• I remember growing up hearing my father’s mantra about fashion always repeating itself. “You don’t need to buy a new tie,” he’d say as he pulled out a rack of perfectly preserved ties dating back from the 50’s. “You can have one of mine! If you hold on to it long enough it’ll come back in style.” Of course, as a kid, I rolled my eyes and just knew he must be wrong but have grown up (reluctantly) to realize the truth to what he was saying. Repeating trends doesn’t only ring true for fashion. Recently, I’ve noticed a return to the consideration of vocational training.  I see many more open minded parents who are considering sending their children to vocational schools rather than to traditional educational institutions.

    During one of my family’s crazy summer road trips (on the road, travelling across the US, for 6 weeks with four children) we spent a day with one of the largest Amish Communities out in Ohio. It was a both fun and educational experience. They have their own schooling system where children attend formal general studies classes until 8th grade. Then they go to an apprentice position in a specific trade based on their interests and abilities. Since some of the Amish communities are purists and don’t utilize much of modern technology, they have a wider variety of trade schools available. Even with modern technology many trades and crafts are still very applicable and necessary today.

    I am glad to look around and see that society’s acceptance of alternative and vocational schools has changed for the better as well

    So what’s with all this extra schooling we put our kids through? It started off as a need for higher education to meet modernization and certain technological advances. But then it somehow became a standard by which all children are measured. Expectations were for children to become doctors, lawyers or other white-collar professionals. Blue-collar professionals- those working in a profession based on some variation of physical or manual labor- were viewed as second-class citizens.  Intellectually, we know that this is prejudicial and judgmental and flat out doesn’t make sense. Yet many of us still have those subconscious associations to push our children in one direction only. I was a recipient of this type of parenting growing up, and am guilty of perpetuating this mentality as well with my children. It is wrong!

    It’s absurd that we only applaud the children who academically succeed in pre-set topics in school. The reality is that many of these kids that we label as “Problem Children” would probably flourish and do well in an environment with subjects that interest them. For the most part the lack of success due to lack of interest may not be the fault of our children.  It’s ours! We often can’t think outside of the box long enough to stop hammering our round kids into square holes.

    Somewhere along the line my perspective has changed. I am glad to look around and see that society’s acceptance of alternative and vocational schools has changed for the better as well.  More vocational schools are popping up across the US and are flourishing. It’s no longer just a last resort for “problem children” when there’s no other alternative. Vocational schools are now an option starting in high school and are offering trade courses and apprenticeships in automotive or aircraft repair, plumbing, construction, electrical repairs, etc. Often kids previously labeled with a wide variety of mental health conditions or learning disabilities, like Attention Deficit Disorder, Depression, Oppositional-Defiant and the like, have a chance to flourish.

    I’ve accepted that not all of my children will become white-collar professionals

    If we can stop labeling our children and focus on the solution, we’ll probably save a lot of money and time on mental health services. It’s something we (speaking to myself here as well) have to change in order to accept and nurture our children’s strengths instead of focusing on why they can’t be like ‘everyone else?’ If Bill Gates had not had the guts to drop out of Harvard to pursue his interests, I’m sure against a lot of his own family members’ wishes, we probably wouldn’t have the technology many of us rely upon today.

    I’ve accepted that not all of my children will become white-collar professionals. Their grades differ not because one is smarter than the other, but because they choose to focus their energy on things that interest them and may not necessarily be tested in those areas during their standard school testing.  I spend a lot of time reminding myself of this when my instinct is to push too hard toward standard academics. And with my recent outrageously high plumbing bill for a busted water-main, trust me, I’m pulling for one of them to become a plumber. Forget that whole doctor bit– buying health insurance for life will be cheaper than that tuition!