Colleges should escalate downwards, not upwards!

Inclusive institutions for disenfranchised students

From time to time, inclusive-thinking individuals will found vocational schools or colleges of various types, designed to provide first-class education and training for students headed for the world of business and industry, not the world of academics.

Photo from AACC (American Association of Community Colleges); copy and paste the URL below into your computer’s website browser line: …………………………………………………………

By inclusive, I mean schools designed for students who are typically disenfranchised from post-secondary opportunities by the over-emphasis upon academic scores in high schools. Some really excellent  institutions have been so founded.

Who is hired to run vocational institutions?

Who are the people typically hired for most, if not all, of the major decision-making positions in that newly-founded vocational school or college?

Usually university-credentialed people, academically-oriented people. Good people for sure. And also typically somewhat biased–usually without even being aware of it–towards an  academic view of the world. Of course. That is their interest, their predilection, their training, and their experience.

Where are the vocational people in these critical decision-making positions? The trades men and women? The technically-oriented people? The highly competent former high school Industrial Arts teachers? (Such as my friend and colleague, Bill Welch.)

Community colleges or technical schools escalate into universities

As time passes, the academically-oriented decision-makers naturally tend to escalate upwards. First, the word “community” is dropped from the college name, and then, after awhile, it is called a university.  Or the technical school escalates upwards to a college, then a university. In so doing, the academically oriented administrators are usually very pleased.  In most cases, they worked long and hard to obtain the coveted “university” designation.

“We are moving upwards in the community and in the world,” tends to be the proud feeling of the decision-makers at the former college or vocational institute.

Along this upwards-escalating pathway, student admission is restricted to ever upwards high school academic scores. Soon, lo and behold, the institution has moved proudly beyond the mainstream students it was founded to serve. These students are once again disenfranchised from the post-secondary opportunities the institution was founded to serve.

Enter India’s “Barefoot Colleges,” founded by Sanjit (“Bunker”) Roy

Sanjit’s “Barefoot Colleges” are designed to put some dignity into the curriculum for poverty-stricken rural students, reports TIME Magazine, May 10, 2010.

The unpretentious buildings at “Barefoot Colleges” have dirt floors and no chairs. That is the environment from which the students arrive when they first go to college. Sanjit wanted to ensure that these poor rural students would not be intimidated by the institution, that they would be greeted with familiarity, with explicit respect for their background experience.

These “bottom-up” colleges were established so that poor students would be comfortable there and retention rates would be high. Three million such students have been trained in these “Barefoot Colleges” for jobs in the modern world. Three million!

What a brilliant idea–escalation downwards!

Let’s learn to escalate downwards in our culture for the benefit of the student’s experience, rather then escalate upwards for the benefit of the academic decision-maker’s experience. 😮

For respectful downwards escalation!

Doc Meek, Monday, June 22, 2010 (2nd posting, in the evening)

At Sherwood Park, Alberta, CANADA; not at South Jordan, Utah, USA

2 Responses to “Colleges should escalate downwards, not upwards!”

  • Bill and Cecelia Welch:

    Enjoyed your blog and it is so true. I have watched the junior colleges here in the Tucson area and even the high schools moving more towards academic education. A lot of this is caused by the costs involved in training a student to enter the world of work under the most favorable conditions. Besides, who wants a smelly old welding kid or carpenter, or greasy mechanic roaming the halls of an academic institution? It seems to me that as academia moves upward they forget the very buildings that house their institutions are built by these skilled craftsmen. You can see that I am extremely adamant that all young people should be prepared in some skill other than just how to run a computer. Computers are important but it is the application of that skill to a program such as CAD or using diagnostic computers to aid in repairing vehicles that makes the difference in a person being able to get a job and contribute to society and his well-being.

  • Hey Bill and Cecelia, I am tickled pink to see your comments on my blog post, “Colleges should escalate downwards, not upwards.” I wonder what it would take to get a vocational or technical school up and running that would keep its original mission intact, and even expand it? Blessings, Doc

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