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QUOTATION: People often say that, in a democracy, decisions are made by a majority of the people. Of course, that is not true. Decisions are made by a majority of those who make themselves heard and who vote - a very different thing. - Walter H. Judd

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2004-06-14 - 10:59 p.m.

No Child Left Behind

by Joan Callaway

When did it happen, I wonder. When did they stop having a wide range of vocational education programs in the high schools? I’ll admit my children were all aimed at college, so I failed to notice whether there were opportunities for children not planning to attend college. I just didn’t pay attention.

When I was in high school,no child was left behind. There were many vocational classes offered. Even some of the girls took wood shop, mechanical engineering, drafting, auto shop, and, of course, typing, shorthand, beginning bookkeeping and accounting. I took journalism where I helped edit the weekly school newspaper and the yearbook, and designed and sold advertising for both. I had enough experience by the end of my senior year that I could undoubtedly have gotten a job at a newspaper.

As it was, I had secretarial skills I’d picked up on my own and had majored in math, so I had enough math background that I was able to get a job at a Seattle insurance company as an actuary. Imagine! It paid $1200 a month for the three months I worked there during the summer before my freshman year at the University of Washington. Not bad for an eighteen year old with just a high school degree! (Remember that was 1949 - salaries were much lower then.)

When I wasn’t looking there has apparently been a steady erosion of vocational education in California high schools, simultaneously with the noticeable political mania for raising academic test scores, which has short-changed thousands of students whose talents and temperaments might better suit them for some hands-on training for a vocation. Because of this, we have higher dropout rates (although schools like Davis High School will deny this because of the kind of records they keep). We also lack skilled mechanics, plumbers, carpenters, etc. (Have you tried to hire a handyman lately?)

The No Child Left Behind Act requires that all students be proficient in English and mathematics, which results in unreasonable expectations for some, depending on how proficient is defined. Those who protest the proficiency requirement is not doable are accused of wanting to “dumb down” the educational system. Is it realistic to expect every child to be college eligible? Is it right to call a child who is not, a failure? Is it not the system that is failing the child by not providing vocational training as a viable alternative to the college prep track?

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