the state’s companies and includes a competitive college prep component. Just look to its partnerships with Brown University, Amica, Axalta Coating Systems, Electric Boat, CVS, Lifespan and so many more ALREADY, both in the past and currently.
Students and parents and guidance counselors have and have had for multiple decades this important vocational/technical education option to add to students’ career selections. Perhaps more light should shine upon vocational/technical training and the successes it has shepherded.
A short history of my knowledge of vocational/technical education, I first stepped into the Davies school building in April 1975 to interview its Principal for a research paper on which I was working (“Desegregation in the City of Providence”) at my graduate-level course, sent by a Diversity Consultant at the RI Department of Education whom I had interviewed.
The facility was rather new, very modern in design, located in northern Rhode Island in a rural area. I was rather surprised, expecting of an more industrial setting, but finding a sprawling campus much like a business complex.
Large, wide windows brought in lots of sunlight. The design was open, with wide ramps several stories high where I felt one with the entire school. I could hear the hum of vocational areas, yet see directional signs to the academic wings. The library seemed to look over the expanse of both with its large windows to this world.
But I was thinking at the same time, What does this school have in common with desegregation in Providence?
It really had nothing to do with this topic other than the school population at Davies was very diverse. I did meet with a Vice-Principal, and he gave me the snap-shot history of this school and a tour. As a college-prep high school student myself, a graduate of Rhode Island College with a BA in Education (’74), and then searching for a graduate school to further my educational pursuits (I would earn my M.Ed in Education from Boston University), I must say that I was mesmerized with this school. Kids were smiling, teachers were welcoming – in both academic and vocational areas – and the school buzzed with activity and positivity. Visitors were very welcomed and students often lead tours.
I was excited to volunteer in a tutorial capacity at Davies for several months and the following September, I was hired as an English teacher. I would work as an English Teacher/Reading Specialist at Davies alongside some of the most brilliant and driven young people I have ever known. I always say that many of my students taught me more than I could ever have taught them. They were not only leap-years ahead of their peers in career training and in partnerships with businesses, but offered an educational path to college, as well, if they so chose. I loved calling them “Renaissance Men.”
It makes good headlines/news feeds to highlight governors speaking about the “new” movement in vocational training, and it makes for good campaign rhetoric.
But the truth is that these programs have existed for decades and have educated/trained/gainfully employed thousands of students over 5 decades+ in Rhode Island alone.
Vocational Training is not back. It has never left.