College, shmollege. It’s all trade schools these days:
Starting with the G.I. Bill, the notion that all high school graduates should attend college, specifically as preparation for their “future careers,” has taken a ferocious grip on Americans’ minds. Our colleges and universities have come to resemble trade schools in many ways, though the “trades” for which they purport to prepare us bear little resemblance to the ones BOCES alumni practice.
American grammar and high schools exhibit that orientation in their obsessive insistence upon preparing for college. Breathes there a “guidance counselor” anywhere in this land whose first question upon meeting a new student isn’t some variation on “What would you like to do for a career?” Testing for “aptitudes” has completely displaced intelligence tests in our high schools. (This might be for the best, considering how many American teenagers possess the intelligence of an earthworm.) The whole edifice appears designed to get young Americans aimed toward an office occupation of some sort, such that non-office alternatives — e.g., entrepreneurship; the clergy, the blue-collar trades; a military career — are effaced from consideration.
As a person of a Certain Age, I have taken scads of aptitude tests, most of which suggested that I would be a paper-pusher par excellence. The Army duly slotted me for a personnel-management billet, and in my subsequent civilian years, I found myself doing largely administrative-type work, without actually obtaining any administrative-type titles. It happens that I am good at what I do, though nothing in my “educational” background would so indicate; there is literally no curriculum in any institution of learning which teaches my current skill set.
Nor is my collar entirely white: I spend a fair amount of time producing actual printed materials, which suggest a blue collar, and I have the ink stains (which are not blue) to prove it. Come to think of it, I usually wear a pocket T to work, and it doesn’t have any collar at all.
And it’s difficult for me to imagine how I’d be any better qualified for this position, which pays me on the high side of the administrative range, but on the low side of the technical, had I spent five figures (now probably six figures) chasing down degrees. You certainly won’t see any guidance counselors pushing anyone toward this slot. Besides, my presence in that slot is largely accidental: the previous occupant departed without much notice, and I was one of only two or three people in the entire operation who had ever even seen an IBM midrange before. (I’d worked on some of the big iron, even.) Since they had better things to do, the position became mine by default. Fortunately, I learn quickly.