The Return of Technical Education in High Schools

Teacher and students in woodworking class

Shop class is making a comeback in American high schools.
Image: Shutterstock

Technical education in the United States went out of favor in the early 1990s, when things like “shop class” became a place to stash students who weren’t expected to go to college. Starting around 1990, there was a nationwide push to give all high school students the same college prep education in the hopes that it would drive more of them to enroll in higher education within two years of graduating. In 1990, that number was only 40%, and by 2013, it was only up to 42%. Not a huge success.

But recent developments have been highlighting other ways to get kids to pursue higher education and the benefits that can come from it. Increasingly, schools are engaging students with technical programs that teach them the skills they need to pursue specific career paths and college majors. Finding career paths that students are interested in helps them prepare for the real world and can speak to the specific “middle income” jobs out there that are apparently hard to fill.

Schools specifically dedicated to technical education, which are starting to make a comeback, aren’t strictly necessary. Better education on these kinds of subjects can be introduced in other high schools as well. They have the added benefit of giving students examples of how the skills they’re developing, such as mathematics, can be applied in the real world, something that many schools have long failed to do under the “high school to Harvard pathway” of the last 30 years. That system often led to students being pressured to attend university and then finding themselves with a degree, a lot of student loan debt, and no real job prospects. While education itself is a perfectly good goal, high school especially is about preparing students to become functional citizens, and pushing them down a path that doesn’t actually lead them to gainful employment isn’t really doing that.

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