Dr. Dale Parnell, one of the fathers of career/technical education (CTE), was also the father of the principal of Puget Sound Skills Center when I worked there, Dr. Sue Shields. Through her I became acquainted with him. Dr. Parnell liked to quote Thucydides: “The society that separates its scholars from its warriors will have its thinking done by cowards and its fighting done by fools”…a critique of the false dichotomy between intellectual and practical pursuits.

Response to a blogger, whom I otherwise respect and enjoy, who let out a sweeping dismissal of voters on the right with whom he disagrees

I disagree with you fundamentally. Us-them’ing will never get us out of the current fix. This approach only leads to an escalation of self-righteousness and sense of disconnection, one from the other.

Many people have had their dignity attacked and harmed through experiences in school (spoken as a teacher who has seen and occasionally, sadly, done some of this in the course of teaching all four core subjects). Attacks to dignity can prompt many as adults to shun what they have felt was beyond them: book learning. Classism remains under-explored in our country, especially as it relates to valorizing four-year degrees over career-based work. There used to be a time in our country, when college was much less accessible, that working class folks felt more access to learning and it was less associated with socio-economic privilege. Farming families may have had a King James Bible and copy of something by Shakespeare. Being a worker and thinker was less dualistically defined.

I offer this analysis as someone who, alongside having a degree from Harvard, has been a long-haul truck driver, graduated early from high school via a restaurant careers program, and has worked in two career/technical skills centers for high school students. In south Seattle, the majority of principals among 18 feeder high schools wouldn’t let their counselors recommend the skills center (students had to ask) because attendance for half a day would cut down on the high schools’ funding. So students were (perhaps still are, twelve years on) forced to stay in an education system that John Dewey, liberal educational reformer, described as primarily job training for college professors —

“Many a teacher and author writes and argues in behalf of a cultural and humane education against the encroachments of a specialized practical education, without recognizing that his own education, which he calls liberal, has been mainly training for his own particular calling. He has simply got into the habit of regarding his own business as essentially cultural and of overlooking the cultural possibilities of other employments” (Dewey, Chapter 23, Democracy and Education).

The approximately 70% of students who will never get a four-year degree would be much happier given the opportunity to — in addition to half-time academic coursework, which is a typical skills center arrangement — develop a skill that will serve them after graduation, instead of/alongside college attendance.

Some years ago I was a volunteer audiobook narrator for Librivox and recorded several chapters from John Dewey’s classic, Democrocy and Education, from which the quote above is drawn. In Chapter 10 Dewey critiques “ the tendency to isolate intellectual matters till knowledge is scholastic, academic, and professionally technical, and…the widespread conviction that liberal education is opposed to the requirements of an education which shall count in the vocations of life.” False dichotomy.

In Chapter 23, “Vocational Aspects of Education,” pages unknown because drawn from the script I used to record the chapter, Dewey writes,

“But a mental review of the intellectual presuppositions underlying the oppositions in education of labor and leisure, theory and practice, body and mind, mental states and the world, will show that they culminate in the antithesis of vocational and cultural education… So deeply entangled are these philosophic dualisms with the whole subject of vocational education, that it is necessary to define the meaning of vocation with some fullness.”

Dewey’s 23rd chapter is a masterful deflation of sacred cows found within the poles of political short-hand many of us use today, both left and right.

The success of colleges and universities in arguing for their own importance has led many college-trained teachers and educators to downplay the importance and inherent dignity of career/technical education. Too bad, because we could have a vision of citizenship better calibrated to lifelong learning that celebrates practical skills in addition to thoughtful, engaged citizenship and lifelong learning, which involve reading and reflection.

So, blog author, let’s say you are right, and these people are as nasty and misguided as you say. What’s the fix? Permanent feelings of self-righteous victimization? That’s unpleasant. To those on both the left and right who vilify “the others” I say: We still live in the same country. The only way to get rid of those people is to kill them, and the moral price for that is too high, among other problems.

The fix I support includes (but is not exhausted by) showing calm courage — disagreeing agreeably with those with whom we disagree, as uncomfortable as that is. I get that it really is uncomfortable and takes long practice in nervous system regulation, plus saying the wrong thing before the better thing comes more easily. But the more we embody calm courage, the more we role model a way of relating that does not lead to ever more anxious, upward spirals of reactivity. We are primates with mirror neurons that vibe off each other. Anxiety is contagious…and so is calmness. Better thinking and more pleasant travel through an inevitably not-as-I-would-prefer world accompany a well-regulated nervous system.

My favorite source of numerous, sector-focused books on how to do this is Gina Ross, pioneer in cutting-edge, neuroscience tools based on Peter Levine’s work. Gina’s books are readable and relevant to trauma recovery/resilience-building at both individual and community scales.

I find a useful starting conviction, inspired by the dictates of my Christian faith (other faiths/ethical systems may have comparable expectations), to draw the circle wide enough to leave no one out of those accorded human dignity. Without such a baseline expectation I would go astray much more often than I do.

I like this approach because it leaves open the option of betterment and connection, and resists dehumanization.