We need to emphasize different high school options.

Most Americans have at least attended high school. We are all ushered through elementary, middle, and high school and then given a diploma if we hand in our assignments on time and pass a few standardized tests. Now, I understand this is a gross understatement of the work involved with many in earning a high school degree. But for some, I don’t think it is.

High school is great. Yes, I said that. I write from the perspective of a high school graduate from an upstate NY school district that is largely well-off. For many, like myself, “traditional” high school education is a great benefit. It is free, it is enriching, and it helps push us forward in life. Many, such as myself, enjoy learning about history, English, science, and mathematics. More importantly, we succeed at it. There are a great many people like myself. We graduate with good grades, go to college, earn more degrees, and then join our parents in the middle class.

However, for others, high school isn’t that. Some kids just don’t benefit from traditional high school education. What do I mean by “traditional” exactly? I am talking about education in the classroom in the fields of history, math, science, English, economics, and the like. A teacher stands there for a given amount of time every day or every other day and gives you instruction. Then, you complete assignments or labs and hand them in. Once in a while you take tests or quizzes and then, usually towards the end of the year, you take a more major exam. At some point in your high school career you will also take a test such as an SAT or ACT.

That concept of high school (secondary) education is supposed to work for the vast majority of us, and it may. However, some struggle. Some students are truly academically challenged. I am not talking about those with developmental disabilities requiring separate schools and helpers. I am talking about “regular” students who just don’t learn things as easily or fluently as others. These people are often put in slower track classes and given more time to do assignments. They are often given extra time on exams and just shuffled through high school quite frankly. Then there are students who could probably succeed with relative ease, but just don’t care. This could be from a certain form of parenting, influence of a variety of family or personal factors, or simply a lack of interest. This last point is grossly overlooked. Some kids truly just don’t find the stuff interesting. They are often written off as just being lazy, and in some cases they are, but not always.

Nonetheless, these students outlined in the last paragraph are often overlooked by the school systems. They don’t make the honor rolls. They don’t win awards. They don’t get special positive attention from teachers, for the most part. this is especially true for the second group. They are ignored I believe in many cases. They just don’t succeed in the system and are then just shuffled through or drop-out.

I would like to advocate another possibility, technical education. It is a true wonder that no one, at least where I am from, seems to talk about! School districts often group together and have programs where they can send students to another location in the area to learn in fields such as culinary arts, mechanics, carpentry, electrical, aviation, and many others. These programs are great, as an idea at least. This is what we need to promote. Some kids that struggle or just don’t care in “traditional” school could find immense interest and success in these realms of education.

For example, one of my friends had/has severe dyslexia. Adding on to that, he just didn’t care much for high school. He wasn’t any more lazy than the next student. He never did his homework, but at home he would craft handmade radios, fix tools and such, build things, and work to scrap metal. He worked during the summers and earned his Eagle Scout award at an early age. He was a worker, just not in high school. He then decided to attend a program in the last two years of high school where for half the day he was bussed to a nearby town and educated in welding. His other half of the day would remain in high school to earn his “traditional” degree. This was incredibly beneficial to him. He enjoyed his education there, for the most part, and to my knowledge is entering the armed forces and trying to continue with related work.

He had one complaint, however. He noted that many of his fellow peers in this program didn’t care about the program either. They were just all around poor students. This is the problem. No, I am not trying to be hypocritical. I did say that these “lazy” students can benefit from these programs. To be more exact, they need to have an interest in these outside programs as well. If they really don’t care about anything, then we have another problem. Often I think that schools silently shuffle some of their poorest students off into these other programs. Which, as I said can be beneficial to them, but not all of them.

This technical choice should be presented to students and their parents just like other options in education are. Instead of just shuffling them off, give them options, show them which programs they can be involved in and guide them on which ones to choose.

With this, we need to expand these outside programs. Some, such as welding, aviation, culinary arts, and others can be quite difficult. Why not also offer programs in professional driving, farming techniques, or really, anything. Education is supposed to prepare students for the world. There are many jobs out there that could benefit from students that have had some training in high school.

Those harder options need to be pushed too, but not just to low performing students. Students that do very well in high school need to be given the option to enter into one of these other programs. They shouldn’t be looked at as “lower”. I truly think that in many areas, these programs are just viewed as “other” programs where you can go if you can’t make it in traditional high school. This is terrible for society and individual students. They should be viewed instead as an equally valued alternative. Electricians face difficulat work just as historians do. We need trained chefs and aviators as well. Why not start that training in high school with able students?

What I am saying is that these “non-traditional” programs need to be valued for both students that struggle and those that don’t. They can be great outlets and sources of immense passion finding and success for students that struggle in traditional school settings. They can also be places where high achievers can find more passion and contribute to society in other ways. And with societal “value” of these programs comes a need for more funding. States, school districts, and people need to put more money towards these programs on the same or at least competitive levels that they put towards traditional education. Without funding, they are doomed to remain forever as “that other worse option”.

I am not German and don’t know too much about there system, but I do know that in Germany, they have different schools for students at the high school level. They have three, if I remember that track for different abilities, aptitudes and interests. We should look at their system.

Yes traditional education is great. And for some it is hugely worthwhile and beneficial. But for others, we need a stable, strongly supported option for technical education at the high school level.

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