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Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Avoid the academic false choice of the Cultural Literacy Track or the Vocation Track

There seems to be two paths in many school programs - either the Cultural Literacy Track or the Vocational Track.

  • The Cultural Literacy programs are designed for the "smart kids" who are going to go on to ever higher levels of both education and financial success. This track, with no pretense of being real-world, has classes on classics, foreign languages, and math theory (such as calculus). It is a curricula based on "teach what has been taught."

  • The Vocational Track are for the "remedial kids" with only blue collar futures if in high school (with activities such as wood working), or inflexible para-professional paths if in college (such as degrees in physical therapy).

This approach has crippling consequences. It is an immoral sorting system, that cheats both individuals and society. It also presents a false dichotomy - instead, true wisdom comes from a synthesis of those two perspectives and more.

And it allows for significant blind spots and intellectual dishonesty. For example, the most empowering and broadening skills, such as leadership, project management, innovation, or resource management, either fall through the cracks or get mislabeled as vocational skills.

In academics, the best examples of bringing together the application of real skills and the understanding of big ideas comes both in kindergarten and the graduate level, such as with law, medicine, business, and engineering. Which is great - but why pay for the fifteen years of hobbling schooling between the two?

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