Recently, I've talked to a plumber and a barber. They lean on different sides of the aisle, but they both want education reform. Their visions to improve the quality of education in Tennessee include a wide expansion of trade schools and skill based curriculum. We know that the rate of teenagers employed has fallen significantly since the Cold War. This means that more eighteen-year-olds are entering college with no work experience, no resume, no references. They've never written a cover letter. They've never been on the clock. Summer employment for high school students is a very important stage of educating our youth so that they can prepare for life after school.
What if a plumber was able to take on an apprentice for a few months? Better yet, what if there was a trades class in all of our high schools that invited a plumber over to teach something. This might spark an interest or even allow students the opportunity to build up some hours. If our sixteen-year-olds are getting experience in cosmetology or vehicle engineering, by the time they are eighteen, they will have the option to start a career without having to spend the money on a college degree. We know that student loans accumulate to the highest portion of debt in our nation. How can we fix this system?
My governor introduced a program not so long ago called the Tennessee Promise. It covers the cost of admission for local students to go to in-state universities on a need basis. It has been a big success and has helped a lot of Tennesseans afford their degree. This is a huge investment in our education system. It shows that our leaders do care. But that investment seems top heavy to folks like the barber, the plumber. Both of them started their trades at the age of eighteen. They don't feel as if they needed a four year degree at an a-credited university to start their careers.
Let's be honest. There are students in the South who are juniors in high school who don't know the difference between a noun and a verb. There are students who can't multiply let alone do algebra. There are students who haven't finished a chapter book in years. Do we expect these individuals to succeed in a college environment? I refuse to say that students in these situations are dumb, but they can certainly be described as uneducated. Their abilities are not in writing essays and dissertations or in taking tests and proving theorems. They might be skilled plumbers, barbers, mechanics, chefs or artists. They could go on to be small business owners by the time they're thirty. How, though? Without at least having that as an option?