A young, Caucasian male, sat down across from me to wait for a plane to Atlanta. He scattered his bags, slouched in the seat, pulled out his cell phone, and dialed a friend. I was thinking how much I loathe rampant cell phone use and those who think nothing about subjecting strangers to their prattle, when the conversation reached an astonishing point. This young man was describing either a trip to Africa or the zoo when he said, "I saw lots of wild animals — lots of bamboons. No, that isn't a misspelling. He said bamboons, and he continued to repeat the word, because the person on the other end of the call obviously had no clue what he meant. In my mind, I saw myself standing up in front of the young man and saying, "Baboons, you idiot, baboons." But I said nothing, as I wondered about this young man's education and its quality, or the lack thereof.
To be fair, maybe he just wasn't paying attention the day of the baboon lesson. After all, you can lead the student to the lesson, but you can't make him learn it.
In this country, all children are entitled to a free education through high school, and many post-secondary educational opportunities abound. I lost count of the number of colleges and technical schools the conductor announced at stops on a train I took during my trip.
The problem lies in encouraging high school graduates — who definitely should know it's baboon and not bamboon, or they shouldn't be allowed to graduate — to pursue the best educational option for them. And it isn't always a four-year college.
As reported in the chron.com article "College for all? Experts say not necessarily," Columbia, Mo., senior Kate Hodges is defying her parents' view of higher education and heading to the Tulsa Welding School in Oklahoma, where she hopes to earn an associate's degree in welding technology in seven months.
"They fought me so hard," Katie said, referring to disappointed family members. "They still think I'm going to college."
The idea that a four-year degree is essential for real success is being challenged by a growing number of economists, policy analysts, and academics, who believe that more Americans should consider other options such as technical training or two-year schools, which have been embraced in Europe for decades.
There's certainly nothing wrong with getting a college degree, but doing so isn't the only educational path that can prepare you for a meaningful life and rewarding work. The problem is that less than a 4-year college education doesn't always get the respect it should.
The May "Welding Wire" asked its readers about the education and respect issue. D. Johnson, also from Missouri, had this to say:
"There needs to be a change in how we address this so called separation between 'skilled labor' and 'college educated.' I prefer to be addressed as a skilled, professional welder, not just 'skilled labor.' Put some pride behind the title! Once you put some emphasis on what hard work and dedication it takes to achieve that status, things will change.
"How many commencement speeches given at colleges state how much 'hard work and dedication' were demonstrated achieving that degree? I would have to say I have spent as much, if not more, time learning and expanding my welding craft as any college student with a master's degree or Ph.D.
"I am a paid professional welder in the nuclear power generation industry with specific skills and abilities; my employer and the general public demand professionalism and will expect no less. Looking at it in that light, what is the difference between my profession and any other 'college required' profession that our society holds in such high regard? In short, nothing!
"I personally believe it is our parents' fault. I know what you're thinking; blaming our parents is always the cause of our society's ills. But think about it, if you look back in our history, parents always wanted something better for their children. Parents in rural areas would tell their children to head to jobs in the cities and get away from the farms. The parents with limited skills would tell their children to strive for the apprenticeships or internships, so they could learn a trade and be more successful. Under-educated parents, toiling in mills and factories, tell their children to go to school, find a 'profession,' and stay out of factory work. Due to the cyclic nature of our society, I truly believe that you will see the skilled crafts become one of the [desired] areas of learning and the professions of choice.
"The Greatest Generation, those people who ushered us out of World War II into prosperity, wanted my generation, the Baby Boomers, to make the United States intellectually strong by sending us to college. Well, intellect only gets you so far. We have to be able to execute what we plan, manufacture what we design, and build what we dream. The United States needs as many skilled professional craftsmen as we need college-educated professionals. Having one without the other dooms us all.
"For those who think that the college diploma makes you better than the rest of us, think about who is welding the structures of your skyscrapers, welding the components of your power generation facilities or petrochemical plants, or fabricating the wings of the airplanes you and your family use for vacation. We all need to respect those individuals that strive to make their livelihood by the use of their hands. You want respect because you have earned that diploma by investing the time and effort. I expect the same consideration, because I have earned it too."
Something tells me even Pink Floyd's members understand Johnson's views. After all, they met, ironically, as students at what was then Cambridge Technical College. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't believe they wrote any songs about bamboons.
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